Improving Agriculture to Fight Hunger and Malnutrition

By Jorge Campos Solis – Nicaragua Country Director

Farmers with QPM certified seed.

In keeping with our mission to “eradicate hunger and malnutrition in all its forms,” we at Self-Help International are working hard to find new methods to increase corn yields for small farmers in Nicaragua, to ensure greater quality and quantity of food, and increase spendable income for their families.

Certified Seed

A dedicated group of progressive farmers have collaborated with Self-Help International this year to produce about 50,000 pounds of certified high protein seed corn (QPM) of the variety INTA-Nutrader. They are members of three cooperatives, Coope-Ochomogo RL, Coopemel RL, and Coope-San Marcos and San Lucas RL.

The seed corn is being processed at the seed conditioning plant of INTA-CNIAB (Ministry of Agriculture) in Managua. Next it will be certified by the Institute of Agricultural Protection and Health of Nicaragua (IPSA) and the International Regional Organization for Agricultural Security (OIRSA).

Once the seed is certified as viable and pure it will be marketed through 22 agri-service input suppliers in various regions of Nicaragua. This will allow some two thousand small farmers to plant at least one manzana (1.7 acres) of high-protein corn in the upcoming season.

Seed-producing families are rewarded for their hard efforts with increased production and a higher selling price for their corn.  The women in the families have well-defined roles in the corn production process. They use the immature ears of corn for family consumption, and help collect the ears at the end of the harvest.  In the first seventy days of the season, when the early corn is still tender, the women use their culinary knowledge to prepare atoles, tamales, tortillas, etc. from the chilotes.  The higher protein content of the Nutrader seed helps improve the families’ nutritional status.

Demonstration Plots

Demonstrating improved production technologies is a priority for Self-HelpAbout 450 farmers will each receive a small portion of certified QPM seed corn to establish a demonstration plot of about four hundred square meters. On these small plots a series of experiments will be carried out, the object of which will be to demonstrate good agronomic management throughout the different growth stages of the corn.  This will help the farmers learn how to deal with the effects of climate, including drought, heat and erratic rainfall.

Farmers who participate in training events held at the demonstration plots receive new technical knowledge to apply to their own crops.  The traditional ways of corn production and the double-row techniques will be put to the test, and yields will be compared. On some plots organic fertilizers will be used, while others will receive commercial fertilizer.

Shelling the Corn

Co-op farmers with their new sheller.

Shelling corn by hand uses the labor of the whole family, including the women. This is a very time-consuming and fatiguing task.  This summer six farmers received new corn shellers with a gasoline engines, with a capacity to shell twenty-five bushels of corn per hour. Self-Help International agreed to providing training, technical assistance and the delivery of this equipment, with the cost to be repaid in two harvests. The farmers will not only use the machines to shell their own corn, they will offer a service to the community by allowing other farmers to use the shellers for a nominal charge.

Storage of Crops

Another priority is the safe storage of grain. The adoption of storage facilities such as silos and air-tight barrels is key to the family’s food security, because it allows them to keep their corn free of mold and insects.  This summer two more farmers bought silos (steel barrels) with a capacity of eighty bushels each for storage of corn. This allows the women in the family to use the grains for feeding chickens, pigs, and other small animals for home consumption and selling in the markets. In addition, storing grain allows the farmers to wait and sell it at a better price, increasing their income.

The QPM program seeks to strengthen the ability of farmers to produce better crops and make their businesses more efficient. Self-Help International is proud to support farmers who are eager to improve themselves.  They have made the decision to make changes in their way of working the land and cultivating corn, by using improved technology. They lead by example with their ability to transmit their knowledge to other farmers in their communities.  This raises their self-esteem and gives them the courage to undertake new challenges.