Small farms, low income from coffee, and little access to healthy food have left SOPPEXCCA farming families to confront 3-4 months of food insecurity, every year. Climate change, hurricanes Eta and Iota, political strife, and the COVID-19 pandemic have amplified their vulnerability and slowed markets, transportation, and services.
In 2011, we began our first collaboration, working with SOPPEXCCA to develop locally-led strategies to reduce seasonal hunger, increase local food production, and create new economic opportunities — particularly for women and young people. Early strategies included cacao production, cultivating and storing beans and maize for family consumption and local sales, nutrition and food security education, organic composting, and improvements to farm soil and water health.
In 2018, we started a new phase of work to bring fresh, locally grown organic food to farming families and the surrounding community of 130,000 people, The Mercadito Nutri-Hogar was launched — a women-led organic farmers market, with produce from their own farms. Women coffee farmers learned to grow organically, started home vegetable gardens, then acquired business skills to bolster their marketing, customer service, and new start up ventures.
SOPPEXCCA wanted to go beyond its won membership to help the area’s residents access healthy food, so we worked with SOPPEXCCA to begin a new school garden program in 2018 at 3 elementary schools, to teach the next generation about good nutrition and the benefits of growing organically.
The organic market has grown from 20 women participants to nearly 40, who now manage the Mercadito Nutri-Hogar in Jinotega, as well as three new satellite markets in area communities. Market sales have helped these women increase their income by more than 13%, while enjoying significant savings on household food expenses. It’s the first time many have had their own source of income to save or invest, as coffee income is typically shared among the whole family. And they’re using it to invest in their children’s education.
SOPPEXCCA also wanted to go beyond its own membership to help the larger community access healthy food, so in 2018, we added a school garden program at 3 area elementary schools, to teach the next generation about good nutrition and the benefits of growing organically.
WHAT WE’RE WORKING ON NOW
Thanks to funding from Grow Ahead and the Arbor Day Foundation, this year we’re developing agroforestry as a food security strategy with SOPPEXCCA. The co-op selected hardwood trees for shade and pollinator food, fruit trees for consumption and local sales, and plants for soil erosion control and water management in home gardens. The 203 farming families in this program are getting ongoing technical assistance and learning about how to use these additions to improve nutrition and food security. So far, SOPPEXCCA families have planted 2,400 hardwood trees, 3,000 fruit trees and tens of thousands of edible, melliferous, and soil-retention plants.
This year, we’ve created a Community Promoter Certification program, to deliver professional skills training to 17 young adults — sons and daughters of co-op members. At the completion of this two-year program, participants will thoroughly versed in leadership skills, training and facilitation, data collection, and technical support for families.
We’re also developing a sister market for women in the Mercadito Nutri-Hogar program, in the town of Santa Rosa del Cua, managed by 5 women farmers who live in the community.
Our school garden program has grown, adding 10 more schools, and is now flourishing at 13 area schools, serving 2,600 students and their families.