The task of survival among small, rural cooperatives in Nicaragua is not an easy one. Any success beyond subsistence requires an uncommon blend of resources, technical help, favorable weather, sufficient labor and knowledge of the land, agriculture, organizational strengthening, marketing, logistics, reinvestment, strategic planning and community development. In short, a producer must cultivate not only a crop, but also his/her ability to see things whole. Within the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it’s especially daunting, and recognition for any success that might be encountered along the way is so infrequent as to be non-existent.
So when one of these first-tier cooperatives receives front-page attention in the business section of one of the major newspapers serving the country, it’s big news for those who labor so anonymously for so little in return. This is precisely what has happened with the people of the Jose Alfredo Zeladon cooperative (JAZ, for short) from the San Juan del Rio Coco area of north central Nicaragua. JAZ has been a long-time partner of Winds of Peace and has consistently demonstrated its commitment to an holistic vision of the cooperative and its impacts. And while we have had our own good feelings about the organization for many years, it’s nice to hear others recognizing the positive development of this very grassroots group.
Here’s what the article had to say, along with some photos provided from our own visits to JAZ territory:
- The 170 coffee growing members of the Jose Alfredo Zeledon cooperatives of San Juan de Río Coco are recognized for their capacity for organization, management and productivity.
by William Aragón Rodríguez
The rows of the trees with branches full of hundreds of red or green fruit, and that inside protect the coveted grains of coffee on the mountainous farms covered with mist, are a matter of pride in each year of harvest for the small scale members of the Jose Alfredo Zeledon coffee cooperatives in the municipality of San Juan de Rio Coco, an area loced in the eastern part of the Madriz Province. This is because the productivity of their plants represents an alternative of economic income in their homes and a work opportunity in the coffee harvest for the rest of their families and outsiders.
This multifunctional cooperative, that for organizations of financial credit is an example of organization that has allowed their members to have access to economic loans, was founded in 1995 with barely 35 members that were able to produce some 300 sacks of coffee. Now they are 170 small coffee growers who are producing more than 10,000 quintals of good quality red bean. The members dispersed in most of the communities that make up the municipality of San Juan de Río Coco, an area considered to be the most coffee growing area of the region of Las Segovias, had their own economic fund available to be used in the support of the development plans of the farms of each one of the producers.
Raul Gonzalez points this out, who works with the cooperative and who assures that the technical assistance in the field has contributed to the maintenance and ongoing care of the coffee farms, the renovation and plantation of new rows that have helped the members to produce and sell excellent quality coffee.
AFFECTED BY THE COFFEE RUST, BUT THEY PROVIDED A RESPONSE
Edmundo López Muñoz, founder and leader of the José Alfredo Zeledón cooperative, revealed that this coffee cycle 2012-2013, that was affected by the coffee rust and antracnosis, allowed only 3,000 quintals of the production to go out, that historically had been 15,000. “The coffee rust and antracnosis did away with some 550 manzanas of coffee of the 1,080 cultivated and the losses go beyond 80% of the production,” pointed out López Muñoz. This forced the members to seek alternative solutions to the problem, many convinced that the Government has not shown an interest in helping, which is why they went to experts in coffee growing, principally on the issue of the coffee rust and antracnosis.
“We use the leaf spray Mo-enzima, which helps to resolve the low assimilation of nitrogen in the plant and so the coffee adapts better to the hydric stress, to high temperatures and higher solar radiation that climate change is creating,” said López, showing the results of the farm of member Jose Pillo Montalvan Olivas from the area of Matapalo, in San Juan de Rio Coco, who is recovering from the coffee rust.
Many affected members will have to renovate entire plantings of coffee or cut back to the stem, but they are clear that they are going to have to wait some four years to see the first harvest. Meanwhile, they will have to plant other products.
What most stands out about the Jose Alfredo Zeledon cooperative is the organizatonal capacity of its members and the management that its board members have, who are promoting some projects like the making of metal stoves based on coffee hulls that reduce the consumption of firewood, decreasing environmental damage and the felling of trees in the zone. They are also producing honey, they are planting a variety of food products and are raising a diversity of household animals for their reproduction and sale like poultry, pigs, goats and fish raised on ponds built to harvest water.
As another accomplishment, the members thenselves have a store of food products to benefit the families´homes, and they receive credit, ongoing training and technical advice for improving their coffee farms.
López Munoz said that the members have a fund available for the improvement of their coffee farms. “Now we are testing a product that strengthens the least affected plants and working on the renovation of the most affected plants,” he indicated. The most important thing is that now they are selling their produce directly without intermediaries and training the children of the members.
Data about the cooperative
242 kilometers from Managua is the location of the José Alfredo Zeledón coffee cooperative of San Juan de Río Coco.
186,000 quintals of coffee is what is produced each year in the municipality of San Juan de Río Coco, in Madriz.
1,080 manzanas of coffee is owned by the 170 members of the cooperative that generates some 15,000 sacks.
7 million cordobas are the funds they have currently available.
The article may seem sparse and maybe even a little matter-of-fact for a recognition piece. But make no mistake about the fact that front-page placement for this story underscores an importance, an accomplishment to be emulated, and the message is clear: there ARE models in the countryside which are working. JAZ happens to be one of them for as long as they can maintain their holistic focus and willingness to balance their short-term wants with their long-term needs. We’re very proud of them, to be working with them, and that others are coming to recognize their work and ethic….