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Focus on Latin America

October 2011

Helping Nicaragua's Farmers and Families

PhotoHelping to promote self confidence among young people

Nicaragua is the largest country in central America. It is also the poorest.

Nearly 50% of the 5.6 million population live below the poverty line according to U.N. statistics, a situation which breeds both economic and social hardships.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is involved in projects to help families and young people by helping to reduce crime and violence and to improve the livelihoods of farmers.

One program in the capital, Managua, called Familia y Amor encourages community officials and families to change their often entrenched and passive way of thinking and take a more active, hands-on role in tackling such problems as poverty, alcohol, drug and physical abuse.

Instead of tolerating domestic violence "We have learned one should call the police or turn to the Ministry (of Family, Children and Youth) for help," one newly empowered woman said. "We are also learning how to make crafts such as jewelry boxes and bags" to help families become more economically self sufficient.

Rural communities and farmers who often face shortages of seed, fertilizer and tools to work the land have, over time, developed an attitude of "It is impossible to resolve problems on my own."

PhotoA JICA experts (left) talks to a farmer about planting new crops

However, in the Midwest region of the country three communities have been encouraged to work together under the guidance of a JICA expert from Nicargua's Institute of Agricultural Technology and Nicaragua's National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG). The aim is to boost overall production with new and better crops in a project with the guiding philosophy of independence (Jiritsu), synergy (Sojokoka) and continuous improvement (Kaizen).

In another, particularly poor area, the North Atlantic Autonomous Region, JICA joined forces with the local municipality, two universities and a local non governmental organization to provide technical training and knowledge transfer.

The culture and language of the local Miskito people were often ignored by authorities in the past, but the project is helping to harness local pride to help improve the daily lives of villagers.

One village woman created a vegetable garden to grow new varieties and said, "I have learned that traditional slash and burn agriculture is not good because it kills insects that fertilize the soil." Farmers also learned other elementary lessons such as that growing the same crops constantly eventually exhausts the soil.

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