Helping hurricane-hit areas in Nicaragua get back on their feet

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Hurricane Felix hit Nicaragua on 4 September 2007, making landfall at Sandy Bay, on the Atlantic Coast of the country. The communities of Puerto Cabezas, Waspam and of the so-called Mining Triangle (Municipalities of Siuna, Bonanza and Rosita) in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region were badly hit. The intense rain and mudslides caused immense damage to the local population, by destroying the forests, the traditional crops and disrupting the food production chains.

Following the appeal of the Government of Nicaragua for humanitarian and reconstruction help, the international community initiated a project designed to mitigate the damage caused by Felix through the establishment of agro-forestry systems for cocoa production as a sustainable livelihoods generation alternative.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been part of Nicaragua’s post hurricane restoration process from the very beginning. UNIDO initiated a project that is helping promote the use of agro-forestry systems and ensure the sustainable cultivation of cocoa, fruits and vegetables for both household consumption and for sale on local, regional and national markets. The is implemented in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Unión Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos, with funding fromthe European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department.

The new approach in cultivation is based on promoting agro-forestry systems - combining cocoa with bananas, forest plants, basic grains, roots and tubers, plantain and fruit-bearing trees. This enabled families to secure their food supply after the hurricane and generate jobs and income from cultivations such as cocoa and fruit-trees.

“Agro-forestry production is encouraging associative production. That means it is not promoting mono-crop production but the production for the short, medium and long term. As cocoa can grow only together with other crops, UNIDO got actively involved in the complete reforesting of the region, which proved to have not only a large-scale environmental impact but also brought more income to the farmers,” says Dania Hernandez, programme coordinator of the MDG joint programme for environment and climate change.

UNIDO’s role in this joint initiative was to promote the organization of producers into enterprise networks and producer groups and facilitate their insertion to the cocoa market while at the same time ensuring the availability of quality products for the local population.

“Through its work on enterprise networks, we have helped change the attitude towards entrepreneurship and strengthen the capacities of producers through improved cultivation, harvest and post-harvest techniques well as the facilitation of business linkages. As a result, the productivity has improved and the quality of the produce has increased significantly,” says Natascha Weisert, UNIDO Industrial Development Officer.

She goes on to add that now that the project has been successfully completed, producers are working in a more organized manner. Each community, or network, has its leader to represent it officially. The same applies on a territorial level, where leaders have been appointed to represent different networks from one and the same region at a higher level. As a result of better organization and coordination, the communities now dispose of a newly-established local market place, where they can sell their products. They have established productive areas that generate food and income, which, in turn, allows them to engage in cocoa production and initial processing. This, in turn, promises even higher income and economic sustainability, in the light of the high regional and international demand. “We set an initial goal of 209 hectares which has now been surpassed with more than 230 hectares turned into highly productive systems. We have also set up several collection, processing and quality control centers and a peasant market to sell the food we produce. This provides families in the affected regions with sustainable income and more opportunities,” says Juan Fernando Ramirez, head of UNIDO Operations in Nicaragua. “The main goal is to avoid mono-production that makes families vulnerable in case of a natural disaster, like the Hurricane Felix.”

Building on the Nicaragua experience, UNIDO has applied its methodology to develop horizontal enterprise networks and clusters in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region traditionally used for small and medium enterprises. The network development approach will help select and organize the families into productive units, and offer training and technical assistance on the whole production cycle, including post-harvest treatment, quality assurance, the facilitation of market access and the establishment of business linkages.

As a result of the project, nearly 300 locals received training, on and some 233 hectares of new cultivations have been established. The new agro-forestry systems have helped reduce the migration of families and have contributed to the environmental protection of the region.

Authorities in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Regionwere expecting the new activities to generate an income of over USD 800,000 dollars in 2011. Nearly 400 farmers and their family members have benefited from the project.

“UNIDO is working to replicate the best practices and lessons learned from this project and implement them in a large value chain development project in the same region of Nicaragua. This will support up to 1000 families. Some on 2300 hectares of cocoa plantations will be used for integrated agro-forestry production,” concluded Ramirez.

For more information, please contact:
Natascha Weisert
Project manager