Malnutrition remains a severe problem in this extremely poor country. This week, the coordinator of the Communication and Citizenship Council in Nicaragua said that the new government was working to eliminate child malnutrition.
Nicaragua has already taken steps to address the problem, for example, by providing free school meals and encouraging farmers to grow more grain. Now the government says it will take into account recommendations made by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO has advised Nicaragua that its farmers need to diversify the crops they grow and produce more food for domestic consumption.
Two agency-backed programmes are already helping Nicaraguan farmers achieve these goals. For a few years, Christian Aid has supported a pilot project among small-scale coffee farmers in the north-central Jinotega highlands. The project provides training and assistance to help them diversify into cocoa. As in many countries, Nicaraguan farmers are facing changing weather; rising temperatures have adversely affected coffee plants. Cocoa trees, however, thrive in the heat. Many smallholder farmers have found they can earn a better living when they grow cocoa alongside coffee. Eventually, some expect to replace their coffee crops entirely.
In northern Nicaragua, farmers receive little or no rainfall during a six month period, which means land can lie dusty and unproductive for long periods of time. In this part of the country, a UN-backed scheme has been helping farmers harvest rainwater. Earthen dams are built into hillsides so that small reservoirs form. These fill up during the rainy season. When the dry season comes around, water is then piped from the hills to irrigate fields. So far, fourteen such dams have been finished or are in construction. (Similar projects are also being set up in Costa Rica and southern Mexico). As well as boosting harvests by providing irrigation, the reservoirs can also be used for fish such as tilapia, which give an extra food source for local families.
In a special report on the dam scheme, the BBC reported the joy of one Nicaraguan farmer and his family, who now have “a balanced diet, money for their farm and for their children’s education.” And he says, being able to use the reservoir for irrigation has allowed him to “produce three times more maize and have a surplus to trade”. It is through this kind of innovative scheme and with further support from the government, that Nicaragua has future hopes of producing enough food for its population.