February 24, 2014

Rio Coco

Last month, I (Cassie) had the opportunity to travel down the Rio Coco to visit various food security projects of Accion Medica Cristiana (AMC) where I work two days a week.  AMC strives to work in the most economically poor regions of Nicaragua in order to provide assistance and support. These food security projects that we visited are located in northeastern Nicaragua along the Rio Coco which forms a natural boundary between Honduras and Nicaragua.

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This map shows a few of the AMC transfer centers.  We followed the border from Wiwili to Waspam.

The food security projects are implemented in 38 communities in the RAAN, the autonomous northeast region of Nicaragua. For many years this part of Nicaragua has struggled with problems of food security. According to a 2005 survey by INIDE (Instituo Nacional de Informacion de Desarrollo or The National Institute of Development), the poverty index in the RAAN is 72.4% and 43.7% of its inhabitants are living in extreme poverty. This is about double the national index. While I am continually struck by the economic poverty that I see daily in Managua, what I saw in the RAAN was alarming.

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Local leaders and the indigenous communities sought out the help of AMC to find solutions to the extreme poverty that exists in this region. Declining crop yields, increasingly limited access to land and changing climatic conditions have all led to the creation of this problem. Thus AMC with the help of partnerships from organizations such as World Renew have created Production and Technology Transfer Centers as a way to train and equip local farmers to respond in sustainable and creative ways.

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One of the Production and Technology Transfer Centers.  The newer centers are experimenting with a new model where less buildings and infrastructure are required.

The design of the program was very impressive. AMC has hired local indigenous workers to live and work in each community; these individuals are called technical staff. The technical staff recruits farmers that have interest in participating in the program, they are called promoters. These promoters are trained in themes of soil conservation, application of organic fertilizer, vegetable production, livestock management and nutrition. These promoters are also given the opportunity to work at the transfer centers or land banks where they are able to utilize the tools that they are being taught and see with their own eyes the successes that these alternative farming techniques can have.

After a year of working with the AMC project, these promoters are then connected to additional farmers that they will train to implement these unique methods. The program is able to have a large impact because of its design, where individuals are equipped to transfer their knowledge and tools to other individuals. One piece that was really impressive for me was the fact that farmers not involved in the program are showing up at the transfer centers wanting information. They are seeing the success that their neighbors and community members are having and have the desire to participate themselves.

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A proud farmer with his harvest of granadilla.                     The start of a watermelon crop.

While spending a week on the river was not the most comfortable time of my life – sleeping in hammocks next to twenty other individuals, sharing one outhouse, no running water, long days on the boat on hard wooden benches and being up to my knees in mud – I was very encouraged by the work that AMC is doing. Not many NGO´s are willing to work in these types of remote environments which are incredibly difficult and costly to access.  Beyond that, the success of the work was incredibly impressive and hopeful. It was reassuring to see good development work, a place where community members are empowered and participating in the actual work. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have seen this beautiful part of Nicaragua and have a firsthand look at the outstanding work that AMC is doing there.

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The beautiful scenery of Rio Coco.                                 Women down by the river doing their wash by hand.

If you would like to read more information about this project, I encourage you to read more from my friend and colleague Bethany who works for World Renew: 

Where Land Is Alive 

Real Heroes

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