Welcome to CCA’s international development blog page … the sights and sounds, the people and places as experienced by credit union and co-operative volunteers on the frontline of development.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nicaragua Study Mission - Day 6

Candida Espinoza is a tiny wisp of a woman, barely five feet tall, with her grey hair neatly tied in the back. She’s a mother of nine, grandmother of 33 and one of 15 farm women who belong to La Espenanza, an agricultural co-operative on the scenic island of Ometepe.

Candida grows a variety of aromatic herbs, produces a variety of citrus fruit, yucca and sesame seeds and makes Jamaican wine which she serves to the Canadian visitors to her 1.5 hectare farm.

“As you can see we are they type of people who, if we don’t make a profit with one product, we make it with another,” she says proudly as we admire her tidy mixed operation at the base of one of Ometepe’s two volcanoes.

Tumeric is one of her more profitable commodities. At one time she had a contract with a Swiss company that purchased her entire crop for $3.50/kilo. However, when the firm took six months to pay, the relationship ended. Candida is now in search of other markets for tumeric and the other products she harvests from the volcanic ash-fertilized soil. “It would be wonderful if one day if we could export to other countries so we can sell our products at international market prices, rather than local.”

The second stop on our farm tour takes us to another mixed operation headed by Lesbia Vargez. She is one of two women who serve on the board of La Espenanza. Lesbia notes that her co-operative, like many of the co-operatives we have visited, actively promotes gender equality. In fact, it was written into the by-laws that the board comprise of no less than two female directors. Moreover, members have received gender awareness training on issues ranging from the role of women in decision-making to reproduction. “We know that the women are not here to have babies but to work,” explains Mausilia Navas, co-op secretary.

La Espenanza represents 52 producers in total and directly benefits more than 200 families on the island. Formed in 2000, it markets primarily sesame seeds and red beans. The latter are processed by Delcampo, a central cooperative based in Leon. The co-op is assisted by CCA-supported CECAMPO, particularly in the areas of administration and accounting.

Producers here face many of the same challenges that confront their Canadian counterparts, from rising input costs and falling market prices to global warming and a shrinking land base. Foreigners and Nicaraguan mainlanders are buying the island’s relatively cheap lakefront properties, while climate change is narrowing the time frame farmers can plant and harvest their crops. Nicaragua’s rainy season is getting shorter, meaning they have only from June to September to grow sesame seeds and corn and soy from September to October. This in turn has led to a labour shortage because farm labourers head to Costa Rica to work once the harvest done and do not return.

Still, there are opportunities for the producers thanks to the collective power of their co-operative. One of their goals is to acquire micro irrigation systems to lengthen the growing season for Ometepe’s small scale farms.

The co-operative has been a positive force in the lives of the producers and thei r families. “Our lives have certainly improved,” board member Natanail Alvarez says. “We started from nothing and now we have a production centre. We have food to eat and we can send our kids to school. “

“It has been a huge effort on our part but well worth having a co-op,” Mausilia agrees.

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