October 19, 2012

Silos in Nicaragua's rural farm communities seeding the future

CWS Growing Healthier food and nutrition campaign brings better agriculture, nutrition and outcomes
Carlos Aguirre
Carlos Aguirre explains why grain silos are part of CIEETS' work in Aguas Calientes, Carazo, Nicaragua. Similar silos now have been constructed in the communities of La Conquista and Santa Teresa. Photo: Sean Hawkey

CARAZO DEPARTMENT, Nicaragua –– As of this week’s World Food Day (October 16-18), one in eight people worldwide suffer from chronic undernourishment. But a growing crop of small grain silos in the poor rural farming communities of Nicaragua’s Carazo department are icons and testament to the fact that hunger battles are being won.

The community-scaled, zinc seed bank silos, introduced in Carazo’s La Conquista and Santa Teresa municipalities in 2009, are now filled with seed. They’re a sign to Nicaraguan agronomist Rosa Maria Matamoros and humanitarian agency Church World Service that it’s time to move on to other communities.

Matamoros is director of community development, agriculture and training for CIEETS (Interchurch Center of Theological and Social Studies), a regional partner collaborating with CWS in CWS’ Central America Growing Healthier campaign, an initiative supported in part by the Foods Resource Bank.

CWS, Matamoros and CIEETS have been working with some 200 families in 10 communities in Carazo since 2008, helping farmers and their families master new sustainable agriculture skills, food storage techniques, water resource solutions, and nutrition awareness.

La Conquista’s and Santa Teresa’s silos take the communities into tomorrow. Doubling as grain storage facilities and seed banks, they ensure food in lean times, preserve seeds for subsequent seasons’ plantings and protect them from rot, and stock surplus seeds to sell at market.

Each community in the program now has two compact, 200-pound storage capacity silos, each storing a different type of grain. In the future, the communities look toward having whole facilities dedicated to seed storage.

Historically, the region’s food stocks often run out during long dry seasons. Matamoros said, “The silos provide insurance. When we have a prolonged drought or too much rain in a short time, and we experience crop failures, we still need seeds to plant in the following year.”

“This is our last year in Carazo,” says Matamoros. “People now have more capacity to deal with daily life compared to five years ago.”

Briana Concepciol
Briana ConcepcioÌn, 7, sits in front of grain silos that are part of CIEETS work in Aguas Calientes, Carazo, Nicaragua, another municipality where CWS and partners are using the silos to help local families achieve food security. Photo: Sean Hawkey

On the nutrition side, she says, “Back then, people used to depend mainly on one or two crops—beans and maize. With the Growing Healthier approach, we’ve been able to find ways to encourage communities to try more varied and more nutritious food sources for their gardens and their diets.”

Now the Carazo farmers plant resilient, productive native seed varieties of rice, beans, corn and sorghum. And they are growing nutritious foods that they have never grown before, including bananas and certain vegetables.

As food production has increased and diversified, CWS and CIEETS have seen noticeable improvement in children’s health over the last few years, since families began including a variety of vegetables and protein sources in their diets.

The farmers continue to improve on their choices, growing methods and techniques, to increase yields and adapt to the zone’s weather.

Now they are also reaching out to collaborate with other communities. A regional seed exchange is part of the plan to ensure enough for all -- sustainably -- which echoes the spirit of this year’s World Food Day and United Nations declared Year of Cooperatives.

Nicaragua has made significant strides in addressing poverty and hunger, yet is still the second poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Nearly half of its population lives in poverty and, as of a 2007 World Food Program report, 19 percent of Nicaraguans is undernourished.

Contemplating leaving La Conquista and Santa Teresa next year, Matamoros injects the realities of life and self-determination: Grain silos, seed banks and improved food production “do not mean that now people are rich.

“But we do whatever we can. It’s not in our hands to give solutions to every problem. On their own, people will have to learn how to assert themselves and work with their government and municipalities for assistance and to protect their rights,” said Matamoros.

More on CWS/Latin America and Caribbean Region’s Growing Healthier campaign: http://www.cwslac.org/Food-Security-L2dX1.html