Sustainable Landscapes transforming the horticultural sector in Nicaragua

Sustainable Landscapes transforming the horticultural sector in Nicaragua

Through the preservation of the lake Apanás and the collaboration with four vegetables producer organisations, Rikolto aims to foster the national horticultural sector.
This project is part of the following focus area:

60% of the vegetables that are consumed in the larger cities of Nicaragua are grown in and around the lake Apanás, the third largest lake in the country and a precious resource for its community. However, over the past 30 years, the environment around the lake has deteriorated so much that Lago Apanás could disappear completely in less than 10 years due to sedimentation, uncontrolled deforestation and harmful farming practices.

This is expected to cause a shortage of water that will cause unemployment in one of the poorest countries in Latin America. In Nicaragua 42.5% of the population lives in poverty (1-in-7 people live in extreme poverty) and, as in the majority of countries around the world, this impoverished population concentrates in rural areas (61.3%). The availability of vegetables will be compromised resulting in a less sustainable and less diverse diet for urban consumers.

The country consumes 98% of the horticultural production and this consumption will only increase together with population growth. Although vegetable farming is important to meet the food needs of the population, in Nicaragua horticulture barely occupies a planting area of 15,050 hectares, which represents just 2% of the national area available for cultivation. Among the 350,000 farmers counted at a national level, only 15,000 are dedicated to horticulture and 90% have a small family business, where they work on farms ranging from 0.5 to 3.5 hectares in size. The horticultural sector in Nicaragua fights to evolve and needs allies.

The challenges

  • the horticultural sector is characterized by a lack of policies and standards at the institutional level to regulate the quality and prices of the product, increase the access to credit, stimulate production and provide incentives. The national financial systems continue concentrating finance in conventional crops like sugar cane, coffee, rice, corn, beans, and other grains.
  • due to a lack of investment in technology, infrastructure, and transportation, the development of the horticultural sector lags behind in comparison to the rest of Central America.
  • low level of organisation and entrepreneurship in the Producer Organizations. This directly affects their capacity to negotiate before an extensive network of intermediaries at all levels.

SAS programme: “Resilient, Sustainable Food Systems”

With the goal of developing a sustainable, inclusive and resilient horticultural sector in Nicaragua, Rikolto promotes:

  • Sustainable and inclusive business models between producer organisations and businesses in modern markets that improve the quality of life of small-scale producers.
  • Supply of sustainable, safe and quality food to cities
  • Development of a safety policy that guarantees safe food to all

Rikolto uses the definition of CIAT concerning sustainable food systems: “[They] are food systems of low environmental impact, that contribute to food and nutrition security and ensure a supply of clean food for present and future generations, and that generate opportunities for employment and income for those in poverty. Sustainable food systems protect and respect biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as human welfare. They provide culturally appropriate, economically just, affordable, nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy food in a manner that achieves a balance between the integrity of the agro-ecosystem and social welfare” (CIAT, 2017).

The international programme Food Smart Cities

The international programme Food Smart Cities

Rikolto supports cities in developing sustainable, inclusive, resilient and safe food systems in 6 different countries. The evidence generated from pilot activities with the cities is documented and turned into knowledge which is then mobilised to foster peer-to-peer learning and contribute to international discussions on sustainable urban food systems.

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In order to achieve this, Rikolto works to:

1 | Promote the production and supply of safe and quality food.

  • Support information procurement and actualisation (studies) about the state of safety (specifically pesticides) in the markets of the horticultural sector.
  • Identify the general experiences and situation (norms and regulations) related to safety and sanitation (BPA, BPM, HACCP) for vegetables.
  • Assess, facilitate and develop a multi-actor space dedicated to promoting safety and sanitation in vegetables. In 2019, the National Safety Committee has conformed to this.

This project is very important now; it validated that small farmers, with true support, are able to integrate in a global supply chain with global standards of food quality and safety.

Alfredo Villalta Food Safety Manager, Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Accompany the agricultural organizations COOSMPROJIN, COOSEMPODA, Tomatoya Cooperative, Sacaclí Cooperative in the implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Manufacturing Best Practices (GMP) by providing financial and technical support and in order to make the vegetable production more sustainable.
  • Promote innovation and technology transfer that improve productivity, year-round supply, and crop diversification through the management of knowledge in the country and Central America.
  • Establish and fortify links with supermarket chains (La Colonia and Walmart-Hortifruti) and fast food chains (Subway and Pizza Hut), demanding safe, quality vegetables, in the framework of inclusive negotiations.

Sandwich of the day: inclusive business relations between farmers’ cooperatives and Subway in Nicaragua In 2016, four vegetable farmers’ cooperatives in Jinotega, Nicaragua, started providing safe, high-quality vegetables to national Subway outlets

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Because we united as an alliance to supply to Subway, we have received trainings, improved our infrastructure greatly in the field with producers as well as in the facilities and trainings of the staff in BPA and BPM, principally directed to food safety.

Lisbeth Rodríguez Accounting Manager, Tomatoya Cooperative

2 | Guarantee the strengthening of organizational and business capacities of horticultural organizations: COOSMPROJIN, COOSEMPODA, Tomatoya Cooperative, Sacaclí Cooperative with a focus on generational succession and gender equality.

  • Implement Scope Insight in these producer organizations.
  • Strengthen their technique, organisation and entrepreneurship based on an improvement plan so they can become reliable food providers for modern markets and trustworthy business partners.
  • Conform and strengthen the Union of Northern Horticultural Cooperatives (UCHON), with a goal to manage the marketing of the consolidated production of 5 Cooperatives, improving their negotiating position through the diversification of available products.

3 | Contribute to the development of a national strategy for a sustainable and inclusive horticultural subsection with emphasis on safe food, through supporting and strengthening the Sectorial Commission of Horticulture (COSECHO). At least 12 horticultural producer organizations, from various regions of the country, participate in this commission.

4 | Contribute to the sustainability of Lake Apanás in Jinotega, through implementing a local initiative of Integrated Landscape Management (GIP), through a multi-actor platform called the MASLAGO Group.

In Nicaragua, 60% of vegetables are produced on the shores of the lake Apanás threatening to disappear due to sedimentation and contamination. Through an «Integrated Landscape Management» approach Rikolto is working with farmers, fishermen, actors in tourism and energy sector to preserve the lake.

Sustainable production can save a lake in Nicaragua
  • 911 direct beneficiaries reached in 2018. In 2019 we expect to reach 1975.
  • 1.80% increase in sustainable food production in 2018. The target of 2019 is 2%.
  • In 2017 the four cooperatives of Jinotega (COOSMPROJIN, COOSEMPODA, Tomatoya Cooperative, Sacaclí Cooperative) increased their turnover by 17% on average (with respect to 2016) - U$1,891,356.00 in total. They supplied the supermarket chains of La Colonia and Walmart with more than 25 different vegetables. In 2018 due to the critical socio-political situation of the sales decreased to U$1,570,189.00.
  • Through the Tomatoya Cooperative collection center, the cooperatives supplied healthy vegetables (lettuce, cucumber, tomato, sweet chili, onion and carrot) to 28 Subway stores in the country. In 2017 the sales amounted to U$319,180.00 and to U$286,310.00 in 2018.
  • Duration of the project: 2017 - 2021


What will we eat tomorrow?

Food smart cities leading the transition to sustainable food

Between March and August 2019, three journalists from the magazine Eos Tracé visited partner cities of Rikolto's Food Smart Cities programme. During these visits, they interviewed more than 130 people and discovered initiatives that make safer, healthier and sustainable food more accessible to citizens. This book tells their stories from 9 cities in Vietnam, Belgium, Tanzania, Indonesia, Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Get a soft copy of the book
  • 60% of the vegetable production of the four cooperatives COOSMPROJIN, COOSEMPODA, Tomatoya Cooperative, Sacaclí Cooperative is marketed on formal markets. The cooperatives supply Walmart / Hortifruti, La Colonia, 28 Subway stores and 17 Pizza Hut stores) with healthy, safe and sustainably produced vegetables.

  • In December 2016 the four vegetable cooperatives located in the Jinotega Department started a commercial relationship with Subway. Rikolto facilitated the development of inclusive business model, where the commercial agreements led to the development of a “win-win” relationship between the two partners.

Sandwich of the day: inclusive business relations between farmers’ cooperatives and Subway in Nicaragua

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  • 9 Farmer Field Schools have been designed, financed and implemented on topics related to: climate-smart technologies, techniques to improve productivity, ensuring market supply all year-round, the introduction of new crops in the area,

  • Through the Institute for Agricultural Protection and Health (IPSA) 30 farms received the necessary funds to start the procedures to obtain the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. At least others 50 farms are already implementing the practices to obtain the certification. Four technical guides, designed on a participatory basis, have been provided to support the transfer of technologies and the share of knowledge on protected and open field agriculture.

The organisations had a hard time putting their products on the market at fair prices. That is why we want to strengthen the organisations’ business and organisational management and optimize the production models. This way, we want to guarantee healthy food for consumers, lower the impact on the environment and ensure a better quality of life for the farming families“

Guillermo Gutierrez Coordinator of the project at Rikolto
  • We strengthened the accounting capacities of the farmer organizations part of Jinotega's cooperatives. The production costs are always up-to-date for all the different crops.
  • Rikolto organised 4 international learning exchanges in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belgium to facilitate the peer-to-peer learning and improve the knowledge management within multi-stakeholder spaces. We visited the Innovation Centres of El Zamorano (Honduras), the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FHIA), the University of Valle de Guatemala, INAGRO in Belgium, private companies suppliers of technologies and exporting companies among others.
  • Improvement of two collection centres to obtain the GAP certification. The collection centre of the cooperative Tomatoya already obtained the sanitary license from the national Ministry of Health.

  • The multi-stakeholder group MASLAGO defined a common vision for the conservation of the Lake Apanás and two lines of actions to tackle both the sedimentation and pollution issues. It has elaborated an Interinstitutional Action Plan that is being implemented in one of the eight micro-basins of Lake Apanás since 2019. The multi-stakeholder group brings together more than 20 actors such as NGOs, international organisations, farmer cooperatives (vegetables and coffee), fishermen, trading companies and associations, universities and indigenous communities among others. In 2017 and 2018 it promoted and carried out a campaign to collect of pesticide and non-pesticide waste packaging. The universities part of MASLAGO obtained funds to carry out studies on sedimentation and pollution.

Sustainable production can save a lake in Nicaragua

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Interested in knowing more or being part of this program? Contact us!

Guillermo Gutierrez
Guillermo Gutierrez
Asesor estratégico del Programa Sistemas Alimentarios Sostenibles en Ciudades | Centroamérica