I have been volunteering for the past 14 years with an organization called Foods Resource Bank (FRB). FRB raises funds in the U.S.—usually through a church, organization or individuals forming a Growing Project, growing and selling a crop—and sends the funds to FRB. Then we use that money to help small holder farmers become food secure through programs organized by our 16 implementing partners all around the world.
The week after Thanksgiving I traveled with FRB to Nicaragua to visit two ongoing programs that are funded by the organization to help farmers (<1 to 10 acres, generally) improve their food security through training and support in innovative cropping systems, crop diversification, water acquisition and conservation, diet diversification, health and hygiene education, and more.
Typical Corn Production
Three years ago I traveled with FRB to this area, and I met a number of people making a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor. Juan Carlos Cortez and Salvador Traña are agronomists working for the Fundacion San Lucas in Jinotepe, Nicaragua. They work as teachers, advisors and friends to their farmer clients. The non-governmental organization (NGO) has a research and demonstration farm where they can put on trials and do an analysis of innovative crops, varieties and practices, and then show them to farmer “promoters” who implement them on their land and share them with their neighbors.
One trial that really caught my eye was a three-part plot of corn (maíze) production techniques.
The first method was the typical method of corn production locally, the untreated check. Tillage of the entire field surface was with an ox-drawn plow deep enough to be sure the ground was thoroughly stirred, then laid out in rows and planted “by eye” or basically random spacing within the row.
The second method is called conservation agriculture (CA) and involves no tillage, except digging holes (huacas) every 75cm along the rows. These holes were 15cm deep and 15cm across. Composted cow manure was added to each hole, soil was added on top, then 1 or 2 corn seeds were planted in each hole. The ground is then mulched using residue from a previous crop. This provides both water conservation and a bit of weed control. Incredibly labor intensive and time consuming.
The third method has been termed “arado verde” or green plow. Rather than digging holes, the ox drawn plow is used to lay out the rows and till just the row (sound familiar?) at a regulated depth near 15cm. Compost is then added to the tilled strip, a layer of soil, and then the seed is placed near 75cm spacing within the row and covered. Mulch is once again added.
Arado Verde, or Green Plowing
Juan Carlos and Salvador have results from several crops. They have recorded data on rainfall, emergence, population, ear numbers, ear weight and kernel count. The corn yield for both the two trial methods was considerably better than the typical local method. Yields between CA and green plow were comparable, but the cost in terms of time and labor is considerably less for the green plow method. Farmers are shown these demonstrations, and then they make the decision on which method they prefer.
It is truly amazing to visit with agronomists doing this kind of work in one of the poorest countries in Central America. To watch the farmers as they listen intently to Juan Carlos or Salvador explain practices is very neat. And seeing these farmers share their success and pass their experiences on to their neighbors is just plain inspiring.
This is just a snippet of the things I learned and the friends I made on this trip. If you are looking for a speaker or presentation and would be interested in hearing more about FRB’s work in sustainable agricultural development, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.foodsresourcebank.org/.
Juan Carlos Cortez, Kevin Nelson, Salvador Trena, The Three Agronomists