Youth Leadership & Food Sovereignty in San Ramón, Nicaragua and Veracruz, México
The Youth Leadership and Education for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Project (Youth Leadership & Food Sovereignty for short), is a collaboration with our partner organizations the Union of Cooperatives San Ramón (UCA San Ramón) in Nicaragua, and Vinculación y Desarrollo Agroecológico en el Café (VIDA AC) in the Central Highlands of Veracruz, México. The project, which was launched in 2011, aims to alleviate food insecurity and seasonal hunger, and promote food sovereign households and communities among 401 coffee farming families (229 direct beneficiary families plus 172 indirect beneficiary families), and build sustainable local food systems in 12 coffee-growing communities in Nicaragua and México through capacity-building and the empowerment of local youth leaders in these communities as agents for food systems change.
The impacts of this project are both significant and revealing of the structural pressures that families are facing and what they need to continue to work to overcome those pressures. Dietary diversity has increased in both Veracruz and San Ramon as a result of production diversification, nutrition education, and income diversification strategies. Household income has risen and 89 women and 41 youth have diversified income from strategies promoted by the project. Months of adequate provisioning in San Ramon have shown a drastic improvement at 9.7 months in 2015 from 7.37 months in 2011. In Veracruz, the months of adequate provisioning has essentially held steady at 10 months since 2011, with some negative fluctuation in 2014 when the la roya crisis emerged in the region. In both San Ramon and Veracruz, communities and cooperatives have strengthened their local organizations to manage food security strategies in the long run.
Project Participant Carolina Díaz García
Cooperativa Denis Gutiérrez Cardoza, La Pita, San Ramón, Nicaragua
First, the work we do in this project helps us have better nutrition. Second, we have extra cash because we sell part of what we produce. For example, the chicken we raise is not only for our own consumption but also for selling. This is also the meaning of food security because with the money we get from selling chicken we can buy rice, oil, soap, and other things we need for our families. I feel like I have learned a lot and have love for what I do. I’d like to go on farming and have food at home. This is something I learned, a life experience, that the gardens, the farm, the vegetables, the fruits are so important for life. Even though the project has ended, I will continue farming. Now I eat delicious food based on vegetables, salads; it is very nice to be able to eat well, living in peace, happy. To me it was a great feeling to have been selected to be part of this project. I am very grateful to those who decided to give me this opportunity.
The Phase 2 Year 3-Annual Report: March 1, 2014-February 29, 2015 is published below.
Research Findings and Lessons Learned
The biggest challenge faced by the project this year was the continuation of drought in San Ramón, and ongoing irregular rains in Veracruz. This created problems for coffee renovation efforts underway as well as regular seasonal food production. Coffee seedlings need irrigation, and in some cooperatives in San Ramón, creeks and springs simply dried up in mid-2015 when the regular rainy season did not arrive. Some families were hand-carrying buckets of kitchen wastewater to water their coffee seedlings. In terms of the impact on food production, the first planting of corn (which is normally done at the beginning of the rainy season in May) was stunted and in some cases, failed; similarly, the second planting of beans (normally in September or October) was delayed. Both of these impacts had the potential to create a food security crisis later in the year because of reduced corn and bean harvests or the failure of planted crops. However, the seedbanks played a critical role in helping to prevent this crisis among many families, by providing seed to replant when the corn crop failed (and no seed was produced).
Although most families in San Ramón are on the path to recuperation from the Roya crisis, the rust hit Veracruz even harder in 2015 than in 2014. This meant that 2015 was an especially hard year for families there, on top of the irregular rains they were already experiencing and the loss of coffee yields the previous year. Farmers in Veracruz have mentioned that their production diversification into vegetables, fruits, and eggs will help them to weather the economic impacts of a much-reduced harvest in 2015-16.
The compounded crises of Roya and drought over the last few years have taught us the importance of incorporating coffee forests into food security strategies, as places of both food production and cash crop generation. Simply investing in diversification away from coffee, while ignoring coffee production itself, only serves to weaken the central pillar of the family livelihood. We have learned that we need to invest in strengthening coffee and food production as one agroecological and economic system by improving soil fertility and integrating food production in many ways into coffee forests themselves. There is a need for a systematization of knowledge around best soil fertility practices, to strengthen the resiliency of coffee forests, food production, and household livelihoods against increasingly severe ecological shocks associated with climate change. CAN and its coffee smallholder partner organizations are designing a methodology for farmer-led experimentation around different defined combinations of soil fertility, shade management, and food production diversification practices in the coffee forest, with the aim of identifying the most effective combinations of strategies for building climate resiliency.
We have also learned that families are better off when women have access to the means of production, income generation, and can make household decisions. Although we have made great strides in empowering the women we work with through access to knowledge, practices, and resources, women still do not have gender equity when it comes to access to land and to producer organizations like cooperatives. This means that women’s empowerment as food producers, providers, and income generators is vulnerable, and that their voices and perspectives are still not taken into account in decisions that directly affect them. CAN is working with its partners to develop strategies to increase women’s access to land and participation in cooperative organizations in conjunction with coffee renovation, soil fertility, food forest development strategies.
- 28 more home gardens were established in San Ramón and 29 in Veracruz, bringing the total number of direct beneficiaries with homegardens to 234, exceeding our total project goal.
- Capacity building in the elaboration of nine different soil and foliar applications, including compost, worm compost, effective microorganisms, biofertilizers and mineral foliar applications for both food and coffee production areas, were intensified and expanded in both Veracruz and San Ramón, and investments were made in barrels and other equipment to allow more groups to produce the fertilizers and preparations.
- Six school gardens continue to involve 312 children and youth in learning agroecology and healthy dietary habits using locally-valued foods.
- Workshops on nutrition education and the usage of locally available and traditional foods were performed. In San Ramón, a nutrition guide and recipe book was developed based on the new knowledge and the women’s knowledge of local recipes
- A total of seven CADAS are established and running in conjunction with the seven seedbanks in San Ramon. A total of 4815 lb of corn and beans were distributed in 2015 during the thin months, with almost 15,000 lb recuperated and produced by year end, and it is projected that the CADAs will recuperate and produce for redistribution during the 2016 thin months 30,000 lb of corn and beans to approximately 194 families in the cooperatives, and an additional 96 families in the communities.
- In San Ramón, seven additional seedbanks were launched this year with the planting of seed production plots in seven cooperatives in mid-2015, making a total of eight seedbanks there and five in Veracruz. All 12 seedbanks are now storing multiple varieties of heirloom and adapted corn and bean seeds. Additionally, project beneficiaries underwent more training in seed selection, curing, and hygienic storage, and all 12 seedbank committees underwent additional training in seedbank operations and management.
- A total of 38 irrigation systems, 55 water catchment systems, and 84 home water filters have been installed through the project in Phase 2.
- Youth leaders successfully completed field data collection with the tablet interfaces in 2015, demonstrating their competency levels. A final project evaluation workshop was held in San Ramón in December 2015 and included project staff from all three organizations as well as youth leaders and project participants offering analysis, reflections, and recommendations on the last 5 years of working together.