Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Top 20 Countdown: #12: Sesame Processing Plant

Our first agriculture project was organic sesame.  Mike began learning about it before we even moved to Nicaragua from Jeremy Thaler of Once Again Nut Butter.

Sesame grows well in Nicaragua, in fact, Nicaragua’s sesame is one of the best in the world.  Our first crop was with a dairy cooperative that planted 96 acres.

Mike and César, now our projects director, would go out into the fields plowed by oxen and planted by hand.  They would encourage the farmers, stomp around in the field, and mainly pretended they knew what they were doing! 

Whether they actually did or not, the farmers really did know what they were doing, and the stalks came up, tiny white flowers popped out, and then the pods grew from the flowers… pods that looked like small okra pods.
 At harvest, the stalks were pulled up by hand and placed in sheaves to dry.  After the drying time was over… thankfully no rain during that time… tarps were laid down and farmers threshed the stalks to get the pods to open and those itty, bitty seeds fell into the tarp.  THEN they would take bowls full and raise them high and slowly pour the seeds back onto the tarp letting the chaff be blown away in the wind.

Growing organic sesame as small farmers is hard work… extremely labor intensive but at least getting an organic price helps the farmers get ahead unless like that first year….

When it came time to process the seeds,
the processors held the sesame hostage, telling Mike and César that they wouldn't process it unless they sold the sesame to the plant as conventional (prices were good that year, and the processors wanted the profit for themselves)... Like the chaff, the farmers got left in the wind.

Processing sesame has been a hit or miss prospect since that first crop:  In 1996 we helped the processing plant obtain certification for organics. In 2000, the only plant in Nicaragua closed, and in 2001 we were almost able to obtain the lease for the plant but many Nicaraguan banks collapsed and our lease deal got lost in the mess. Farmers were stuck and had to start shipping their sesame out of the country for processing.

So, for the next two years, many farmers just had their seeds pressed into oil to go into body products, which was a great loss to the farmers.

Last year, the processor running the Nicaraguan plant (back in operation) did not process the seeds correctly and the organic agriculture cooperative, COPROEXNIC, suffered losses in a year when their sesame was abundant.

Improvements to the plant in process!
So we, together with COPROEXNIC, decided enough was enough.  If farmers are going to get the prices they deserve, then someone who cares about the farmers needs to run the sesame processing plant.  After long negotiations with the government, which holds title to the plant, COPROEXNIC obtained a one year lease on the plant.

This year has been busy hiring staff… 27 people work there now… fixing all the broken machinery the previous processor left broken, getting electricity, buying parts that were taken, painting, cleaning, bringing the plant up to global standards, and looking for funding.

With someone who cares running the plant, it ensures farmers get fair prices as well as creating jobs for 27 people now, and 40 people when it is running at maximum capacity.

Future Projects:
•    Get electricity at full power in the plant… in process

•    Obtain a long-term lease from the government… in process 


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.