25 October 2010, Managua/Rome - In an effort to stem rising rural poverty in Nicaragua, the European Union (EU) and FAO have joined the government in supporting organisations of small-scale farmers boost the productivity of staple crops, like beans, maize and rice.
"52.5 million people are suffering hunger in Latin America," said Alan Bojanic, FAO's Deputy Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean recently, identifying high food prices and the global economic downturn among the main factors for increased food insecurity in the region.
In recent years Nicaragua has made important advances in the fight against hunger and poverty. However, it is still the second poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean after Haiti, and a country in which poverty is above all a rural phenomenon: two out of three people on the country-side live on less than one dollar a day.
"It is fundamental that this country can produce enough to feed itself," says Ariel Bucardo, Nicaragua's Minister of Agriculture. Moving towards "food sovereignty", as he puts it, the Ministry works with FAO and the European Union, through the Food Facility, the EU's € 1 billion response to the unacceptable level of hunger in the world.
The EU's Maria Dolores Monge says that in order to address Nicaragua's structural problems of food insecurity, you need to increase agricultural productivity. "The important thing is not only to sow, but how much productivity has risen."
In Nicaragua, she adds, where 80 percent of smallholder farmers are organised in cooperatives, the EU and FAO work with the government to help farmers' associations increase their yields.
To achieve this FAO, with € 3 million EU Food Facility funds, has put in place a two-year operation to tackle the main obstacles to higher agricultural yields in Nicaragua, says FAO's project coordinator Leonard Fagot.
Interventions include the delivery of quality seeds and storage infrastructure, as well as the provision of technical support, for instance in agricultural techniques, as well as in marketing.
Fagot says that during the planting season from May to June, almost 7,000 manzanas (4,865 hectares) were planted with improved seeds of beans, maize and rice, provided by FAO to more than 4,000 farmers.
No results are available yet, but looking back on the harvest of late last year, Fagot is optimistic. At the time, FAO assistance led to productivity increases of up to three times the national average in the central area of Jinotega.
Drought and pests hit the department of Nueva Guinea in south-eastern Nicaragua, and yields remained slightly under average. Nevertheless, Fagot is looking forward to the upcoming season. "Many farmers will come and work with us again."