Through its partnership with Lutheran World Relief, FRB supported a pilot project called Learning for Gender Integration. Read about the results in the article below.
Farmers in the Flor de Pancasán area of Nicaragua’s Matiguás municipality were struggling. They were seeing low crop yields for a variety of reasons, including soil depletion, a lack of resources to make key investments and weather fluctuations, and this was affecting their ability to feed their families. Through its Learning for Gender Integration project, Lutheran World Relief wanted to see whether an initiative to increase agricultural production and improve food security might be bolstered with efforts to reduce gender gaps.
Many women in the area are members of agricultural cooperatives. But the cooperative structures did not address the limitations women face in receiving services, as fewer of them own land or have access to credit. Additionally, men typically make the majority of household resource decisions.
Through this initiative, the women in the Flor de Pancasán cooperative got an opportunity to participate more fully in the operation of their family farms — and they proved their mettle. Given the same training and resources as men in the cooperative, they saw much larger increases in production. The point is not necessarily that women are better farmers than men, but that their participation in running the farm pays major dividends.
Four years ago, José Ananias Suárez — like many other rural dwellers — was ready to leave his hometown and birthplace of Pancasán in Matiguás, Matagalpa in search of a better life. With each growing season, weather conditions and soil depletion reduced the yield of the staple grains he and his father and brothers planted on their shared 60 acre farm, forcing him to work on nearby farms for a salary to ensure he could feed his family.
Today, thanks to crop diversification and implementing best agricultural management practices, their income has risen and their quality of life has improved. “Now besides corn and beans, we also work with coffee and cocoa, and since cocoa produces all year long, we always have a few bucks in our pocket,” says Suarez.
Similar to Mr. Suarez, and like many other women farmers facing multiple barriers to land ownership and finance for their production, Sandra Lopez has managed to earn income of her own for the first time in her life. Although the land remains titled to her husband, she now owns four cows that generate daily income for her from sale of the milk they produce.
Suarez and Lopez are two of the 417 members of the Flor de Pancasán (Flower of Pancasán) Cooperative who in the past three years have improved their standard of living by diversifying their production and implementing better farming practices with the support of the project Learning for Gender Integration (LGI, for its acronym in English).
“This project worked in four key areas to ensure food security: improved production yields, diversified production, strengthened political structure in the cooperative, and sensitization of men and women on shared household decision-making,” explains the project coordinator, Marvin Antonio Molina of Lutheran World Relief (LWR).
“In the beginning it was a struggle to get women to attend the workshops, but as they became more involved eventually it turned out that the women were producing more than the men. They were more efficient producers,” says Ciro Estrada, coordinator at the Community Agricultural Diversification and Development Association (ADDAC).
The initiative urged those involved to combine the production of basic grains for consumption with crops for income generation, and the coffee and cocoa plantations were renovated and expanded.In coffee, which before yielded on average 523 pounds per acre, women increased their production by another 523 pounds per acre, while men only added an additional 116 pounds per acre. And with cocoa, before yielding an average of 348 pounds per acre, the women increased production by 811 pounds and men by only and additional 348 pounds.
The improvements were achieved through constant training, field days in demonstration plots, proper soil management, and in the case of cacao plantations, grafting the trees with more productive varieties and implementing better pruning techniques.
“It shows that when you give [women] the right opportunities, when given technical assistance, advice and training, they are more efficient than men at production. In addition, when there is improved communication between men and women and improved relationships, that carries over into the field as better production, thus improving household incomes,” asserts Estrada.
Due to the positive results of this initiative, developed by LWR with the support of ADDAC, according to Molina there are plans to replicate it in other communities in the north, possibly next in Rancho Grande.
Increasing the visibility of the role of women in farming and facilitating women’s access to credit are the most important contributions made by the three-year LGI project implemented by LWR and ADDAC, says Levy del Carmen Mesis, secretary of the Board of Directors of the Flor de Pancasán Cooperative.
According to Mesis, although the project is concluding, the cooperative is prepared to ensure sustainability of the project. “As we now have Fair Trade certification, we can get better prices for the coffee and cocoa we harvest, we are already looking for new markets, and in the future we can get direct buyers and become direct exporters,” he said.
Grafting to improve
Grafting cocoa trees with clones or cuttings from more productive trees has been one of the techniques that has allowed members of the Flor de Pancasán Cooperative increase the yield of this crop that was previously barely 348 pounds per acre.
“After just a bit more than a year, the grafted trees begin to bear fruit and you know whether they will be more productive or be pure shell,” says Solomon Suarez, a Pancasán producer.
In addition to grafting the trees, the application of bio inputs for the management and control of pests, and leaving cuttings and stubble to nourish the soil, guarantee increased productivity and improved quality of the cocoa.
The pilot project
The Learning for Gender Integration project, which started in 2013, was a pilot initiative that was developed in parallel in Nicaragua, India and Uganda. In Nicaragua the project invested $210,000 donated [to LWR] by the Foods Resource Bank which benefited 417 members of the Flor de Pancasán cooperative, of which 143 are women.
“Over time it has become clear that a woman can achieve good increase in production, and provide many benefits to her organization when she is trained and empowered; especially when the men value and respect this effort. This approach has ensured that the male and female members understand that by combining their skills and learning together, they can live in a more just community,” says LWR’s Molina.