Category Archives: Diversification

The leap of the century, the challenge of the municipality of Palacagüina


The leap of the century, the challenge of the municipality of Palacagüina

René Mendoza, Edgar Fernández and Ramón García *

The dogs in the village of Riito in the municipality of Palacagüina, on hearing the noise of a motor, come out barking wildly in pursuit of the vehicle; when they finally reach it , nothing happens! They return, tired, marking their territory. This reference is applicable to most of the families and organizations of the municipality, and to thousands similar ones in other places. In this article we describe the opportunities that the municipality has, and how after a period of success, the families and organizations that took advantage of those opportunities then became stagnant. We talk about the causes behind this, and we suggest how to overcome these structural limitations.

Between 1900 and 1930 peasant families saw in Palacagüina the opportunity of having land and making their farms. In 1944 the Panamerican highway was built, and 15 years later the slaughterhouse of Condega was built, where the ranchers of Ocotal and Estelí saw an opportunity, so bought land in Palacagüina as their “second farms”; they would bring in cattle from their haciendas to fatten them in Palacagüina, getting them ready for the slaughterhouse in Condega. Also  coffee producers from Ocotal built the first dry coffee mill, and buyers even from Managua came to await the coffee that would come down from San Juan del Río Coco and Quilali. The families of Palacagüina lost their land and their farms, and got jobs in construction, the slaughterhouse, tobacco and tannery plants in Condega, and in the coffee mill, and each November they would go to San Juan del Río Coco and Dipilto to pick coffee. These rancher and coffee growing families, like previously the peasant families, were successful for some 25 years and then went into decline.

In the 1980s the revolution was an opportunity, families without land got access to land and organized into cooperatives, benefitting additionally  from state resources and international aid; these cooperatives disappeared after some 20 years and their members were left without land; the same thing happened with dozens of organizations with large projects in the decades of the 1990s and 2000s, and when foreign resources got scarce, they disappeared. Also in this period the rancher, Balvino Cruz, saw the opportunity in baseball for forming children and adolescents, this success lasted some 20 years and with his death baseball came to a standstill. In the last 20 years the youth saw the opportunity of studying as a means for scaling up, today there are professionals from Palacagüina throughout the country, even though most have resigned themselves to be “ diploma bearing workers” in tobacco and florist companies in Estelí. Also in the last 20 years hundreds of people migrated in search of opportunity, while other families making concrete blocks and other businesses have been growing; all of them, we predict, will go into decline after 25 years of relative success.

Within this century-long pattern, Palacagüina has been left with the image of being “the birthplace of baseball”, and a municipality where “the people use gloves as pillows and the broom as a bat;” “the place of the best bricklayers in the country”; the “municipality of scholars”, with a “large reserve of workers”, a municipality where “the people would rest” when they travelled by bus, and it is the municipality where “Christ is now born” (song of Carlos Mejía Godoy). What has kept them from scaling up in a sustainable manner? We point out three interrelated answers. First, the primacy of the myths that leave the population like “hens with their feet tied together”; the myth of the “biotype”, that believes that “short statured” people can not get ahead in baseball, when teams from Korea and Japan have been successful in spite of being “short statured”; the myth of being a “dry municipality”, when the ranchers and coffee growers see it as an opportunity; the myth of “without money there is nothing”, when  international aid projects, remittances and a multitude of workers and professionals have generated a lot of capital and nothing happens! Their attitude keeps them “hobbled.”

Secondly, when the level of investment grows and businesses, cooperatives or associations are formed, they end up being managed under the rules of the institution of the family. In this way a successful bus owner in the face of the opportunity of buying another bus and another route, declines because “who is going to drive the bus for me the way that I drive my bus?” When a cooperative, foundation or association emerges, they end up being managed by a small number of people, who centralize the decisions, the contacts and the information. They are “orchestra” people, that even though “two or three hats do not cover one head”, occupy all the possible posts, and manage the organization as if it were their “milk cow.” So, for example, the bodies of a cooperative (Assembly, Administrative Council, Oversight Board and Credit Committee) do not function and their statutes (rules) are worthless paper. It does not matter how high up they go, this “law of social gravity” smashes them against the ground.

Thirdly, the endogenous institutionality (attitude and family) are reinforced with neoliberal ideas (maximize profits, preeminence of the individual, everything is economics). These ideas, as K. Polanyi used to say in his book, “The Great Transformation”, make  land, money and work  be seen as merchandise. We would add,  organizations are also seen as merchandise. These ideas co-opt the organization´s bodies and rules. They are able to earn money, but they do not invest well.

This trilogy has meant that the dog, after reaching the vehicle, returns with his tail between his legs; that the families, after they have been successful, get stagnated and go back to the routine. How can this trilogy be overcome and make the population take the leap of the century? Opportunities abound, which is their location as the door to Estelí, to Telpaneca, and San Juan del Río Coco, to Ocotal and Las Manos, to Yalagüina and Somoto, and to Pueblo Nuevo and San Juan de Limay; also their high number of professionals and migrations-remittances. It is important to take advantage of these opportunities, and developing savings and loan services, technical and organizational assistance for production, processing and commercialization is important.

The biggest challenge lies in the spirit of the people and a change in the family-style institution, expressed in two experiences. In the village of Musulí, a mother on her deathbed counseled her 20 year old son Faustino, “be careful about taking something that belongs to someone else,  and taking the road to alcohol”; 60 years later, Faustino followed the two pieces of advice and added a third, “never arrive in the early morning wiping  sleep from your eyes”, to which his wife Felipa added, “that is a good step forward;” and Faustino concluded, “I am 80 years old and don´t have a lazy bone in my body.” In the Riito Méndez village, 70 years ago grandfather Froylan left his land equally to his daughters and sons, along with his advice to “respect people”; the two following generations repeated both rules, and today in that community there is less violence and greater equality. A saving spirit, one of investing well, respecting people and embracing the institution of inheritance with equity can be what the Prince called “that which is untangible.”

This spirit is a “good step” for scaling up – “getting ahead” – if it responds to the opportunities, and is accompanied by organizations (foundations, cooperatives, associations, NGOs and unions) that see Palacagüina as a great opportunity, and function according to their rules and decision making bodies, governing the market. This would make the difference of the century.

* René Mendoza ( has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (WPF) (, associate researcher for IOB-Antwerp University (Belgium) and of the Nitlapan-UCA Research and Development Institute (Nicaragua). Edgar Fernández is a collaborator with WPF. Ramón García is from the Roncalli Association of Palacagüina.

LEAN: a method for improving businesses and cooperatives

LEAN: a method for improving businesses and cooperatives

René Mendoza V., Steve Sheppard and Mark Lester*

We are not ants that come in and only take a grain of sand, carry it, pile it up and dig a hole. We come in, we take the grain of sand, we carry it, we pile it up and we have the capacity to ask, “How can I do it better?” And we build an excavator. (P. Akers, 2 Second Lean, 2012: 132)

The Lean model (The Toyota Way) helped Japan recover after the Second World War and become part of the club of countries called developed countries. Since this “automobile revolution”, the Lean model has been successfully applied to different sectors of the economy, types of businesses and organizations around the world. If “Open Books Management” (see: ) provides a perspective for making businesses transparent and having a circular organizational structure, Lean provides a framework and tools for innovating. Here we summarize them, provide possible applciations from the agrarian sector, and we conclude on the importance of reading it from the culture itself for expanding human capacities.

Origin and concepts

Ideas from the business side seeking productivity and quality, and ideas from the social side with research and participatory action contributed to what later would become the Lean model. W. Shewhart in 1924 proposed the use of the “statistical control of processes” to statistically observe the yield of the entire production process and not just the result. K. Lewin in 1946 proposed participatory research action where the people involved would analyze their reality and transform it; in organizations, the people affected by qualified changes have the primary responsibility in deciding on the improvements that have to be made in the business. Based on these contributions, in the 1950s and 1960s E. Deming proposed the circle plan-do-verify-act: improving the quality process from the beginning, recognizing leaders with their differentiated skills, cultivating confidence in order to gain efficiency and effectiveness, erasing barriers between departments, educating in the work for self improvement, and organizing to transform the organization.

On this basis the Lean model developed four concepts, each of which readily lends itself to an agricultural setting (see: Liker, J. K., 2004, The Toyota Way. 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer). The first is that the decisions be based on a long term philosophy, at the expense of what might happen with the short term financial objectives. The perspective is about improving the lives of the clients and making their own members grow, and through that emphasis growing a healthy business that would be profitable. The second is the process of creating continuous flow in the entire production chain so that problems might come to the surface and thus be identified and addressed (e.g. overproduction, excess handling and inventory, dead time where someone is not working or clients are waiting, underuse of the talent of the staff). Lean creates a culture of stopping to solve problems instead of waiting until the end of the process, and of standardizing improvements. The third is continuous evolution of the people, of leaders creating a long term culture, one of continuous improvement, utilizing errors in order to learn and teach, and of respect for the extended network of members and providers (“extended enterprise”), challenging them and helping them to improve. The fourth concept is teaching the tools of problem solving (organizational learning), giving importance to the data as indicators of what is happening, but making decisions going to the events themselves and understanding the context in which they happen and the nature of the problem.

The Vice President of Lexus, Japan summarized this different way of working like this: “The most important thing for Toyota are the people. We get involved in teaching and training, and we build a culture of continuous improvement. We are not concerned about the next hybrid, the next engineering marvel, not even the next sales strategy. Our number one concern is forming our people and building a culture of continuous improvement.” And that importance transcends factories and fields and offices everywhere.

Shaking the agrarian tree

Lean emerged in the automobile industry and has been applied more in factories, including plants processing cheese, chocolate and vegetables. But it has been demonstrated to have the same high impact in any other work settings, because the concept is based on the fact that all work- of whatever sort- is a series of processes. How can Lean be adapted to small farming production in Central America? The first thing is building a long term culture based on an aspiration of interconnected farms, with a perspective of productive chains and diversified and sustainable systems whose center are the families themselves. Then, in this perspective, identifying and fighting waste: planning the production supply not according to the moon, but to the demand (e.g. harvesting beans every month of the year in accordance with climatic-soil variations, investment in irrigation and organization of the actors in the bean chain; likewise in products like corn, plaintains, honey, milk, passion fruit, meat or eggs); making intelligent investments (e.g. instead of each company and each cooperative having a dry mill that costs more than a half million dollars, cultivating relationships of trust with the owners of the already existing mills, and establishing relations based on standards for the control of coffee weight and quality). Then, that this process be undergoing continuous improvement in its very details, for example, instead of increasing productive yields based on applying chemical inputs, calculating yield in the entire chain and developing relationships with the coffee harvesters so that not even one bean is lost in the soil, regulating the huller so that coffee beans are not broken, having adequate drying screens without holes to prevent coffee beans from falling through while drying them on the farm, making organic fertilizer from the pulp, keeping coffee beans from being left on the patios of the dry mills, roasting-grinding and packaging coffee specifically for niche markets. Finally, doing everything just in time to achieve product quality, and in each part maintaining records to analyze them jointly with the actors and improving them. Make the chain a space for organizational learning.

From the culture itself

The Lean model is not a magical recipe, but a reference point for any organization – business, cooperative, NGO and any type of institution – and for any family. All of us want to continuously improve the activity that we are involved in, which is why identifying the waste and doing away with activities that do not create value give us more life. Nevertheless, not all of us want to grow in the way that is “in style”: growing in areas of land at the cost of dispossessing peasant and indigenous families of their land; increasing the yield of the crops at the cost of producing more greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) that speed up climate change. Instead of “bigger is better”, the notion of decreasing is growing: focusing on the people and on their repossession processes, developing a culture of learning to innovate continuously in each detail. Correspondingly, subtracting is more than adding; if each day we save two seconds in the activity in which we are involved, we are making each process simpler, in just two seconds! How much time would we save in a year?

The human goal is changing the world for the better. Money is a means and will be multiplied if we do not lose our long term perspective, in that our concern “is forming our people and building a culture of continuous improvement” to the point of asking ourselves: how can we do it better? How can we reduce or eliminate barriers and thus improve the return on our work? More than “excavators” we are committed to building a culture of a better life.


* René Mendoza ( has a PhD in development studies, a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (WPF) (, associate researcher of IOB-University of Antwerp (Belguim) and of the Nitlapan-UCA Research and Development Institute (Nicaragua). Steve Sheppard, current director of WPF, was the manager of the Foldcraft corporation owned by its 350 employees. Mark Lester is the director of WPF in Nicaragua and of the Center for Global Education and Experience of Augsburg College.


Autonomy and the Multiethnic Country in Decisive Moments

Autonomy and the Multiethnic Country in Decisive Moments

René Mendoza Vidaurre, Nora Sánchez, Celia Benjamín, Jairo Zelaya. Klaus Kuhnekath and Alejandro Pikitle*

Mahoney (2001)[i] defines “critical juncture” as the moment of contingency in which a decision is made for one of various options, an institution that is self-reinforcing and that is challenged through the processes of reaction and counter-reaction, reaching new results. In terms of the Atlantic Coast we are watching two “critical junctures”, the first in the context of liberal policies of annexation of the Mosquitia Reserve in 1894; and the second, the autonomy law within the context of a war in 1987, resulting in a multiethnic Nicaragua. This process was reinforced in 2001 with the decision of the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in favor of Awastingni, and in 2003 with Law 445 for the titling and demarcation of communal lands. As a result, by mid 2014, 37,190 km2 of Indigenous and Afro-descendent territory (31% of the national territory) had been demarcated, restoring the rights of 304 communities. Under this framework we argue here that the multiethnic country is facing a new “critical juncture” whose decision will mark the decades that follow.

Multiethnic territory under challenge

The titling and demarcation of territories has been preceded and accompanied by the advance of the agricultural frontier and the systematic extraction of natural resources by large businesses. Two cases illustrate something about this complex situation. The case of the community of Awastingni (AMASAU territory) with around 69,000 hectares, between 2001 and 2015 went from controling 95% of their area to less than 15%, and the mestizo families from controlling 5% to 85% (according to Larry Salomón Pedro, Mayangna leader, 92% “is invaded by settlers”, LP-25-07-2014; and that less than 15% is area divided up among Mayangna families. In practice there is no communal territory, except legally under the territorial title. And the case of the Miskitu communities of Saupuka, Ulwas and Bilwaskarma, with the change in the course of the Rio Coco caused by Hurricane Mitch (1998), with that river defined as the “dividing line between Nicaragua and Honduras” (, they lost 4,400 hectares that have been occupied by Honduran landowners from Olancho.

The causes that led to these results are reduced to blaming the “mestizo invaders” and the natural phenomenon of Hurricane Mitch, and from within this framework “compensation” policies are proposed, that the State expel the mestizos and negotiate with the Honduran government so that the “dividing line” be where the river used to flow. In what follows we seek other explanations and then sketch out a proposal.

The weight of structures and actors

The history, production systems, markets and forms of organization explain the situation presented above. Concerning the former, Mayangna-Miskitu relationships have been tense historically, including expulsions from one territory to another, and even had to do with the change of name from Sumo to Mayangna. In reference to Awastingni in 1991 a group of Miskitus participated in an arrangement with the Solcarsa company to extract wood from Awastingni, the same happened in 2003 with Madensa, situations which led the Mayangnas to sue the State in the IHRC; in 2009, a year after the titling of the AMASAU territory, a group of Miskitus tried to take part of the AMASAU, were prevented from doing so with the support of mestizos that the Mayangnas called “human boundary stones”; and in 2010 the Mpinicsa wood company started an agreement with Miskitu groups to extract wood from Awastingni, which was resisted by the Mayangnas. These relationships, according to a Mayangna leader, created a sense that “the land is not going to be respected”, with this accelerating the Mayangnas taking the land and selling it to mestizos.

In the case of the Miskitu of Saupuka, Ulwas and Bilwaskarma, the “hacienda” institution has made itself felt; a good part of the areas today claimed by them prior to 1980 were a livestock ranch of a Creole family, and since 2006 claimed by ranchers from Olancho. The persistence of the hacienda, which many times caused confrontations with the Miskitu communities of Nicaragua and Honduras, is well known in Latin America for its economic, social and political despotic relationships. In other words, with or without the change in the course of the river, most of these areas have been governed by the haciendas.

In terms of the production system, the Mayangna families have their yamak where they plant beans (and plaintains), a yamak that annually rotates from one place to another, and that has responded to their consumption needs, while they have looked for money in cash to buy their salt or clothing by working in the banana fields and in mining (1950-70s), for the State (1980s), and for wood companies, mestizos, international aid and the State (1990-2015). The Miskitu from the 3 communities (Saupuka, Ulwas and Bilwaskarma) differ somewhat from the Mayangnas, they have their insla on the other side of the river which the ranchers permit, they plant beans and rice for their own consumption and part of that to buy their salt or clothing, they also receive pay for working on the haciendas, and get some resources through the sale of wood. Most of the indigenous historically have had annual crops, which along with the grazing fields of the ranching haciendas contributed to the change in the course of the river, because it is harder for a river to change course when it is bordered by trees and permanent crops. There are also some Mayangna and Miskitu families with permanent crops who produce and sell their products. Our hypothesis is that not producing for both purposes, consumption and to purchase products, has contributed to the fragility of their economic system and to the sale or loss of their lands.

The markets have hardened these practices of production just for consumption, and getting money through other ways. Awastingni in the last 20 years has enjoyed financial resources, having probably received millions of cordobas from wood companies (Madensa 1993-1998, Amerinica 2000-2003, Mpinicsa 2010-2011 and Dusa 2015-2020), the sale of land to mestizo families, that according to indigenous leaders includes a little more than 50% of the total area (with the rest of the area considered to be invaded by mestizos), and international aid or State projects. In Saupuka most of the wood extraction is happening between Waspam and Bilwaskarma illegally, which is why only a part of the small scale timber merchants are paying Saupuka; this situation has increased tensions, for example, between Bilwaskarma and Saupuka, expressed as a “dispute over property boundaries”; and given that the families of Saupuka are in a better economic situation than Awastingni, 6 km from the municipal capital of Waspam, companies like Curacau and Gallo mas Gallo leave them goods and equipment on credit with usurious interest rates.

Because of these 3 factors, the government structure in both cases has become pyramid-shaped and weak. Mayangna leaders and families sold their land, providing “possession documents” as the proof of the sale, and in many cases selling the same area 2,3 and even 4 times to different meztizo families; correspondingly, there is a leadership that operates more around external resources (mestizos, companies and organizations), with weak counterweights in the community that would help them to be transparent and use the resources well. In Saupuka the organizational structure, even though divided and with a certain level of community beligerancia, is surpassed by the hacienda institution. Overtime the organizational structures were shaped more around external resources and “freed” from those who had named them, a process fed by the external actors themselves (organizations, companies, mestizos) that just connected with the leaders, generally bypassing the communities.

In the face of a third “critical juncture”

With these elements, a tense relationship between the Mayangnas and Miskitus, intra-ethnic conflicts, Mayangna-Mestiza relations, the influence of companies and organizations, and a governance structure without internal and external counterweights, 31% of the territory of the country was able to be demarcated in the name of Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, and that in practice this is in dispute given that the mestizos population in the Coast are more than 76% of the population (Gonzalez, 2014[ii]). Given this, we think that multiethnic Nicaragua is on the verge of its third critical juncture. Three paths are visible: one, complete imposition of the ranching hacienda institution (more than peasants), and of mega extractive companies with their multiple economic, social, political and environmental effects; two, indigenous self-government that includes respect for collective and individual property and respect for nature; and the third, a inclusive, multiethnic society with historical and grassroots alliances, accompanied by a model – as Polanyi would say – of “societies with markets”. We think that the first two paths are in conflict with one another, the former moved by the “domino effect” (Mendoza, 2004 [iii] ) with unfortunate consequences, and the second – even though it is more just and legal – is more and more reduced, which is why working pragmatically on the third path is urgent.

What would this third path consist in? First, that the indigenous families would promote diversified production systems that would combine forest, agriculture (annual and permanent crops), and ranching, ensuring their consumption and staggering their income. Secondly, weaving endogenous alliances between Mayangna families and mestizo families of peasant origin with diversified systems and agreements of possessing less than 100 mzs of land per mestizo or Mayangna family, combining respect for collective and individual properties, and an alliance between the Miskitu of Nicaragua and of Honduras; in both cases with the capacity of making the ranching hacienda institution withdraw beyond the border. Third, that the territorial and communal government structures would develop internal counterweights (e.g. commissions for administering external resources and rethinking their diversification strategies) and external counterweights (e.g. microfinance institutions of the Coast to protect the resources of the communities, and the Moravian Church, because of its historic connections with indigenous populations of the Coast, cultivating bonds with the Honduran side, concretizing its Gospel of spirituality, solidarity and training. Fourth, the BICU and URACCAN universities, in collaboration with institutions like Nitlapan-UCA, would reinvent their conflict mediation institutions based on participatory research to overcome the discourse of “invaders” and “victims” and glimpse the limitations and possibilities of collaboration behind the confrontations.

In conclusion, in light of the third path as a realistic option within the current “juncture”, the problem is not the lack of financial resources, but of administering them; it is not lack of land and of laws, but of working respecting the national and international laws; and it is not a scarcity of leaders, but of an institutionality with counterweights above and below, with the participation of women in those structures, recovering the circular origin of the functioning of indigenous structures, and with the support of organizations that are connected with leaders and the population itself. Nicaragua in 1987 broke ground in Latin America with autonomy law; Nicaragua can once again break ground in the continent based on a strategic indigenous-peasant strategy for a multiethnic society, with an inclusive and sustainable development institutionality.


* René ( has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (, associate researcher of IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium) and of the Nitlapan-UCA Research and Development Institute (Nicaragua). Nora is a professor of BICU and researcher of Nitlapan-UCA. Celia, Jairo and Alejandro are researchers of Nitlapan-UCA. Klaus is an associate researcher of Nitlapan-UCA.


[i] Mahoney, J., 2001, “Regime Change: Central America in Comparative Perspective” en: Studies in Comparative International Development 36.1

[ii] Gonzalez, M., 2014, “Autonomía Costeña, 27 años después” en: Revista Confidencial

[iii] Mendoza, R., 2004, “Un espejo engañoso: imágenes de la frontera agrícola” en: ENVIO. Managua: IHCA-UCA, No. 265. 2004.


Economic diversification, a way to erradicate poverty

Economic diversification, a way to erradicate poverty

by René Mendoza Vidaurre and Edgar Fernández

The United Nations declared 2014 as the International year of Family Farming, and 2015 as the International Year of Soils. In Latin America and the Caribbean 80% of the agricultural exploitations are family farms, including more than 60 million people. Family agriculture has to do with farming, forestry, fishing, herding and aquatic production managed by families based mostly on family labor. One path that most helps family farming identity and soils is productive diversification, which provides food security and rural development, mitigates climate change and improves resilency in the face of droughts and flooding, regenerates nutrients for the soil, conserves a quarter of the biodiversity, and helps to manage water.

Historically peasant families and small producers have diversified in order to stagger their income, reduce their risks, and cultivate their autonomy in the face of usury and mechanisms for dispossessing them of their land. In this article, recognizing this legacy, we argue that in the current context we need to rethink productive diversification; we do it based on the experiences of families in Cinco Pinos, San Francisco, La Dalia, Quilalí, Jalapa, Jícaro and Palacaguina, supported by the Irish Catholic Agency for Development (TROCAIRE), the Union of Cooperatives of Farmers and Ranchers of Quilalí (UGAQ), the Orfilia Vásquez Cooperative (COACOV), the Association for Diversification and Communal Farm Development (ADDAC), the Association Commission for Rural Development (CODER) and the OCTUPAN Association. With that purpose in mind we present four types of diversification, then we highlight some points in common, and finally the challenges to promote it.

Types of diversification

Type 1: light products and products that “walk”. In dry areas like the community of Plazuela of Palacaguina, more than 10 kms from the municipal capital (the market), and without public transportation, the optimal diversification is into light products (chicory, mint, coriander, basil, oregano, etc) that the family of Natividad Matey takes out in bunches in a basket on bicycle, or products that walk, like pigs (“walking corn”). In this type of places, diversifying with dozens of avocado, citrus and mango trees results in lost resources, as can be observed in many communities with mangos littering the ground; because just the cost of transportation is more than their monetary value.

Type 2: products weighed in quintals. In zones far from the market, but blessed by rain and access to public transportation, like La Tronca of La Dalia, the optimal diversification is with cacao and coffee, basic grains and small and large livestock. The family of Ernesto Pineda sells their cacao and coffee, high value crops, through the cooperative, and the cattle they sell on their farm. Combining ranching and agriculture is a high value path.

Type 3: products weighed by the dozen. In areas with access to public transportation and close to highways, like Santa Bárbara of Jalapa, the optimal diversification is into fruit trees, citrus trees, including nancite and jocote, and foilage. In these conditions the family of Seyda Delmín sells their products in the house itself, sends them on buses to clients who order them from Ocotal, and sells them in the “Segovian Night Fair” once a month organized by the Municipal Government of Ocotal; and they do it with 1.5 mzs of land, flouting the belief that “more area you have the more income you get.” The family of Arturo Carrasco does it as well 500 mts from the principal capital in San Francisco, he takes his products to the market even carrying them in his arms.

Type 4: processed and non agricultural products. In dry zones with a history of ranching haciendas and families without access to land, particularly families led by women, optimal diversification includes commerce (buying and selling products), processing and agriculture. The family of Elia Gutiérrez in San Bartolo de Quilalí sells clothing, she is a teachers, and works in agriculture within the framework of an extended family; the family of Aurora Sarantes in El Jicaro rents land for basic grains, sells products, makes bread and ground coffee, and sells their labor; the family of Lorena Vásquez in Cinco Pinos rents land for basic grains and sells their corn as tortillas and their beans by the pound in their family storefront. These three families even overcame the exclusion of the millennium institution of inheritance.

Common patterns

Comparing the four types of diversification, we learn that diversifying, even though it varies depending on the conditions of the place and the families, is consistent in combining ecological sustainability and economic, social and political sustainability; it is not just having various crops but combining them in the logic of a system.

Even in families with more than 30 manzanas of land, their productive diversification area is less than 3 manzanas; in many cases it is half a manzana. The foundation for the four is the planting of basic grains, be that in their own area or in rented land. It is their first step on which they build the diversification – as they say in Mexico, “there is no country without corn.” The diversified areas improve the quality of their soils and avoid erosion, maintain the humidity, preserve water springs and creeks, and are spaces for intensive crop association. Families with less land area, even without land, when they diversify their economic activities, improve their income and their lives. Those who diversify generally are connected to different markets, energizing their economies, even some of these families learn to read their surroundings, to not have competition, introducing new crops on their geographies.

The more diversified the economic activities, the more gender equity there is; the women have more ingredients for the family table, better health in the family, yearlong income even though it be in small amounts and less indebtedness, turn the market into a space for making friends and for learning, and in their homes shared decision making tends to increase. They are families that diversify their minds, think up different forms of organization (family networks, friendship networks with their clients, community groups and cooperatives), and tend to have greater leadership in their extended families and their communities.

Toward intelligent diversification

Diversifying products is a big step, processing them (pasta combining chicory, mint, coriander, onions, garlic and tomatoes, pickles, nacatamales, roasted coffee) is like climbing Momotombito, and winning niche markets where in addition friendships are weaved is like climbing Momotombo. Nevertheless, even with these steps, you have to observe each crop and product daily, erasing the belief that “after planting it is just a matter of waiting”, resist the temptations of institutions that show up with aid before listening to the families, understand contexts of resistance to the large hacienda systems and “market integration” that are imposed, dispossessing land and degrading natural resources, and awaken the passions and energy that the families create, diversifying their farms and their economies.

It is a matter of diversifying in an intelligent way depending on the conditions in each zone, the potential of each family and their social network, building new horizons and making the markets work for families. Accompanying the families in these practices and ideas requires accepting two universal truths: to help, first you have to understand what to help with; and wherever there are good initiatives there are always people.

* René ( has a PhD in Development Studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (, associate researcher for IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium) and of the Nitlapan-UCA Research and Development Institute (Nicaragua). Edgar is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation.