In recent years, poverty and inequality have been on the rise again in Nicaragua. In rural Terrabona, one of the poorest regions of the country, the food security is threatened. The challenges of adapting agriculture to climatic changes are great and the opportunities of the population are few. Agroecology shows smallholder families a way out of the impasse.
The aim of the project is to provide sufficient and balanced nutrition for the population. For this purpose, agroecological cultivation methods are promoted. This improves the income of the families and protects the natural resources at the same time. A special focus is on women and young people.
This project is co-financed by the SDC program contribution.
“Carrots, radishes, sugar beets and onions have recently started growing in my field in addition to the main cereals. Thanks to this diversification, we have food all year round and a regular income,” Armando Cárdenas Flores says, visibly proud. The 40-year-old smallholder farmer and family man from Caña de Castilla in the municipality of Terrabona, is happy about the progress on his farm. His new knowledge of agroecology is beginning to bear fruit. This has also greatly improved his family’s nutritional and income situation in recent years.
The situation of Armando and his family was not always as good as it is now. Only since he became aware of agroecology and its sustainable impact on the environment seven years ago has the tide turned. He began to study the subject and was impressed by the idea of using less environmentally harmful means of production but being able to plant and harvest many different varieties. He wanted to share his newly acquired knowledge with other families in the community.
A mountain of challenges
The food security of the Nicaraguan population depends largely on smallholder agriculture. Around 40 percent of the national staple foods such as beans, maize, rice and sorghum are produced by small farmers like Armando.
As in many rural regions, however, crop yields in the municipality of Terrabona are steadily declining. Unsustainable forms of cultivation – such as monocultures, high pesticide use, low crop rotation and the use of seeds not suited to the location – are still widespread in the region. As a result, vital natural resources such as forest and water are polluted and destroyed.
I recommend agroecology to the other small farmers to improve soil quality. For example, spring areas need to be reforested. It is also better to use organic products to control pests and diseases because they are cheaper and conserve natural resources.
Armando Cárdenas Flores shares his newly acquired knowledge of agroecology with the community.
In addition, extreme climatic changes have drastically worsened the situation in recent years. In the Terrabona region, which was already very dry, longer and longer periods of drought, but also floods, are destroying the harvests of the smallholder families and thus their livelihoods. Self-sufficiency is becoming increasingly difficult. Surveys have shown that more than half of the population is no longer able to feed themselves all year round.
The solution: agroecology
Denis Diaz Figuerosa did not want to simply accept this situation, so he started studying agroecological farming methods. The 42-year-old smallholder farmer, who also lives with his family of five in the municipality of Terrabona, learned, for example, how to produce organic fertiliser and determine the best crop rotation. He sees great potential in diversifying his production in order to provide a better future for his family. “My greatest success is the increase in production and income thanks to diversification and the sale of my products,” Denis Díaz Figueroa reports, visibly pleased.
But not only the agroecological farming methods are helping the smallholder families in Terrabona out of the impasse. For example, families can attend workshops on the protection of natural resources and biodiversity. For example, they learn more about the sustainable use of water resources. For this purpose, water protection areas and spring areas are reforested, and irrigation systems and water catchment basins are built.
In addition, the families gain access to high-quality and diverse seeds that are adapted to local conditions and therefore produce good yields. As part of the project, community seed banks are being built to store this precious commodity.
Denis believes that experimenting on one’s own field and exchanging ideas with other smallholder farmers is crucial for successfully advancing agroecology. The goal of this project is to promote this method of knowledge transfer. Since the local farmers’ association Programa Campesino a Campesino de Terrabona (PCaC) offers an important platform for this exchange, it is institutionally strengthened as part of the project. The aim is to initiate a joint learning process in the community.
The newly acquired knowledge on agroecology, the increased environmental awareness and the better networking with other smallholder farmers – all these are significant changes in my family’s life.
The agroecology project in Terrabona has turned the lives of Denis and his family around.
Harnessing the potential of women and youth
Particularly women suffer from the difficult food situation. Even though they bear the main burden of work in the household and on the fields, they have few prospects, resources and no capital. Young people also lack income and education opportunities. Both groups are hardly involved in social processes. With the help of training on topics such as leadership, legal basics, women’s rights and self-esteem, their participation in public life and their independence is strengthened.
Armando Cárdenas Flores sees only advantages: “Thanks to the training on gender equality and the new understanding of masculinity, I now appreciate the support of my whole family much more. My wife has built up her own business and now improves the family’s income by selling bread. These are very positive changes.”
Smallholder farmers like Armando and Denis are leading by example to convince other families of the benefits of agroecology. They share their knowledge and practical experience to find a way out of hunger and poverty together. The aspect of environmental protection is also very important to them. After all, the more people protect natural resources, the better the future of the community as a whole will be.