Thursday, June 20, 2013

Improving Horticulture Production and Marketing in Nicaragua

Farmer-to-Farmer recently sent two volunteers to work with horticulture project hosts in Nicaragua with the goal of improving the standard of living of vegetable producers. Historically, the production of vegetables is limited by low levels of agricultural technology, inadequate use of natural resources, low production value, and low budget in the production sector, as well as issues associated with agricultural methods and techniques, pest control, sickness, and poor post-management of crops. By helping producers make efficient use of the natural resources on their farms and providing specialized technical assistance, Farmer-to-Farmer aims to ensure food security and protect the health of producers and their families.

For two weeks in May, professor of community development Arlen Albrecht worked with producers, offering assistance in the areas of organic vegetable production, disease and insect control, square foot gardens, drip irrigation, jet stove making, and water harvesting/gravity fed drip irrigation systems. Working alongside him as a first-time volunteer, rural development outreach specialist Erin Peot provided assistance in the areas of business and marketing, local sales opportunities, and helping producers explore low cost value-added concepts.

Erin experienced first hand the challenges that come with the work Arlen has been doing since he took his first volunteer trip with Farmer-to-Farmer to Nicaragua in 1999. In the Buenos Aires/Villa del Carmen area residents were experiencing a drought. Many local water wells were dry, leaving the Mayra Mendoza community unable to maintain their kitchen gardens. Arlen responded by helping install a gravity fed drip irrigation system that saved both gas and river water. With more than a decade of volunteer experience in the region, Arlen explained, "I feel that although change is happening very slowly, the plight of the rural poor in Nicaragua is improving, and that F2F volunteers are contributing to that along with the hosts."

It was in Tecuantepe that Arlen and Erin visited "the most significant garden project witnessed to date". They were impressed, noting examples of various growing methods. Arlen provided instruction on tomato plant care and crop rotation, while Erin taught producers direct marketing concepts and helped them create a mixed-produce box to be marketed to university professors, students, and current clientele. "I had a wonderful experience in Nicaragua because of the Partners’ staff and the workshop participants," Erin told Farmer-to-Farmer.

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