Learning from others: "From Farmer to Farmer" in Nicaragua
In 2004, when the national farmers’ association, UNAG, launched an organic farming program under the name “From Farmer to Farmer” in Jucuapa in the north of Nicaragua, it was a reflection of the hard times that had been experienced by the local farmers. In the region of Matagalpa, 54 percent of the population was living below the poverty line and malnutrition was common in rural areas. The price for coffee, the country’s most cultivated crop, had been very low for years, leaving many farmers and agricultural workers facing crisis; many fincas had to give up. There was also a low degree of organization between farmers, with only one cooperative existing in Jucuapa. On their one or two hectares of land, the farmers cultivated coffee, maize or beans, mostly in monocultures.
After carefully analyzing the situation, UNAG started to train the first 60 peasant families in Jucuapa in two key areas: enhancing soil fertility (for example by producing organic fertilizer, using cover crops and crop residue, and avoiding erosion through terraces and walls) and diversifying crops. They were taught how to establish mixed cultivation in order to achieve an effective symbiosis of different crops, including fruit trees, roots and tubers, and cereals. As a key element of the program, UNAG trained an initial ten farmers to become “farmer promoters” – volunteers who shared their experiences with others. For several years, these multipliers spread their knowledge from village to village, passed on tips and tricks, and taught their farming colleagues useful techniques. These included valuable skills, such as how to make compost or how to build drainage canals to prevent erosion. Regular visits to other farmers in the area who had successfully switched to organic helped augment the effective exchanges of knowledge.