Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, after Haiti. In Jinotega, home to the SOPPEXCCA coffee co-operative, Nicaragua’s Health and Education census reported a level of malnutrition at nearly 39%. Because of the community’s isolation—due to the poor roads during rainy seasons, which prevent access to such basic services as health care and education—”the thin months” of seasonal hunger have hit SOPPEXCCA’s members and their families hard.
Although coffee can provide enough income to cover most basic family needs, it has not been a steady source. Most farmers own very small parcels of land, and are extremely vulnerable to relatively small changes in coffee prices or lower yields. And because Nicaragua is such a poor country, farmers can’t rely on the government for help when things get tough. Organizations like SOPPEXCCA are a critical resource, because they often serve as the community’s only safety net.
SOPPEXCCA is a second-level cooperative that includes 18 first-level cooperatives and about 670 member-families in Jinotega and el Cuá in Nicaragua. On average, families farm a coffee production area of nearly 5 acres, and own about 8.6 acres of land.
In 2011, we began our partnership with the coop to help this community build a long-term plan to fight seasonal hunger. After our initial planning with coop staff and workshops with members, the coop established a Food Security Committee, which is overseeing SOPPEXCCA’s strategic plan and community-appropriate strategies to help address “los meses flacos” – the “Thin Months” of seasonal hunger.
In 2013, we began supporting the implementation of food security strategies identified during the planning process. One of the keys to the coop’s success will be its ability to monitor its own progress, rather than relying on NGO partners. To this end, we are working with SOPPEXCCA to build a monitoring & evaluation system that staff can use to measure progress, identify impediments, and build on what works.
Activities and long-term goals
Food Security Education and Awareness
- We’ve trained 200 families on the importance of healthy food and nutrition, food security, and crop management.
- We’ve trained SOPPEXCCA staff to facilitate community food security workshops.
- SOPPEXCCA has established a community-based Food Security Committee.
- Youth education: SOPPEXCCA has established one ecological school garden and nutrition training. Coop staff and a representative from the school has been trained on basic methodology, including garden management and curriculum development for the classroom. We are working with SOPPEXCCA to expand this program.
Crop Diversification for Food Security
- 137 families from 13 communities are growing 337 acres of beans. Maize will also be added in time.
- SOPPEXCCA constructed a storage facility with 300 tons of basic grains storage capacity. The building is sited in La Paz del Tuma to maximize access to members, and features 51 metal silos to ensure quality.
- A revolving fund was established to gather and distribute basic grains to families. This fund enables the coop to purchase and sell beans and maize with members, and keep supplies and prices consistent and affordable. So far, 44 families have benefited from the revolving fund.
- More than 100 coop members are being trained in the cultivation of at least one alternative crop. Most families have chosen to cultivate cacao and achiote.
- A cacao nursery was created in 2014, with a goal of establishing 24,000 cacao plants (equivalent to 34.5 acres). These plants were distributed in 2015.
- A plan to create a local organic farmers market to sell member-family crops in Jinotega is in the works.
Soil & Water Conservation
- 200 farm plans have been completed and are being implemented to improve food security and support soil and water conservation practices. Farm plans include a diagnostic of each product with a focus on food security; and a food security plan for each family.
- Integrated soil and water conversation practices. 7,000 meters of hedgerows have been established on 83 farms. Bean seeds have been purchased to establish cover crops and improve soil fertility on at least 43 acres of land with soil fertility problems.
Monitoring & Evaluation
- A Baseline and Participatory Community Diagnostic were completed at the beginning of the project.
- A Monitoring & Evaluation manual was completed in June 2014.
- SOPPEXCCA staff have been trained on monitoring.