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Project Plan

The "Alternative Strategies for Agriculture in Rural Nicaragua" project is focused on providing knowledge regarding sustainable agriculture techniques that can be transferred by a team of extensionists to members of a rural Nicaraguan community and surrounding region.

Alternative Strategies for Agriculture in Rural Nicaragua

Currently, three young extensionists are being supported as part of this program - Marvin Aguirre, Edward Aguirres and Javier Espinoza. The hope is that this approach, besides being of direct benefit to the region in and around Talolinga, would also be a model for assistance to similar communities in Nicaragua, Central America and beyond. Collaborators in the project are the Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance (YGA) and St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, working together with the non-profit organization Project Gettysburg Leon (PGL). 

This program was initiated with training and support for a young farmer from the community, Javier Espinoza, who attended both field and academic workshops on sustainable agriculture beginning in October of 2011. Javier is also enrolled in formal university studies in agronomy. Marvin Aguirre joined the program in 2014 and has a specific interest in animal husbandry and veterinary science as a complement to agriculture studies. Edward Aguirres joined the program in 2015 and has a keen interest in sustainable agriculture and transferring what that knowledge to local school students.

Stakeholders and Communities

Talolinga is located in the Leon district, roughly forty miles in distance from the Nicaragua’s second-largest city, which is also called Leon. The community is at an altitude of between 3,000-3,500 feet, with a steep-grade road that is usually unusable during the two rainy seasons each year. Almost all income in Talolinga is based on agriculture, but due to remoteness and lack of a local market, the average income of the community is between $3-$4 per day, near the poverty line established by the UN and the Nicaraguan government. There are roughly 80 families dispersed throughout the community, comprising 450-500 people.  Electricity was only installed in the community in 2012. The potable water sources are adequate and have tested negative for contamination, including for arsenic which elsewhere in this region is a significant problem. The community has a school that serves 1st to 6th grade. After that, students must walk one-way for over an hour to reach the high school in the community of Santa Rosa de Peñon below. There is a basic clinic that is staffed three days a week by nurses and a doctor from outside the community. 

The Penn State Extension Young Grower Alliance (YGA) is a coalition based near Gettysburg, PA that offers its members a chance for interconnection with similar professionals working in agriculture, both to offer support to one another but to also offer opportunities for outreach
directed at other communities and field practice with different methods of agriculture. In 2010, YGA decided to partner with Project Gettysburg Leon to help underserved farmers in rural Nicaragua.

St. James Lutheran Church is located in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and has a congregation of approximately 3,079 members, many of whom are farmers. The congregation decided in 2012 to make the Talolinga Extension Project one of its new world outreach mission projects with support in the form of funding and agricultural delegations.

Project Gettysburg Leon (PGL) has maintained a sister city relationship with the city and district of Leon in Nicaragua for over twenty-five years. Leon is the country’s second largest city, but the district encompasses hundreds of rural communities. PGL has sponsored various assistance projects during its history, including: potable water projects, arts schools, health clinics, electrification of rural communities and many similar initiatives. As part of its ongoing mission, PGL is working together with YGA on the Talolinga outreach project to improve agricultural practice and methods in this underserved rural community.

Universidad Nacional Agraria (UNA) was founded in 1917 as the principle agriculture based academic institution in Nicaragua. Several professors from various departments, including entomology and agro-ecology, carry out extension work in rural communities throughout Nicaragua, which includes research and investigation, training programs, and technical assistance. A group of four professors, led by entomologist Oswaldo Rodriguez, have coordinated with PGL and YGA representatives to explore the possibility of a joint grant proposal with the goal of providing agriculture trainings and support to rural communities such as Talolinga.

Instituto Nicaraguense de Tecnologia Agropecuaria (INTA) offers technical assistance, trainings, and presentation of new agriculture technologies to small, medium and large scale producers. The principle objective of INTA is to investigate, develop, adapt and transfer technical knowledge to the private and public sector, while preserving natural resources and the environment. 

Need For Project

The critical need addressed by this proposal is training and outreach to improve agriculture practices in Talolinga and neighboring communities, by means of an in-country extensionist program, and to furthermore diversify production and harvests for improved community sustainability and to seek markets for potential income-generating crops. A two-year training period has been completed for Javier Espinoza, a farmer from Talolinga now working with YGA & PGL as an extensionist, and he is continuing with formal studies.  His training to this point has been focused on sustainable agriculture practices and techniques. Javier has initiated organic demonstration gardens, and the next steps will include continuing support and expansion of the project, to also include continued interaction with local institutions and international support networks such as YGA in the United States and potential resources within Nicaragua such as BioNica and Sustainable Harvest International.  

Marvin Aguirre is the second extensionist to be enrolled and supported within this program. He has started a program year of study parallel to Javier’s, but Marvin’s emphasis is more on animal husbandry and veterinary skills, particularly care for cattle, mules and horses. These animals are crucial to the economic well-being of the communities in and surrounding Talolinga, especially given the access issues due to the community’s remoteness.

Edward Aguirres is the third extensionist to be supported in his scholarly studies, and he is already putting into practice sustainable methods geared towards the future of his home village. He established a working school garden and has developed a seed bank to address the needs of food security.

Strategy and Stakeholder Involvement

In January of 2011 and 2012, a PGL delegation that included members of the Young Grower Alliance (YGA) carried out initial evaluations and conducted informal interviews with community members of Talolinga. The strategy agreed upon was to seek ways for the community to gain access to more resources for improving agriculture practices, based on support of  young, local growers to be the conduit for such access.

Talolinga, like many rural communities in Leon and throughout Nicaragua, is isolated by geography and poverty. The community is located atop an extended mountain ridge and access is at times limited, due to constant washouts of the steep roadway during the rainy season. Agriculture is almost exclusively the source of income for the eighty families who live in the community. Talolinga receives little direct assistance for agriculture and no direct training in improved practices, due to its rural location and the poverty of Nicaragua overall. Nicaragua is the western hemisphere’s second-poorest country, with over half of the population below the UN-established poverty line of $3 per day income. Talolinga is in this sense typical of a rural village in Nicaragua, where poverty builds upon itself since there are few opportunities for people to learn different ideas about agriculture and expand their yields, food security and their ability to make more income from what they grow. Javier, Marvin and Edward are charged with trying to improve the conditions in Talolinga through school gardens, demonstration plots, workshops on topics such as natural pesticides and fertilizers, assistance in crop diversification, outreach to researchers who can assist with agriculturally-related problems and farm visits.

Besides the long-term focus on commercial and subsistence crops for the community of Talolinga, the expectations are that the Extensionists will  provide outreach and technical assistance to neighboring communities such as Tierra Blanca and El Picacho, as well as outreach education to institutions such as the local school. Through their own example and expected successful production and harvests from the demonstration plots, Javier, Edward and Marvin are expected to spread this extension model, along with sustainable agriculture practices, to nearby communities. The program will hopefully continue to expand and take on a snowball effect whereby corn and bean production reliant on chemical fertilizers and pesticides will be replaced by diversified organic production, and more diversified crops overall will be produced for improved dietary intake and potential marketing.

Examples of Model Projects

The approach of training local people has proven successful in Central America and other regions of the world. Three examples of organizations taking this approach are below.

Nuevas Esperanzas is an organization based in Leon, which works with rural communities similar to Talolinga. Their emphasis has been rain capture for communities with scarce access to water, along with school-building and improved latrine construction. As the communities they work with are also reliant on agriculture for income, a few years ago they began working on extension programs in agriculture. This proved to be a great success, and one part of this proposal has been to partner with Nuevas Esperanzas for mentoring and training a farmer from Talolinga. Javier spent three months in intensive training with this organization, and now attends 2-3 workshops per month conducted by the organization.

Sustainable Harvest International also works in Nicaragua, although mostly on the Atlantic Coast far from Leon, but also works in the countries of Belize, Honduras and Panama. The model used by their program is to assign extensionists to a set number of families within targeted communities, and the assignment includes the type of training that this proposal looks to provide to a local farmer from Talolinga. Javier has acted as the kind of extensionist used by Sustainable Harvest International, but based within his home community. Training and resources can be sought from this organization, and Javier in particular has expressed interest in the possibility of some form of visit or internship with SHI during his school vacations.

BioNica, an organization incorporated in 2013 after two years of organizational work, provides training in the biointensive method of soil restoration for family gardens. BioNica currently has an impressive large-scale demonstration garden created in conjunction with the main agricultural university of Nicaragua.  Javier, Marvin and Edward have participated in extended training programs with this organization and will continue to do so.

On-Going Partnerships

The time line for this proposal has now passed the initial phase that included seeking appropriate workshop and mentoring opportunities, such as those that might be offered by Nuevas Esperanzas, Sustainable Harvest International or BioNica, or through other potential resources such as the Nicaragua government and education opportunities in the region. The support for travel and expenses associated with this training has been provided through PGL and also fund-raising by YGA, but grants should be sought for other funding resources.

The second part of the program is focused on Javier, Edward and Marvin as local extensionists augmenting respect from local farmers, building a reputation as successful organic farmers, and putting into full practice what they have learned both in the university and in the field. All this places emphasis on training. A crucial part of support and assistance from YGA and PGL would be to continue to motivate and encourage Javier, Edward, Marvin and participating farmers to educate themselves in sustainable practices. It is essential that PGL and YGA serve as facilitators in linking resources, through partnerships and alliances with local universities and organizations, providing rural farmers with appropriate and timely trainings and field visits. Well planned on-the-ground support through visiting internships and delegations of farmers who can offer effective and practical trainings should also be incorporated where possible.  

Over the course of the project, visits by members of YGA and PGL will provide opportunities for the Talolinga extensionists to learn from the visitors, and also the reverse. Long-term assistance and feedback between the people of rural Nicaragua and visitors from the Gettysburg region is a specific part of this proposed program, and has been a part of the methodology employed by PGL since the beginning of its partnership with the Leon region.