Farmer Leaders in Nicaragua Help Their Neighbors Obtain Production Loans

By Rodolfo Ricardo Hernandez Navas – Agriculture Program Officer

Leaders coordinate production loans with Rodolfo.

The mission of Self-Help International is to, “Alleviate hunger by helping people to help themselves.”  In Nicaragua, Self-Help has adopted a three-pronged approach to assist farmers in improving the quality and quantity of food they produce.

The crucial elements are: (1) access to improved seeds, such as high protein (QPM) corn and biofortified beans; (2) improved knowledge of agricultural practices, communicated through workshops, demonstration plots, and social media postings; and (3) short-term loans using funds received from Self-Help donors.  Access to credit allows farmers to not only acquire improved seeds but also purchase the fertilizer, pesticides, and seed protection inputs they need to take full advantage of the genetic potential of the seed they purchase.

At the beginning, Self-Help provided credit to a group of farmers who agreed to produce certified QPM seed corn, which was then channeled into the commercial agricultural input market.  In 2019, the credit program was extended to a larger group of 68 farmers who, after completing the necessary training, planted the certified QPM seed and produced commercial corn.

After meeting their own families’ nutritional needs, farmers marketed their extra production to other families in the community.  This provided the farmers with cash income to spend on other priorities such as education for their children and home improvements.

Self-Help has developed this innovative model that identifies leading farmers in each community who in turn identify other farmers whom they consider to be good credit risks.  These leaders help arrange loans from Self-Help to purchase seed and other crop inputs.  They also take responsibility for seeing that the loans are repaid after the crops are harvested.  By utilizing local leaders, Self-Help leverages its professional expertise and capital to benefit many more families.

The following farmers are examples of three key leaders from the communities of San Agustín, Nueva Armenia, and Las Minas.  All three of them began collaborating with Self-Help to produce certified seed corn.  As of 2021, they have taken responsibility for helping their neighbors obtain financing to buy needed inputs and market their products.

Isidro is the president of the Los Chiles Cooperative, which has 46 members.  He is also responsible for the biofortified bean seed bank in his community. Through Isidro’s efforts, the members of the Cooperative plus four other farmers in his community received loans from Self-Help.  They depend on the leadership, decision-making, and hard work that Isidro demonstrates every day.  In 2019, he was presented with the SHI Merry Fredrick Leadership Award for his efforts.

Ariel is from the community of Nueva Armenia.  Besides facilitating loans for his group of 22 farmers, he shares with them the agricultural knowledge he has learned from Self-Help.  Although the farmers each receive individual loans, Ariel knows them all personally and is responsible for both the disbursement and the recovery of the funds.  You can read more about Ariel’s role in improving agriculture in his community in the April GlobalGiving report.

Basilio is the leader with the largest number of producers under his responsibility. He has taken charge of a group of 39 farmers from Las Minas.  He helps them obtain financing from Self-Help and passes on the knowledge and strategies and he has learned through the Self-Help agriculture program.

In April 2020 every one of the farmers receiving a loan repaid it on time, despite disruptions to the Nicaraguan economy from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the most recent planting season, beginning in September-October 2020, 65 farmers received loans totaling 429,480 Córdobas, or about $12,600 US.  Loans are to be repaid within a period of 7 months, after the crops are harvested.  April 2021 was the deadline for cancellation of the loans.  Of the 65 cooperating producers, only 3 of them had not repaid yet as of April 2021, resulting in a 96% repayment rate (with anticipated 100% later in 2021).

Each producer who works with these three leaders has confidence that everything will turn out well, that they will achieve better yields with their crops, and, after repaying their loans, he will have extra money to expand his corn plantings and improve his family’s living situation.

Self-Help has confidence in these three leaders because they know the people in their communities and their needs, and have earned their trust.  They have become vital intermediaries in fulfilling Self-Help’s mission.