Credit and livestock for Nicaraguan producers
According to the FAO, 27 percent of Nicaraguans suffer some degree of malnutrition, which is particularly damaging for children’s health. This malnutrition has not been caused by scarcity of basic food, but by unemployment and lack of opportunities. People simply can’t afford to buy food. World Bank figures show that 45 percent of Nicaragua’s population survives on less than $2 a day and nearly 15 percent on only $1 or less.
The combination of this pre-existing situation, the current food price rises and inflation in general (which was over 15 percent last year) will make it impossible for a growing number of people to eat three times a day. Besides global factors, successive governments have left peasant farmers, the countryside and agricultural production to their fate. While no land dedicated to maize or other grains is being converted to biofuel production in Nicaragua, there has been a notable rise in the price of bread – which is as much a part of poor Nicaraguans’ diet as tortillas. This is because Nicaragua doesn’t produce wheat, and wheat farmers in the US and other countries have switched to biofuel crops.
The Sandinista government came to office in January 2007 with a commitment to implementing reforms in education, health, infrastructure and rural development to address acute poverty, particularly in rural areas. Here are some of the key features of the programme:
Credit for small producers
This year, the government promised to provide zero-interest loans for seeds and fertilisers for over 111,000 smallholder farmers to produce basic grains. The loans will be repayable with produce at harvest time. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR), this is part of a package worth $230 million in government and private funds to provide incentives for food production. The government also announced that import tariffs on a number of basic food products, including beans, oats, barley and cooking oil, had been reduced or eliminated. Nicaragua has a large amount of land and rural labour, and a traditional agrarian culture. President Daniel Ortega the government said the country could increase production, ensure national food sovereignty and even supply food to the whole of Central America.
“Food for the People” programme
The government has also reactivated ENABAS (National Basic Food Company) warehouses as part of its “Food for the People” programme. In November, it was reported that ENABAS had signed agreements with over 50,000 farmers and 72 agricultural cooperatives to buy basic grains and other food products at fixed rates. ENABAS then distributes the produce directly to points of sale in impoverished neighbourhoods and communities across the country. Here, the food is sold at affordable prices.
Zero Hunger Programme
A third government food security initiative is the "Zero Hunger" programme, coordinated by MAGFOR and based on a model pioneered by the Nicaraguan NGO CIPRES over the last decade. It constitutes an environmentally friendly, integrated way of reviving the productive capacity of impoverished campesino families, so they can become self-sufficient in food and sell the surplus locally. The model is adjusted to the economic, social and environmental realities of rural Nicaragua and focuses on women producers.
Participating families receive a package including a pregnant cow, a pregnant sow, chickens, a cockerel, seeds, fruit trees, a grey water filter (which recycles soapy or dirty water for irrigation), a bio-digestor (for making cooking gas from animal dung, eliminating the damaging effects of firewood usage on the environment and health). The goods are registered in the name of women who commit to producing food, and to reforesting part of their land. Low-interest credit, technical support and training are also provided. The short-term aim is to dramatically improve family nutrition, and the medium term aim is to regenerate rural economies.
The government aims to integrate 75,000 smallholder families into this programme before 2012. In 2007, it provided 13,000 packages and plans another 14,500 during 2008. According to Minister Ariel Bucardo 19,300 direct jobs and 60,000 indirect jobs have been created in the first 15 months of the programme. The programme was inaugurated in May 2007 in Raiti in northwest Nicaragua, an area of Miskitu, Mayangna and Mestizo communities living in extreme poverty. The main desire of the local people is to “save the Río Coco”, on whose shores they have historically built their communities, but which is now shrinking due to encroaching deforestation.
So what contribution will these initiatives make to reversing poverty and malnutrition in Nicaragua? Critics point out that the programmes only benefit those who already have property, not the two-in-five landless families trapped in deepest poverty. The majority of them can’t become producers, not only because they have no land but also because they are often single mothers who will find it increasingly difficult to buy food as prices rise. Others argue that national and regional initiatives must be backed up by much stronger political will on the part of rich countries and transnational corporations if the world is to stop the global food crisis seriously damaging the prospects of a generation.