The seven-acre farm owned by our ministry partner in Chinandega, Nicaragua, is a source of great hope for the country’s most impoverished families.
Some are impressed by the machine the ministry built from recycled parts to manufacture its own special pig feed blend. Others tout the mild-to-nonexistent odor of the pigpen itself as a sign of progress. Whichever gladdens their hearts most, these sweat-soaked farmers understand that raising livestock elevates their economic position, promising them a better life — and for that, they are deeply grateful.
Pursuing this kind of empowerment of local families is redefining what it means to do charity in Nicaragua.
A ministry’s personality begins in and develops from the vision of the ministry’s leadership. In this case, that leader is John Bland, and he doesn’t do anything halfway. The Georgia Catholic left an established career to commit his life to serving the poor, and he brought his obsessive pursuit of excellence with him to Nicaragua. Rather than offer the poor charitable leftovers, he wants the families of Chinandega to enjoy the very best — the best water, the best health, the best nutrition … and the best economic opportunities.
Consider, for example, how his team has been developing its own proprietary software to track the progress of its work and its interactions with every individual family. That’s a level of technical sophistication you don’t often see in the field. This dedication to technical excellence is why he hires local professionals like Francisco.
When it comes to microenterprise, you could almost mistake John’s ministry for a hip new startup looking to disrupt the agriculture industry. He has brought together a team of local professionals, such as an agricultural engineer and a veterinarian, to put together a program that really works and changes lives. Behind the rallying cry to give a struggling farmer a pig or a supply of seeds and fertilizer is an infrastructure set up to ensure that these goods are more than table scraps — that these farmers’ small businesses will be truly competitive.
Pigs are a hot item at Nicaraguan markets, which makes them an ideal investment for rural families. But reaching the level of success our partner strives for requires producing quality pigs in ideal conditions while also giving farmers access to the training and resources they need to start and sustain viable businesses.
The pigpen is kept meticulously clean, armed with flytraps, and lined with ground-up rice husks that reduce odor. Piglets are separated from the adults to reduce accidental crushing deaths, and they have ample space for movement (in contrast with the overcrowding typical of modern large-scale commercial farming).
The ministry has been experimenting with breeding to produce pigs that grow fast, are extremely fertile and will give plenty of milk for their young. Farmers who receive piglets raise them until they are large enough and fat enough for sale. Then, our ministry partner takes the pigs to the market and sends the profits back to the farmers. So far, the farmers have been amazed by how large they have been able to grow their pigs in a short time. They have never seen this kind of growth before — or this kind of profit!
The hope is that eventually, the ministry will be able to provide similar pens to the beneficiaries themselves, who would then only have to rent one adult pig to begin the breeding process. Our partner also hopes to make its special pig feed blend available for sale to local farmers as a cheaper and healthier alternative to local mainstream brands.
Related: The Nicaragua Food Crisis
Many rural Nicaraguans earn a living as day laborers, but those who are able to plant their own crops (whether on owned or rented land) often don’t fare much better. This is because they lack the knowledge and resource to plant the most profitable crops and make efficient use of the land.
The key to empowering these farmers: diversification.
Our partner is empowering farmers to advance from dependence on the basic staples to also growing produce such as avocados, tomatoes and limes. While a typical corn harvest might bring $500 to a farmer, a harvest of dragon fruit, which Francisco has been working to introduce to the area, can bring $5,000!
There are dragon fruit trees aplenty on the farm, but what makes the program effective is not variety alone. It’s the science. The ministry has been experimenting with different combinations of crops so that no square foot of soil goes to waste, the crops don’t compete for nutrients, and the farmers are able to utilize their land more months of the year.
Then there is the fertilizer the ministry has been perfecting for local use. Cow manure may not seem like the most energizing topic, but Francisco’s team swells with pride at their custom blend, which combines the manure with all-organic ingredients such as grass and plantain scraps. One farmer declared that their goal is to create the best organic compost — not just in Nicaragua but in the entire world.
More practically speaking, their goal is to customize the fertilizer to the specific needs of each individual farmer. Too often, local farmers don’t know what is in their own soil, and they resort to using chemicals that have long-term negative consequences. Realizing how critical soil quality is to crop yields, the agriculture team conducts lab tests of the farmers’ soil and then tries to provide them with the right mix of nutrients to compensate for any deficiencies.
This outreach begins with an assumption: that many rural Nicaraguans have the ability and the desire to succeed, and that they are eager to invest in their future. They don’t want to settle for permanent dependency on the altruism of others.
If the number of farmers signing up for microenterprise support is an indication, this assumption is correct. Nicaraguans yearn to succeed. And as those farmers repay their loans over time through either a portion of their monetary profits or in-kind payments of produce, those resources are reinvested into their communities to continue the march out of poverty.
This is the kind of work that is possible when friends like you put their faith into action by not just giving — but giving wisely.
Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2021, the close of our ministry’s new fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.