In the Nueva Segovia region of Nicaragua, P4P is supporting farmers’ organizations to utilize low-cost, environmentally-friendly techniques and technologies. These sustainable practices, which include minimal tillage farming and the use of organic materials in soil enrichment, are enabling smallholders to benefit from increased yields, improved crop quality and reduced production costs.
In the municipality of Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, flat land in this generally mountainous area, and high agricultural potential has led to the extensive use of mechanized farming, particularly since the introduction of tobacco cultivation. Many years of utilizing traditional mechanization has led to soil compaction and erosion, which can deplete the soil of vital nutrients and reduce yields. To promote improvements in agricultural production, P4P and partners are supporting small-scale farmers with a variety of sustainable techniques and technologies.
New sustainable farming techniques
Smallholder farmers in Jalapa are now utilizing minimal tillage systems, which allow them to cultivate land with minimal disturbance to the soil, reducing nutrient loss. Minimal tillage systems are comprised of seeders, which are either hand-held, or trailers pulled by tractors. Minimal tillage also benefits smallholders by decreasing the time and labour required for planting and soil preparation, and can reduce costs by over 30 percent. Plus, fewer seeds and fertilizer are needed, with less lost in application. The equipment also improves the spacing between crops, which can lead to higher yields. Technical assistance has been provided by the government’s Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). P4P shares the cost of the equipment with the cooperatives.
The Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Campesinos Activos de Jalapa (CCAJ) and the Asociación de Campesinos para el Desarrollo Integral Sostenible (ACADIS) have been supported to create production plans to best provide planting and fertilization services to member organizations. Improved technologies have been further promoted through exchanges, field visits, internships and small trials, benefitting cooperative leaders and key P4P partners such as INTA. While this new technology is already yielding results in Jalapa, scaling these practices to other farmers is challenging, with many smallholders still utilizing traditional techniques. Lessons learned confirm that scaling up will require additional technical support and awareness raised about the benefits of high-performing, environmentally-friendly technologies and techniques.
Conserving soil, improving production
P4P-supported cooperatives are also learning to utilize environmentally-friendly organic amendments, as well as agricultural techniques to promote the conservation of soil and water. For example, the Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Santiago is now cultivating slopes along the contour, where natural barriers such as shrubs and trees protect the soil and prevent erosion of nutrients. "If we do not implement techniques to conserve the soil it will erode, and there will then be a need to use more fertilizer. This is an unnecessary costly expense," says the cooperative’s technician Elmer Sarantes.
In collaboration with the Agricultural Technology Integration System Network (RED-SICTA), P4P is working to introduce low-cost hermetic “cocoon” storage systems. These airtight bags reduce crop losses, in part by preventing infestation by weevils and other pests without the use of toxic insecticides. While the introduction of new storage systems at cooperative level are making great strides in improving crop quality, smallholders in Nicaragua require additional support to access storage facilities on a larger scale.
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