Friday, November 21, 2014

Top 20 Countdown #10: Connecting Farmers to Markets

Small farmers worldwide have a hard row to hoe…literally.  Most do all their farming by hand without the use of sophisticated machinery, tractors, and other modern technology.  To clear their fields the whole family goes out and with the use of a beaten-down horse or, if they're lucky, an ox…they pull rocks out of the ground and move them.  Smaller rocks are removed and carried off by their own hands.

They plow with animals…really fortunate ones have a team of oxen.  They plant by hand, weed by hand, nurture by hand, and harvest by hand.  “What are the returns on such hard labor?” you may ask.  Very little…which is why certifying their crops as organic (many times they can’t afford the costly fertilizers and pesticides anyway) and helping them sell cash crops is extremely important.

For example, Nicaragua does not have markets for an abundance of good sesame grown here.  The United States does.  Sesame grows easily here and is usually a stable cash crop for farmers and they use that money to buy what they cannot grow…like shoes, clothes, medicine, electricity and cement.

Over the years we, together with the organic agriculture cooperative, COPROEXNIC, have tried to expand to other organic crops that grow easily here:  soy beans, black beans, cashews, mung beans, honey, and dragon fruit, but the ones most stable are sesame, cotton and coffee.  We have exported more than 3 million pounds of sesame (mostly organic, COPROEXNIC is the largest sesame exporter in Nicaragua), 460,000 pounds of organic cotton,  and 290,000 pounds of organic coffee. 

We have been expanding into organic peanuts, which grows well here but peanuts are fickle little things.  They get a fungus easily if they are not processed correctly, stored correctly and shipped in a timely fashion.  Yet peanuts grow easily here and are a great rotation crop to fill the soil with nitrogen.  Until recently, exporting peanuts was prohibitive because there were huge duties on the crops coming into the U.S. due to our peanut president, Carter.

The door to the States is open again.  With our first huge crop, we learned the hard way of just how fickle peanuts are…the organic agriculture cooperative lost most of that first crop of peanuts...around 4 million pounds worth in 2013 due to the processor and the shipping lines.  That crop should have made COPROEXNIC financially stable but instead they went into the red…BUT the farmers all got paid.  

In time, we want in time to be able to process more products here and keep the money in Nicaragua…making peanut butter, tahini, dark sesame oil, etc., but this is cost prohibitive right now, so we export raw goods.

 Future projects:
•   Establish more secure sources of low interest credit for small farmers to plant & for post-harvest crop collection & processing...if you know of any, please connect us!


Counting down to #GivingTuesday on December 2nd, we’re highlighting the CDCA’s accomplishments over our 20 years in Nicaragua. Follow our countdown in this blog, on Facebook and Twitter. Help us keep doing more by giving $20. Our goal is to raise $20,000.