Did you know that 2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development? According to the World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, tourism has the highest impact on poverty reduction when the poor benefits directly through employment in tourism enterprises or through establishing their own tourism-related businesses.
Last week I had the opportunity to help MiCrédito welcome a MEDA Field Experience team to Nicaragua. As a MEDA intern, this was a chance to meet MEDA supporters from Canada and the United States, most of whom had never been to Nicaragua before. As I helped to interpret the management team’s presentation to our visitors, I felt proud to be involved in an institution that has had such an important impact on the lives of Nicaraguan micro-entrepreneurs. For me, MiCrédito’s work encapsulates the idea of MEDA’s “Business to the Power of 2” strategy. When the institution sees a need in the community, it uses enlightened business practices and entrepreneurial thinking to help people achieve their personal goals, thus building bridges out of poverty.
One of the projects that I am currently working on here in Nicaragua is a case study of MiCrédito’s social products. In the world of microfinance, these include products that are designed to meet the needs of clients belonging to specific social groups. MiCrédito targets women, youth, and rural communities through three innovative products: Women Entrepreneurship Loans, MiCrédiEstudios (Student Loans), and Sanitation Loans. Women Entrepreneurship loans support women who have a business idea, but not the capital, to build their first business. The MiCrédiEstudios product offers financing for the final two years of university education as well as funding options for youth entrepreneurship, equipment purchase, language courses, and further education through Masters and PhD programs. Finally, through its Sanitation product, MiCrédito provides low-interest loans designed to allow families to replace latrines with high-efficiency toilets, improving family health and hygiene. You can learn more about MiCrédito’s social products here.
I am exactly one month into my internship with MEDA partner MiCrédito in Nicaragua and I have fallen in love with this country and its people! My first four weeks have been a whirlwind, but I am grateful for the diverse experiences, both personal and professional, that I have gained already. My days have been filled with everything from touring churches in colonial cities to visiting MiCrédito clients at their farms and businesses.
One Month…Wow! It is hard to believe that I have already been here that long. I arrived at the end of May and started my six-month internship with MEDA where I am working with one of their partner organizations MiCredito, a microfinance institution. I am inspired by the way that MiCredito develops working relationships with small scale entrepreneurs to provide financial services and a more promising future. I am very grateful and blessed to have this experience. I feel blessed to experience a different culture and to learn how micro-finance initiatives are empowering individuals and businesses.
I decided to apply for CIDA's internship program as I was looking to start a career in international development. The program seemed like a great opportunity to gain field experience and contacts which could help me launch my career. MEDA specifically appealed to me as I loved the organization's business approach which I believe is a very sustainable and practical approach to development. I also wanted to gain more experience in microfinance which was the area of focus for my internship with MEDA.
I had worked abroad prior to my internship with MEDA but this experience really offered me the opportunity to gain a ton of professional experience and skills. I learned so much from my fellow MEDA staff and partner organization staff in Nicaragua which really complemented my academic knowledge of development issues....
In my fourth and last year as a Political Science student specializing in International Relations, I was beginning to worry what the next steps in my life would be. I was applying to a variety of internships and job applications when I came across MEDA. To be honest, I was drawn to MEDA because I was able to not only improve my professional skills, but also to travel abroad. I had no idea that MEDA would become my backbone in strong morals and the ideal view of a non-governmental organization.
In arriving to Nicaragua, I was completely lost, to say the least. I had volunteered continuously throughout my high school and university career and had already lived abroad, but MEDA provided a unique opportunity in becoming comfortable within a career setting. MEDA sparked my individual strengths and gave me a strong voice within a well known international organization where I was able to view my point and use creativity in projects....
The Techno-Links Project has manifested a connection between private businesses and small rural farmers within a time span of three years to provide sustainable development. I previously met the private businesses and farmers when I conducted interviews with them on behalf of MEDA. However, the dynamics of the Techno-Links Project meeting on March 13th and March 14th of 2014 was astounding, with all ten Nicaraguan private companies coming together for the first time to share their ideas.
The goal of the two-day meeting was to express the positive affects and outcomes and improvements of the project. A large brown sheet of paper was taped to the front wall with different headings written on it: Design, Efficiency, Effectiveness, Impact, Sustainability and Crosscutting with subtitles of Successes, Potential, Setbacks, and Barriers. Companies were divided into groups to work together and each group wrote down their ideas, concerns, or likes of the project and then put the idea on the board under each subtitle. Each idea was expressed as a group and each was described in detail with a conversation to follow.
Before this activity, I presented my findings on a Case Study I had conducted in November on one of the partners, The International School of Agriculture and Livestock, as well as discuss impacts/outcomes of farmers from the agricultural business partners. This helped set the stage to illustrate what should be improved and what is strong with the business plans and project for the companies to include in the activity.
It was a special meeting for me, as it was my last day after a seven-month internship with MEDA as the impact assessment intern. Before the meeting had begun, everyone had come to say hello to me and I realized all the extraordinary connections I made in my time spent in Nicaragua. It was a nice last day, but it was also hard with everyone talking energetically about new ideas and future goals.
I came home on March 14th, and I am eager for my next adventure in international relations. The internship has given me a new perspective on, not only international development, but also local development. My perspective has greatly changed within international relations and sustainable development and I look forward to further develop my knowledge and experience through a long-term career.
The MEDA internship provided me with the knowledge of creating webinars, professional presentations in front of partners, interview skills, making case studies, translating documents and being a translator, and above all, the ability to communicate with a group of dynamic people from business corporations, rural farmers, and Skype meetings with people from all over the world from Africa, Peru, Canada, and the United States. I am grateful for this experience and for the people within MEDA and outside of MEDA that supported me in professional and personal growth.
Thank you MEDA for the support and all the substantial work you do that I saw first hand.
There are two islands, Big Corn Island and Little Corn Island. The islands add an interesting aspect to Nicaragua. It is most well known for being occupied by pirates in the 1800’s. The islands were under British rule and served as a refuge for the pirates. The population of Little Corn Island today is 1,200 with a large mestizo population, people of mixed European and Indian ancestry), and direct descendants of pirates. There are also Garifuna people, the descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people, and indigenous Miskito people from Caribbean Mosquito coast.
The islanders speak an English-speaking Creole that originated from a mixed black heritage of English settlers and slaves brought over from Africa. English is the official language on the Corn Islands, followed by Miskito and Spanish. The locals make their living from harvesting lobster and fishing. Life moves at slow pace and reggae is the music of the islands. There is a famous local dish called Run Down. It is a stew in coconut milk with fish and lobster tail with a variety of root vegetables.
The Caribbean side offers a wide variety of activities including scuba diving. I had the chance to get my open water diving certification. I saw stingrays, nurse sharks, and sea turtles. I also did a night dive, which I was completely scared of, but was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.
Aside from the culture and beautiful landscape, Little Corn Island seems to be a destination for Canadians. Throughout my internship I have not met many Canadians until the island. The majority of tourists were from Canada and a few were from the United States and Europe. On returning from my trip, I had met an American couple that works for the Mennonite Central Committee Canada. They were very excited to hear that I have been doing an internship with MEDA and told me they continuously follow MEDA. This is one example of the many people I met that were interested in hearing more about MEDA and the work that is being done in Nicaragua and around the world.
This first person I had previously met during my Case Study with the International School of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG) in Rivas. Domingo Tuerno grows plantains with EIAG and he continues to welcome me to his field while he works rigorously. He grows plantains with Techno-Links technology and aside from this crop he also grows papaya and coco beans. On top of all of this, he is a promoter of EIAG and the Techno-Links program, where he goes around his community discussing the benefits of plantain in-vitro plants. I found it astounding that he had any time to do an hour interview with me and then provide me with some extra timbit information.
After sitting in Domingo’s field for an hour doing an interview, Domingo introduced my co-worker and myself to his son Alejandro, who was using a stick to try to get something out of a tree. I was a little confused. After a few minutes, he handed me a green fruit, which turned out to be called caimito, which is green on the outside and white and mushy on the inside. You cannot get caimito in Canada, but it grows in South Asia and in Central America. After I told them it was delicious, Alejandro hit off a few more caimito for me and then walked over with a large papaya to give me!
Domingo then wanted to show off his other products to me. We walked a few hectares over to where another field was. Here he showed me another large green fruit. He told me it was cocoa. He wanted to show me the inside of the cocoa, but it wasn’t ripe for harvest. I will have to visit Domingo another time.
I interviewed Joseph Barnett who works with Dulce Miel and Techno-Links. The name Joseph has an English ring to it, usually Nicaraguans use common English names to give their children, but Joseph, also known as Chepe, is originally from the United States. He has now lived and worked in Nicaragua for over 30 years. He not only works with Dulce Miel in producing honey and is a technician for helping fellow farmers, but is also a founder of Dulce Miel. As well, he is apart of a monk community in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. During an interview with Chepe he showed us his spare hobbies, which include creating crème out of honey and selling separate bottles of honey. We can see that Chepe is extremely busy, but he continues to use any spare time doing volunteer work with other non-governmental organizations.
Jiro has never had a farm before and now he has 0.7 hectares of land. Before he thought the irrigation system would not work because water in his region is contaminated. However, CARITAS built a well for Jiro to use his irrigation system, which also blocks out debris. He now grows yucca, cucumbers, malanga (a tropical vegetable) and onions with the irrigation system.
This is a flabbergast kind of story because I saw a real change in the client and their family. Jiro is now 58 with a wife, who is a preschool teacher attending school again, and a daughter who will begin preschool soon. He was saving money to buy products to burn the ground around him to create space for growing products. However, IDEAL recommended not to do this because it contaminates the air with chemicals. Now he's using that saved money to buy pencils and paper for his daughter when she attends school.
Jiro has not only saved money by using the irrigation system, but he has also been able to save time. Having to only turn on the irrigation system, Jiro waits an hour while plants are being watered but spends this time with his wife and daughter, which he previously could not do.
I was not able to gain more information about how Jiro was doing with his crops because his first-ever harvest is still coming up but I wish him all the best!
My time in Nicaragua has been amazing! I have travelled across the country, visiting beautiful colonial cities like Granada and Leon, climbing volcanos on Ometepe Island, relaxing on the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Little Corn Island, and hiking the beautiful Somoto Canyon. Nicaragua is a beautiful country and I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who hasn't yet made the trip.
In terms of my internship experience, the thing I have enjoyed the most is being treated like a professional. Although MEDA and MiCrédito staff are always here for support I really appreciated the fact that I was given the opportunity to try things on my own and learn by doing.
I feel like I have a lot to show for my time here in Nicaragua: I wrote two case studies, conducted gender training, completed over 50 interviews with clients and staff, developed mobile versions of MiCrédito's loan application forms, wrote a new branch proposal, and developed social impact indicators for the organization. I feel like I have accomplished a lot and that I was given the opportunity to do a lot of the work on my own. As a young professional seeking to pursue a career in development that was what I really wanted to get out of this internship - to gain as much practical experience and absorb as much information as possible. And of course to support MiCrédito as much as possible in serving its clients' needs.
On a personal note I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and get to know so many wonderful people here in Nicaragua, especially my coworkers here at MiCrédito. Its staff members have been so welcoming and I have learned so much from them about the Nicaraguan culture, microfinance, and their own lives. They are so knowledgeable and committed to MiCrédito's mission to increase access to financial services for micro and small entrepreneurs so often overlooked by the traditional banking system.
I feel extremely lucky to have had this experience. Although I am excited to get back to Canada and see my friends and family I am sad to be leaving Nicaragua. However, I know that I will make it back some day and that when I do MiCrédito will be going strong.
Muchas gracias a todos mis amigos y compañeros aquí en Nicaragua. MiCrédito y Nicaragua siempre van a tener un lugar muy especial en mi corazón y seguramente regresaré un día para visitarles otra vez en este país bellísimo de Nicaragua. ¡Un abrazo muy fuerte a todo el mundo!
Local beekeepers were loosing honey and panels were being broken when they were manually being taken out of the bee box. Throughout Canada and Central America there is an external parasite mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks honeybees and causes a disease called varroatosis. This disease spreads throughout the colony causing bees to be weak and have infections that ultimately kills the hive.
To improve these challenges INGEMANN has been producing queen bees in their bee yard to sell to local beekeepers in Boaca. Every two years beekeepers need to switch out the old queen bee for a new one. The queen cleans the hive consistently, doing 99% of cleaning compared to the other bees, and this leaves no room for the Varroa mite. This increases productivity through beekeeping because bees aren't dying and farmers can have higher production and increased quality of honey. I tried the honey and the technology is worth it.
I also got to see how they use their technology for producing Queen bees and even wear a beekeeper suit! However, the first time I was going to go into the apiary, which is a bee yard, I was wearing all black. Bees see black and think of dark fur and think a bear is coming to take their honey. I didn't feel like being attacked by bees, so I waited till the next day to put on something a little brighter. Once I was prepared with my bee suit and double-checked and then double-checked again that no part of my skin was showing, I was taken into the bee yard. The apiarists were nice enough to look in a bee box to find a Queen bee to show me. Each bee box has 15,000 to 20,000 bees with only one Queen bee.
Domingo Antonio was having trouble with his plantains with the lack of water during the rainy season and the spread of diseases and insects. This reduced yields and impacted the quality of his crop.
He heard from APLARI, an organization of plantain farmers in Rivas, that EIAG had a new modified plantain that would solve his problems.
Due to his position of influence in the community, Domingo Antonio is a lead promoter of the Techno-Links program, which has the goal to increase the productivity and income generating opportunities of 5, 000 small scale farmers by improving the capacity of agriculture technology suppliers.
He was eager to participate, especially since this innovative technology could solve his problem of lack of quality. He has talked with other farmers and friends about the benefits of this technology. He sees this as a smart and innovative idea. He has told 10 other producers and continues to spread the word about the in-vitro plants using the EIAG manual. Five of these producers have bought in-vitro plants from the university. He likes to visit these farmers and see how their production process is going.
He has noticed a radical change in his crops due to the use of the technology. The in-vitro corms offer an improved variety of plantain that means higher quality, better clusters and greatest number of fingers on the plants.
"The change was significant because with in-vitro plants there is a more marketable number of fingers to sell."
He was excited when describing the differences between his hectare of in-vitro plants and the normal plantain. He said there was an increase from 30 fingers to between 40 to 55 fingers per branch.
The most exciting difference was an immediate decrease in his use of pesticides. For the next cycle of plantains, Domingo plans to buy 200 more in-vitro plants so that he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. By not having to apply pesticides, Domingo will have more free time to plant more crops and spend time with his family.
Innovative technology continues to grow throughout Nicaragua and is changing the way farmers see and work with agriculture.
Nidia and her family had problems with disease in their plantains, which meant little income due to poor quality. The plantain had no resistance to the black weevil and black sigatoka disease.
Sometimes it was hard for Nidia to find markets for her plantain and it sold at poor prices. Nidia Yescas heard about technological development through APLARI, an organization of farmers in Rivas. She decided to try new agro bio-technology being developed at a nearby university lab.
Vitro selection screens plants for certain characteristics. With plantains, it selects for tolerance to diseases, insects and soil adaptability. Nidia decided to try this new technology after seeing the demonstration plot at the university.
These new technological alternatives have increased yields and plant quality. Nidia said the in-vitro plant resolved her problems. "It was a huge progress for me. The plants aren't sick and now I don't use pesticides."
The new plant is resistant to pests and disease, making for a more productive plant anchor with a more competitive context in an increasingly demanding market. As well, Nidia doesn't spend money on pesticides and is able to save this money to spend on household needs.
With the help of her sons, she has been able to produce healthy plantains. With the outcomes she's seen of the in-vitro plants she is now a promoter of reference for the university.
She uses her farm as a model for planting in-vitro plants that other farmers can come see as an example. She's excited to see the profits that the plantains will now bring in and she's happy for the help that the technicians gave her from EIAG.
I’m in Wiwili, the department of Jinotega, Nicaragua. On the horizon I can see the Honduras border while I’m sitting on a bench outside doing the final interviews with farmers. In the department of Jinotega there is a large production of chia seeds and the Central American Commodities Trading (CAC), a partner of Techno-Links, has taken advantage of this opportunity. CAC Trading is well known for having the most comprehensive program of chia seeds in Central America with chia seeds being exported to the United States. They focus on giving technical assistance to farmers and by using the program Techno-Links through MEDA, they have been able to reach farmers in Wiwili.
One particular individual caught my attention today, Jose Andres Basque Martinez. Jose Andres produces chia as his only cultivation on the farm, while his wife and two girls work in the household and manage a clothing store. He has been working with the new technology from CAC Trading for one year and has noticed an ample change in his harvest of chia seeds.
A year ago he was growing 1 manzana as Nicaraguan farmers call it, or 0.5 hectares of chia seeds. Today, he has 8 manzanas, 5.6 hectares. This is one of the goals that CAC Trading strived to achieve by having farmers adopt a methodology with the ability to increase revenues both through the increase in yields per hectare and increased sales prices.
Beforehand, Jose Andres faced a technology gap of technological development. Today he said that with the technical assistance of CAC Trading, there is a new market for his chia seeds, a higher production rate at harvest, and an improved quality of chia seeds with new nutrients.
He’s happy and his family is happy, and that makes me happy.
The total land area of Nicaragua is 19,990 km2 with Honduras and Costa Rica bordering on each side and 910km of coastlines on the Caribbean and Atlantic together, making Nicaragua the largest country in Central America. I am lucky enough to be travelling for a month across the country doing final surveys for the MEDA program Techno-Links. I gain a vast amount of experience interviewing farmers in their homes to see the impact that MEDA has had on individuals throughout the country.
This week alone, I have travelled to Ocotal, along the border of Honduras, Matagalpa, Rama, and Kukra Hill, located in the region of Leguna de Perlas on the Atlantic Coast. This means that I have been in the car for over 14 hours a day. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Travelling and enjoying the touristic aspects of a country is fun, but being able to travel all over the country and go into local farmers homes and receive typical Nicaraguan dishes and playing with the children is a one of a kind experience.
I’m not saying this is by any means easy. Waking up at 4am and going over potholes for three hours in the middle of nowhere, is not my idea of a road trip. However, once I arrive in the homes of the farmers, I get this “WOW” experience. I’ll give an example of one of these experiences I had yesterday.
We were in Rama, which is located along the Escondido River and is in the municipality of the Autonomous Region of the South Atlantic Region department. We were with the company Tecno Sol, which has a branch in Rama. Tecno Sol has been selling biogas to farmers, which has created amazing results. This is my “WOW” experience.
After travelling in the middle of nowhere and being stuck on a muddy hill and having to put rocks under the truck tires to leverage it and get up the hill, we finally made it to our interviewees’ house, Marvin Ramirez. While his kids sat with us and stared at the Chela, a white girl, and we ate arroz de leche, rice with milk and fresh sugar cane, Marvin told us about the benefits he has seen with biogas.
He noted the most important things such as health and saving money. The family is healthier because they aren’t burning firewood in their home to cook. Cook stoves are commonly used for cooking and heating food by burning wood. Besides the high expense of purchasing firewood or coal, another problem of cooking over an open fire is the increased health problems caused by the smoke, causing lung and eye ailments and also birth defects. With the use of biogas, Malvin has been happy to say that his children and wife are healthier. He also talked about how biogas has helped the environment by using the fertilizer from the biogas for his plants and putting minerals back into the soil.
Sitting in the middle of nowhere with chickens running under my feet and children staring at the Chela with clients such as Marvin discussing the benefits that he has, is my “WOW” experience. In all the bumpy roads and 14 hour drives, I look forward in this month to those experiences.
Christmas wasn’t normal, but I’m not complaining one bit. This is the fourth Christmas I haven’t been in Canada, and I swear each time is a new experience.
For the Christmas holiday I was in Jaco, Costa Rica. On Christmas day I was on the beach sipping on coconut water and eating sponge coconut (see why I’m not complaining). I went with a Costa Rican family, also known as Ticas, who had packed a big picnic and this is what my Christmas was.
The rest of the holiday was spent relaxing on the beach and going fishing! I had been ice fishing and camping and fishing before in Canada, but nothing compares to fishing in the sea. My friends caught red snapper, dorado, and sail fish. I caught a sail fish, I can see how fishing can be addicting. It took all my effort to real in the fish and the fish fights back and jumps in the air. Once I reeled in the fish I was so shocked to see that it was about the same size as me. The fish have beautiful colors and are all completely different.
It was also beautiful seeing dolphins swim beside the boat and schools of fish jumping to get away from bigger fish chasing them. Not only did I get to see the beauty of nature, but the owner of Google has his own boat with a helicopter on the boat, which was docked in Jaco.
Overall, the best part of doing these fishing trips was that once the fish were caught we took them home and had them for dinner and could watch the sunset. My holiday was simple and relaxing, but I’m happy to be back in Nicaragua to start my adventures with MEDA again.
I have lived abroad twice before, but I have always returned to Canada for Christmas. This year, with my internship ending in February, it didn’t really make sense to make the trip home to Canada for the holidays so I decided to spend Christmas in Nicaragua. I was extremely lucky that my little brother William decided to come and visit me so that we could spend the holidays together. It has been amazing to have him here with me and to get to show him the country that has been my home for the last 5 months. He also brought presents with him from home which was another major benefit.
I was lucky enough to get to do some travelling over the holidays, spending Christmas in Corn Islands, the beautiful Caribbean islands off the coast of Nicaragua. These islands are full of beautiful white beaches and delicious seafood. I also got to return to the island of Ometepe to bike and climb a waterfall as well as relax on the beach and do some boogie boarding in San Juan del Sur.
I love food! One of my favorite side dishes in Nicaragua is tostones, fried plantains. Lucky me because I got to eat all the tostones I wanted by doing a case study in Rivas.
I visited the International School of Livestock and Agriculture in Rivas (EIAG in Spanish) where MEDA has supported the lab at the university to combine different plantain seeds to create a vitro plant that won’t be affected by disease or insects. In past years, plantain production has been low due to the spread of an insect pest known as black weevil, which feeds on the leaves, and black sigatoka disease, which causes yield losses. I went into the lab and saw the whole process of the vitro plant.
I interviewed twenty male and female farmers to see their progress with the technology. Farmers said the planting of the plantain (vitro plant) was exactly the same as the normal plantain they used before. The only difference was that they didn’t have to use any or few pesticides, a happy side fact. They noted that they had more production and the leaves were bigger and healthier. One farmer had no experience in planting plantains and said it was quite easy with the help of EIAG technicians.
One of the most amazing indications found in the case study that I witnessed with talking to local farmers was their desire to help one another. EIAG has a methodology of the Waterfall Method to spread information about the vitro plant, in other words spreading information with the word of mouth. Many farmers, like Norbin Abel, said he likes the innovation and helping farmers with a new level of knowledge. Junior, one of the technicians that explains the vitro plants to farmers, said he was helping farmers to be more stable in their production. The overall objective of farmers, technicians and the university was to help one another in the community.
The goal of MEDA and EIAG is to have efficient production and incorporate small producers into the equation with the national and international market. Carl Sagan in Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997) stated, “Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history.”