Young Grower Alliance Agricultural Extension Project in Nicaragua
Marvin teaches Edward proper procedure for re-hydrating a tired horse while Javier assists in elevating the rehydration solution.
The goals of the Nicaragua Agricultural Extension project are to support education, use of sustainable agriculture techniques and crop diversification in Talolinga and the surrounding communities.
Three young Talolingans, Javier Espinoza, Marvin Ramirez Aguirre, and Edward Andino have taken on the roles of the area's extensionists. Support for their education is provided by the Ag Extension Project through generous donations. The extensionists have used the knowledge gained so far to lead and coordinate demonstration gardens, workshops on sustainable farming techniques and a school garden.
Each winter a YGA delegation travels to Nicaragua to visit Talolinga and other rural farms and research sites. This allows YGA members to establish and maintain relationships with project participants, assist in furthering goals, offer support where needed and participate in a community work day. A project plan is updated annually.
This Year's Delegation Update
"Celebrating Successes, Fuel for the Future"
By: Carla Snyder, Penn State Extension
Tenacity and passion are the characteristics that have led our three young Nicaraguan Extensionists to achieve success in our rural Nicaraguan Extensionist program. Over the past five years, the Young Grower Alliance has been building a program to educate, empower and mentor young agricultural extensionists in partnership with a local non-profit, Project Gettysburg Leon. After returning from a recent delegation where Pennsylvania young growers, local FFA students and agricultural teachers exchanged innovative production and post-harvest technologies, networked and shared culture I am proud of the success that the three Extensionists have afforded our program.
In a program designed to educate and empower young agriculturists in the Northern Highlands village of Talolinga, about an hour from the city of Esteli, the success of our efforts is exemplified by the Extensionists' care and dedication to their education and community. Javier, our first Extensionist who has been part of the program since its inception, is nearing the conclusion of his university education, typically a five-year program, and is finishing his internship on a working farm near the capital city of Managua. In addition to his education, in only six months, Javier has been able to purchase his own farm in the next village, sustainably prepare the land, install a water tank, pump and irrigation system and put in several acres of tomatoes as well as peppers, squash and other vegetables. Through this swift production he has been able to produce an abundance of tomatoes and other vegetables that he sells at the market in Santa Rosa, an hour-long mountainous walk from his village, and provides to families in his home community of Talolinga.
Marvin, the second extensionist accepted into the program, earned recent acceptance to a veterinary surgery program to take place in addition to his regular educational degree program. Through his schooling, Marvin has gained a reputation in the village as a reliable and professional animal caretaker. He regularly supplies local farmers with veterinary medicines, testing supplies to identify diseases and problems and regularly supplies his expertise to assist in diagnosis and determining solutions. In addition, he manages a highly visible demonstration garden in the center of the village where he trains a women’s group on soil management, planting and crop health.
Talolinga is a village in constant flux. The residents never hesitate to say hello or lend a smile but through the recent years of frequent droughts they struggle to provide enough food to sustain their community. Challenges extend to availability of water resources, as homes do not include running water, adequate nutrition and animal feed. In addition the location of the village proves difficult to daily life. A bolder cover access road was established about four years ago when a small electrical line was run to the village, however residents lack means of transportation and most travel by foot. From the base of the mountain in Santa Rosa to the village of Talolinga is a four hour up-hill climb. This steep dirt road provides access however does not lessen the burden for transporting supplies, food, an ill family member or produce grown to sell at the market. For these reasons it is even more important for the Extensionists living in the village to provide agricultural advisement to residents so they are more equipped to save and preserve their crops, animals and health for the sustainability of the village.
Our third Extensionist, Edward, realizes the importance his education can bring to the village and although he is just completing his first year of school has already put into practice sustainable methods geared towards the future of the village. Edward has established a working school garden where he has identified and trained student leaders, all age 10, empowering them to care for and make decisions about the health of the selected crops for the school. Edward’s successful management of this program can be seen in the amount of food the garden is able to not only supply students during their school day but to take home to their families as well. Students have learned about soil health, pests and diseases, and photosynthesis from Edward, and were then able to put their skills to work to grow corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, basil, pineapple, scallions, beans, carrots and cucumbers. The school garden serves as only one example of how Edward is using his education from the beginning to further his impacts on the community.
The school garden is not the only way Edward has exhibited his dedication to the future viability of his community, as he most impressively has developed a seed bank to maintain the availability of high-quality and high-yield seed to local growers. The seed bank is in its first season of operation; however Edward’s tenacity to develop a business plan, grant proposal and search out hard-to-find seed varieties that would be suitable to their village growing conditions and food security needs is admirable. His plan includes a loan structure, in seed, and payback plan to ensure the viability of the seed bank in times of crisis and harvest loss for the community. Edward exhibits production methods of these seeds and others in his well-kept demonstration garden, complete with irrigation, bio-intensive educational beds, and potential unique varieties he is testing for their village.
As exhibited, the success of this program cannot rest on the plan and technical assistance alone. Although the Young Grower Alliance and Project Gettysburg-Leon supply an example, a structure and continued assistance, the success is dependent on the cooperation and gusto of the Extensionists. Through working together they are learning one of the most important lessons about serving the agricultural community - that we are all connected. Through these connections, the Extensionists are able to better identify and lead on how to utilize the assets Talolinga and other rural villages possess. They are not only furthering their education to teach the technical agricultural aspects of maintaining food security, economic health and bolstering nutrition but that of sustainable community development. These three young men have learned to work together with their communities to develop desirable options for improvement to this rural village utilizing the strengths the community possesses. They have worked to empower the women who are training in the demonstration garden, teach the students harvesting from the school plot and have provided the cooks new vegetables to include in their family meals. This program truly serves as an example of integrated community development hinging on the importance of education-based agricultural techniques. Its replicability is apparent and I am proud to have these young Extensionist colleagues in Nicaragua furthering the impact of research-based agriculture and community development along-side our Penn State programming.
Below you can see photos and read updates from prior delegation trips:
The "Alternative Strategies for Agriculture in Rural Nicaragua" project is focused on providing knowledge regarding sustainable agriculture techniques that can be transferred by a team of extensionists to members of a rural Nicaraguan community and surrounding region.
FFA students Ashlyn Burkholder and Olivia Staub joined us for our 2015 Delegation. Here you will find what they thought about Nicaragua and the experiences they had there.
Photos of this years delegation trip to Nicaragua.
Our partners at Project Gettysburg-León (PGL) have written an article about climate change and its impacts on progress. (This article also appeared in The Gettysburg Times)
Read the latest update on the Ag Extension Project and letters from the Nicaraguan young growers on “What it Means to be an Extensionist”
"The soil was dark, moist, and smelled…rich. If the dirt before us could be likened to a gourmet meal, it would be a hearty beef and vegetable stew." December 2013 marked the 4th trip to Nicaragua for several members of the Young Grower Alliance (YGA), a coalition of specialty crop growers.
Photos and project description presented at the annual YGA luncheon.
Javier Espinoza visited Gettysburg, PA in October of 2013 with Aaron Banas the Project Gettysburg-Leon in country director.
A group of YGA members visit Javier in Talolinga January 2013
View images and YGA member impressions from past years.