MPs visit our Seeds of Survival program in Nicaragua

February 5, 2018

Four Members of Parliament left a frosty Canadian January and headed to western Nicaragua. They went to learn about the incredible work small-scale farmers are doing there with Canadian assistance, through organizations like SeedChange.

Left to right: MPs Ziad Aboultaif (Edmonton Manning), Mona Fortier (Ottawa-Vanier), Sonia Sidhu (Brampton South) and Anju Dhillon (Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle). (Photo courtesy of Mona Fortier)

MPs Ziad Aboultaif, Anju Dhillon, Mona Fortier and Sonia Sidhu visited several communities to see Canadian international assistance in action. Accompanied by representatives of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Government of Canada, they were introduced to the to farmer cooperatives of women, youth and Indigenous peoples, facilitated by our partner the Federation of Cooperatives for Development (Federación de Cooperativas para el Desarrollo, FECODESA), and supported by SeedChange’s Seeds of Survival program.

More than that, they met women farming together, empowering and uplifting each other.

In Pueblo Nuevo, they heard from the farmers who run the Nuevo Horizonte Women’s Cooperative about why they first created the cooperative. The 1980s and 90s had brought destruction and tragedy to their communities: first in the form of civil conflict and later the massive disaster that was Hurricane Mitch. These tragic circumstances forced entire communities to relocate in search of new homes and re-establish their agricultural plots elsewhere from scratch.

MP Anju Dhillon learned just how amazingly diverse crops can be. “This particular farm cultivates 130 types of beans, dozens of different types of corn and Hibiscus flowers for tea!” she wrote. (Photo courtesy of Anju Dhillon)

To cope with this upheaval, women from the displaced communities decided to form a cooperative to support their own training and empowerment, education, housing, and agricultural production for the local market. Through these initiatives, women have changed their lives.

“People know us from the cooperative. We participate in key meetings. We resolve problems. We no longer think of emigrating. Not to leave our home, our family,” said one cooperative member, Flora Morales.

The MPs met many farmers dedicated to making their agriculture more sustainable and producing diverse, healthy food for their communities.

With the Pueblo Nuevo Cooperative, the MPs learned about seed banking and participatory plant breeding, essential elements of SeedChange’s program with smallholder farmers in 12 countries. They saw more varieties of beans than they knew existed (including one farm growing 130 types of beans!) and farmers breeding corn, sorghum and beans to better suit their growing conditions.

As they shared visits, stories and food with the community, the MPs were impressed by their warmth, resilience, and skills.

Seeds of Survival in Nicaragua

The four MPs visited a community seed bank that SeedChange supports in Nicaragua. Here are Mona Fortier and Anju Dhillon with Blanca Castro, who works with our local partner organization (FECODESA), and Jim Cornelius, Executive Director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. (Photo courtesy of Charlene Wieler/Canadian Foodgrains Bank)

With funding from Global Affairs Canada, the Seeds of Survival program of SeedChange with FECODESA is improving food security, climate resilience and income-generation in the Dry Corridor of Nicaragua.

The program uses community-led approaches to support farmers to diversify their farms and gardens, and improve crops through participatory plant breeding.

The Seeds of Survival program is also helping to strengthen cooperative businesses to provide more stable income for families while also enhancing on-farm diversity.

A history of conflict, repeated droughts and climate instability have made life challenging for farmers in this region of the world. In this context, our Seeds of Survival program offers farmers avenues to establish peaceful lives, gain meaningful livelihoods, strengthen their resilience to climate change, broaden their participation in local markets.

Program highlights

  • a stronger voice for women and greater opportunities for women to lead
  • 22 women’s cooperatives received technical and material support to establish microenterprises and home garden systems
  • 81 women occupy leadership positions in cooperatives
  • 48 per cent of all program participants are women
  • expanded seed diversity and seed access – Garden crop diversity increased by 65 per cent
  • six community seed banks strengthened, conserving and sharing 125 local varieties and 180 advanced lines of maize and sorghum
  • greater economic opportunities – three contracts signed for regional export of 1,909 tonnes of black beans produced by small-scale cooperative farmers
  • 28 per cent of program participants are youth seeking options for sustainable livelihoods in their communities
  • training for long-term resilience
  • 156 cooperatives received Seeds of Survival training
  • 4,575 people now directly benefit from the Seeds of Survival program