This was Ashley’s first time in Nicaragua, and her first time participating in the Farmer-to-farmer program. After serving in the Peace Corps in Zambia as an agriculture extension volunteer, she was eager to combine her background in tropical livestock system production with her M.S. in animal science. With her thesis research specifically studying improving the utilization of low-quality forages with alternative energy supplementation, this program provided an invaluable opportunity to apply her education and experience in a valuable and productive manner. The purpose and objective of the visit was to provide nutritional technical assistance to producers to improve their operational resilience and production metrics.
Over the course of the two weeks, the two volunteers conducted approximately 10 site/field visits to producers’ operations or plants. One afternoon workshop and one all-day workshop were conducted with producers and technicians. The final days in Nicaragua included presenting briefly on at the 2nd Annual Regional Farmers Congress and conducting an hour-long radio interview on a national broadcast of a weekly agriculture program.
|Participant with his favorite cow|
The month of April in Nicaragua is a difficult time for livestock producers. It is the end of their dry season (“winter”), and with no rainfall for approximately 5 months, there is little available feedstuff for cattle to graze. The pasture that is available is generally of very poor quality since the plants are near the end of their growth cycle. Feed tends to be high in fiber (NDF and ADF), low in crude protein, and virtually devoid of energy, all of which limit dry matter intake. The producers are making great strides in improving their supplementation programs through the use of concentrates and silage during the dry season, and the majority of the recommendations in this report are intended to improve upon these programs.
|Checking the quality of sillage|
Another critical contextual observation that will help prepare future volunteers is with regards to the type of cattle that are being produced in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is on a very exciting cusp of agricultural revolution, with the specialization of livestock industries beginning to emerge away from traditional small-scale farming. This creates a unique set of challenges and exciting possibilities for farmers and future volunteers. The producers want to move toward specialized breeds of cattle and capitalize on the genetic component of production for specific industries. This means that currently most of the cattle that are being fed are dual-purpose animals, neither specialized for meat or milk, which changes the metabolic partitioning of nutrients and subsequent diet recommendations.
Producers seem to think that improving the genetic specialization of their cattle is the key to increased performance; however it is critical that future volunteers emphasize that nutritional management is the priority and any genetic improvements made will be wasted without appropriate nutritional programs. Overall, the livestock and agricultural industries in Nicaragua are thriving, and provide several unique and exciting opportunities for improvement as well as innovation.
|Conway and participants|
|Conway speaking on air in Matagalpa|
Like many F2F volunteers, Ashley described the positive impact the assignment had on her as well as the high value for the host organizations. “This assignment was an incredibly valuable and enriching experience for me, both personally and professionally. As has been my experience in previous situations, I feel that I gained as much (if not more) from the people we met than they gained from us. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience, one that I hope to participate in again in the future. Professionally, I believe that my experience in Nicaragua was an excellent addition to my previous international agriculture experience while greatly expanding my exposure to other animal production systems. I hope to continue my professional development in international livestock nutrition, particularly in creating sustainable integrated systems in tropical regions. The F2F program is a valuable component in continuing my personal and professional education in this area, and I am glad I have been able to participate. Without hesitation, I would return to Nicaragua to continue working with F2F and the many wonderful people I met during my brief time there.”