Innovation leads to productivity, the greatest challenge in the era of sustainable development: The experience of the “sandal clad innnovators”

Innovation leads to productivity, the greatest challenge in the era of sustainable development

The experience of the “sandal clad innnovators”[1]

René Mendoza V. and Edgar Fernández[2]


Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth. Archimedes (287-212 ac)

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. Albert Einstein


The economy of the country is growing, but it shows its fragility because of the weight of external factors in the growth, like remittances, the international prices for raw materials and international aid. The importance of productivity underlies the economy as the motor for sustainable development; nevertheless, Nicaragua is behind the countries of the region in practically every product. In this situation of productive stagnation within a context of a slow economy and the increasing importance of the climate change factor, that affects and is affected, innovation is fundamental for raising productivity, more than offers of services and equipment in line with the “green revolution.” But Nicaragua, according to world ratings, is one of the countries with the least amount of innovation. How can innovation then be generated? In this article we reflect on this question from the experiences of innovation with youth and cooperative organizations.




Nicaragua´s economy has been growing in a sustained fashion since 1992 (3.8%), as has its exports (34.5% coefficient as % of GDP)  and investments (26.1% as % of GDP), accompanied by low inflation. It is a growth that goes along with that of the region. But it is a slow growth: between 1950 and 1977 the economy grew by 6%, and with just an investment rate of 17% and 3.1% annual population growth, it had a 2.9% per capita GDP; while between 1992 and 2011, in spite of high investment and low annual population growth of 1.6%, we are achieving only 2.2% per capita GDP, accompanied by the highest poverty in Central America (42.7% with less than US$2/day in 2012, according to FIDEG) and since 1993 only dropping 1% every two years.


What explains this slow growth, low per capita GDP and relative persistance of poverty? Acevedo (2013) thinks that the investment is concentrated in higher  capital intensity sectors and greater comparative productivity, like energy, mines, transportation and communications, which generate only a fraction of jobs, while the agricultural, commercial and service sectors generate 76.7% of jobs; that those sectors where there is more investment have less linkages to the rest of the economy, which is why there are not positive externalities; and that the internal demand has expanded on the basis of imports (54.7% coefficient as % of GDP) of non durable goods (from 6.3 as % of GDP in 1994 to 18.4% in 2011), which means that instead of absorbing the national production, the remittances are demanding more imported products.


The key is in the agricultural and commerce sectors where most of employment is concentrated. They are low technology sectors that generate little learning, demand low quality and low remunerated labor, that result in low productivity, and that consequently lower the productivity of the economy overall. In reviewing the agricultural technology we find that between 1961 and 2011 the farm area of Nicaragua, in contrast to the rest of the countries of the region, has increased, revealing the historical pattern that the production has increased on the basis of adding area instead of technology; there is less use of farm machinery, 450 tractors/100 has in 1979 to 200 in 1999, while fertilizers/ha, from 0.22 grams in 1983 to 0.7 grams in 2000, and farm and industrial credit has been reduced since 1978. There is then consensus in the need to increase the productivity and the competitiveness of the agricultural and commerce sectors; but what are the determining factors of productivity? The first perspective, the conventional one (e.g. Acevedo 2013) assumes that it is through an increase in mechanized technology, greater use of agrochemicals, infrastructure, increase in credit for investments, and technical assistance, let us say, in line with the “green revolution”, ignoring climate change, for example, that is already a structural factor that cannot easily be avoided (Mendoza, 2014).


The second perspective is that of Nuñez (2012) who thinks that the low yields in products like corn, beans, and livestock raising “are affected progressively by the agro-ecological environment as well as by climate change” and proposes a formal modality of “corporative associativity for each crop”, that includes “indicative and programatic state and private planning, associativity and the industrialization of the agricultural production.” Then he clarifies what that model is: “By associativity we understand it to be the horizontal integration of the producers and vertical integration of the value chains, be they at the national or local level, in such a way that it allows public and private leadership to indicatively plan, in other words, voluntarily and democratically plan the performance of a programatically determined product: diagnose and forecast the situation of the crop, bring producers together, design and indicate concrete policies, techniques and practices, follow up on results, movement of levers that would facilitate access to the inputs and information, price and local and Central American market stabilization. A good example of corporative associativity are the agricultural roundtables where the principal institutions connected to a crop come together with the principal aassociations around those crops.” In other words, the government and the business sector would direct (and plan) the productivity of each crop, connecting themselves with leaders of organizations through the agricultural roundtables.


Both perspectives ignore three structural factors. First, in the present, climate change is not only affecting agriculture but also agriculture is having an impact on climate change, which is why, at least rationally, it is not possible to increase a productivity that at the same time is contributing to the generation of the green house gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrious oxide); this means rethinking the productive matrix in accordance with the specificities of the territories. Secondly, the technocratic measures of suggesting certain packages of services, ignoring the assymetry of the power relations within which our societies move, end up implicitly supporting the return of what we have called the “modern hacienda” – land concentration, practices of monocropping and plantation systems, accompanied by technology intensiveness in agrochemicals – and in the legitimization of the relations of domination between organizations and those who make up those organizations (Mendoza 2014). And thirdly, both perspectives ignore that productivity requires more than supplies, but innovation on the part of the rural families themselves, accompanied by services with high knowledge generation components. The following sections focus on the issue of innovation, taking into account the role of agriculture in climate change, the asymmetry of power in which the rural societies find themselves immersed in their different spheres – that of the family, the social networks, the organizations and the territories – and in the need that any formal coordination (“roundtables”, “commissions”) might have the rural families as actors and might respond to the specific contexts of the territories, strengthening the autonomy of the grassroots organizations.


  1. 1.     Innovation, the motor of productivity


Even though innovation is increasingly recognized as the path to development, let us start recognizing that Nicaragua is practically at the tail end of countries in this aspect. In The Global Innovation Index 2013: The Local Dynamics of Innovation Are Well at Play, based on entry indicators (institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market and business sophistication) and on results (knowledge and technology, and creativity) out of 142 countries, Nicaragua is in position 115, while in 2012 it was at 105, it dropped by 10 points, putting itself in last place among the countries of Latin America, while Costa Rica displaced Chile for first place. In the World Bank study (Lederman, Messina, Pienknagura, and Rigolini, 2013, Entrepreneurism in Latin America: Many Businesses and not much Innovation), refering to the 2006-2010 period out of 57 countries evaluated, Nicaragua is in position 52; the study expressed serious doubts about the sustainability of growth in Latin America, t due more to the rebound in the prices of raw materials, and concludes that the emergence of many businesses in Latin America (high entrepreneurism compared with other regions), regardless of their size, show a deficit of innovation expressed in their investment in R+D, patents, introduction of new products and management practices. With these results it seems that the country is touching bottom. What are the conditions for generating innovation? In this section we summarize what is suggested by the two international organizations, and then what a good part of the large innovators are teaching us.


1.1  Conditions that can contribute to innovation


Let us start from the two international works that refer to innovation, that of the World Bank which is in line with conventional thought, and then with that of the Global Index to get the more micro part. Lederman, et al (2013) think that the growth of the economhy in Latin America is slow because of the lack of innovation on the part of the small and large enterprises, including the Latin American multinationals and the multinationals that operate in Latin America. This is shown in the fact that businesses are introducing new products less frequently, invest little in R+D, their activity in patents is low, the businesses hire people with lower levels of university studies. This World Bank study suggests that in order to have an impact on innovation, in addition to listing aspects like legal rights, transparency, policies refering to industry and commerce, the quality of the human capital and policies for supporting R+D, also needed are policies aimed at increasing competitiveness and addressing the gap in human capital. The former, because entrepreneurial enterprises react better to crises, along the line of the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”; and the latter, to have an impact on the quality of education, above all on the training of engineers and scientists instead of sociologists and macro-economists that have predominated – according to the study mentioned – in Latin America.


This study starts by looking at the work of Schumpeter (1911), taking into consideration that “the successful entrepreneurs are individuals who turn ideas into profitable initiatives,” and adopts a definition of “entrepreneurship that emphasizes innovations for the market”, coherent with the conventional approach of the economy promoted by the World Bank, of freeing up markets in protected sectors – they call it “increasing competition” – conceiving of the private sector as the motor of innovation. In their recommendation on the need for more engineers and scientists, Graph 5[3] shows for Nicaragua the predominance of majors linked to business (economics and business administration – marketing, finance, tourism), engineering and architecture (computers, technology, engineering and general and applied architecture) along with arts and humanities (social sciences, education, esthetics, communication, languages), followed by legal sciences, medicine (biology, chemistry, medicine, nursing) and agriculture.


Under the same tent of the free market, liberalization policies and investment climates for promoting innovation, the Global Innovation Index 2013 (GII-2013) focuses on the micro environment of the 142 countries, and recognizing that innovation is no longer restricted to the R+D laboratories and to the publication of scientific articles, but includes social and business innovation, takes on the definition provided by the Oslo Manual (OECD, 2005): “An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), a new process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization, or external relations.” If before innovations were carried out by experts in closed, internal and localized places, now GII 2013 thinks that the capacity for innovation is seen more as the ability to exploit new technological combinations, and that it is incremental innovation “without research”.


Along these lines, GII 2013 works on the following ideas: 1) innovation centers under the leadership of the large corporations that are the local “champions”, with the participation of the government, businesses, academics and society, developing capacities for innovation in clusters, inter-regional networks and value chains; 2) these “champions” support the innovations with capital and connections, facilitating the creation of knowledge and bridges to the commercialization of ideas; 3) the importance of government policies to attract these “champion businesses” to invest in businesses and ensure the participation of experts; 4) the importance of the tacit knowledge that prevails in local spheres, and that does not respond so much to the parameters of R+D, patents or publications, but to the pysche of individuals, groups and society; 5) connectivity, in this era of communications, it has become a basic human right, because it makes the world smaller interacting and accessing information and knowledge; 6) and the democratization of the innovation to free up the real potential for value creation.


From here GII 2013 develops a broad vision for local innovation, encouraging high technology, creative knowledge or industry, building excellence in research, attracting global companies, and stimulating spinoffs. Its approach, coinciding with that of the World Bank (Lederman et al, 2013) in the neoliberal policies, is aimed at local innovation that comes from the confluence of the new growth theory, focused on the intensity of knowledge, and the cluster approach. The importance of leadership stands out in the local innovations, which they assign to the large enterprises that they consider to be “the champions” .


1.2  Elements that define innovation


From Archimedes to Florence, where a generation of geniuses were concentrated thanks to the Medici brothers, up to Steve Jobs and James Dyson, a lot of water of inventions and innovations has passed under the bridge of humanity. The invention of the wheel in prehistory shortened the distance between places, the telephone reduced our dependency on the wheel, internet eliminated geographic borders and connects people around the world, shortening the innovation cycle and reducing the barriers to innovation. Most of the great findings are inventions, that “did not exist before”, is something unique or a new mechanism, method, composition or process (Wikipedia).


The invention is a phase of the concretization of an idea, while innovation is a phase that includes the use of the innovation, the transformation of a production process, and is more incremental implying a change in the status quo. For Schumpeter (1911) innovation is not just a discovery but “the emergence of a technical or organizational novelty in the production process”; for him an innovator is a “business person creator” that promotes the process of “creative destruction” (transformation process that accompanies the innovation) motivated by having temporary monopoly rent before the innovation gets disseminated, that is, for example, the high productivity that an innovation (product, methods, new forms of business organization, new markets and new sources of raw materials) causes.  Along these lines OECD (2005) refers to innovation as the introduction of a new – or improved – product (good or service), process, commercialization or organizational methods inside an organization (company) or in the exterior relations. And to add to this array of expressions of innovation, Drucker (2002) introduced the idea that businesses are no longer competing with products, but with business models that spring from innovation.


Under this framework the promotion of innovation moves from the challenge to the status quo, the vision, a different perspective of  the world, high purpose and trust in your own brand. Innovations emerge challenging the status quo, appear as highly technical but respond to a larger context of challenging what is conventional, intolerant and logical: “ If at the beginning, an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it” (Albert Einstein). It is not creating something new out of nothing, but combining existing things: “Creativity is just connecting things.” (Steve Jobs). Innovation is vision and passion, vision which is having a different perspective of the world (that no one else sees in this way), and having the desire to live in this world in a different way, and passion, “the genesis of genius” (Anthony Robbins) is the emotional gasoline that drives the vision, of doing the different things clashing with other ways of being different. In a Harvard University study (Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen, 2009) they discovered that the DNA of the largest innovative business managers included five skills: making associations, questioning, observing, experimenting and creating networks, and that in order to think different you have to act different: “In nearly every case the innovators described their behavior before achieving the idea: Something that they saw, someone who they spoke with, some experiment that they did, or questions that they asked. That behavior was what catalyzed the idea.” This vision and passion has a strong source of inspiration which, according to the designer Philippe Starck, comes from creating something that improves your life: “A good product is one that helps you to improve your life.” Innovation is also having aspirations: “The most dangerous thing is not setting our goal very high and failing, but setting our goal very low and achieving it.” (Michelangelo). Innovation is believing in onself, as Steve Jobs recommended: “ Each person represents the most important brand of all – yourself: How you talk, walk, act and think reflects this brand,” making your way, with courage, like the expression of Albert Einstein at the beginning of this article. Innovation is that an entire complexity becomes something simple.


There are different types of innovation. The painter and sculpter Picasso (1881-1973) tells how he created the “bull´s head” (see attached photo): “One day I found amidst of ton of scrap an old bicycle seat and alongside it an old set of rusted handlebars. Immediately I associated the two parts in my imagination. The idea of the bull´s head came to mind without reflecting on it. I just had to solder them (…) maybe I should have thrown out the bull´s head. Throw it in the street, in the ravine, anywhere, but throw it out. Then a worker would have passed by and would have picked it up. Maybe he would have realized that with that bull´s head he could make a seat and handlebars. And he would have done so. It would have been extraordinary.”


Ron Rivera, a Nica-North American, invented Filtron (ceramic filter for potable water), which is for treating water in the home at low cost, that makes contaminated water potable, inactivates the bacteria, stores water at the family level, gets rid of the cloudiness of the water and with collodial silver disinfects by deactivating the bacterias that can pass through its micropores, the water is then deposited in a receptable and the water is extracted through a spicket. Inside the Filtron is a filter that can be made by local potters with local materials, under conditions that do not require electricity; this invented product is the “most globalized and famous product of the Nica brand, more than the rum, the coffee or the hammocks” (Lopez, 2009), it is the “design for the other 90%”.


In addition to technologies, forms of resistance are also innovations. While different cultures fell before the invaders, the Apaches resisted for centuries, and yet in a few years their resistance was eroded (Brafman and Beckstrom, 2006). Concerning the resistance, the Spanish tried to dominate the Apache tribes, so did the Mexicans and the North Americans… All failed. The Apaches had the nant’an as their leaders, they were very decentralized, they functioned in circles. Their adversaries, like they did with the Aztecs and the Incas, believing that the key was to do away with their leaders in order to control their peoples, did away with the nant’an, who were the leaders of the Apaches, but in contrast to the Aztecs and the Incas, the Apaches did not fall, immediately another nant’an  would emerge, they moved in circles and in a very decentralized form. But in the end they fell. What took apart the Apache society? After centuries of resistance, the North Americans gave cattle to the nant’an; given that the cattle was scarce, the nant’an turned into chiefs with the power to distribute them, and thus their power ceased being symbolic and became material. So everyone wanted to be nant’an, the centralization had begun. The power structure, that had been egalitarian, become hierarchical, and power got concentrated at the top.


Also innovative are organizations that have lasted over time. Bill Wilson (1895-1971), an alcoholic, created Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1935. He realized that every time that he would go (or was taken) to an expert, he would drink more. He recognized that on his own he could not fight his alcoholism, that it was very easy to rebel against the psychologist, but more difficult to rebel against those who were in the same situation as he was, so getting together with other alcoholics, they met and overcame their alcoholism. Their rules included complete voluntary attendance, you can enter and leave whenever you wanted, the commitment was not to drink for 24 hours, no one and everyone was in charge of the organization.. See: Brafman and Beckstrom (2006).


Likewise the revolution of the automobile. In the decade of the 80s the revolution of the automobile was at its height. The successful giant General Motors (GM) began to have problems, and produce poor quality cars; while Toyota was producing the best cars. Some were saying that it was because of the strong unions in GM, and others because of the Japanese culture at Toyota. Surprisingly, Toyota said that with their methodology GM could also reach the quality levels of Toyota. GM had closed the Fremont Plant in California for producing the worst cars due to their internal tensions, absenteeism and inefficiency, so GM told Toyota to test that out in this plant, but using the same personnel. Toyota accepted and introduced its mechanisms (team work, incentives for quality, and ongoing search for the break-even point between centralization and decentralization). Three years later that plant had become one of the most efficient plants of GM. In other words, with the same personnel, the processes can improve and the results flourish. See Drucker (1946) and Brafman and Beckstrom (2006).


Finally an innovation observed by Steve Wiggins in a family in Paysandú, Uruguay, as part of a group that was trying to get into the milk market in Sao Paolo. To do so they had to lower their costs based on innovation. One of those innovations is as follows.  A number of families were facing the problem of the theft of their barbed wire, so began to think about how to prevent the theft. If they hired a security guard or made the fencing electrified, their costs would go up instead of down. In the end they came to understand that the buyers of the wire would buy a roll of wire off the thieves, but they were not interested in only 2-3 meter long pieces of wire. So they cut the wire at the length between two posts, and then stapled it to each post. The thieves, when they realized the change made, quit stealing it, because there was no market for the cut wire. Is it just that? More than “cutting wire” it is competitiveness, it is improving the quality of life of the consumers and ranchers, it is a family innovating constantly to lower costs and improve the quality of the milk.


Completing this framework, let us remember that we are working in a country that, according to GII-2013 and Lederman et al (2013), is in last place in terms of innovation. The context that we have presented in the introduction tells us that we have had an economy based on natural resources and cheap labor, which is partly why, I think that investing in silver 2016 is going to be a decisive year, but not in the sectors of agriculture and commerce where 7 out of every 10 jobs come from, which has put the breaks on innovation[4]. Nevertheless, Mendoza (2013) shows that the country is entering into a context where there is no more agricultural frontier, which is why the extensive path is now reaching its end, where the advantages of the demographic dividend that began in the 90s will only last until 2035, where there is a pressing need that productivity be coherent with the reduction of the impact of greenhouse gases, and where external factors like international prices for raw materials are in the best of cases uncertain due to the low world economic growth rates predicted. This context could favor innovation. In the face of the historical reality of the country and the new context, what is most urgent in the country is generating innovation and doing so in the rural area. The following sections, based on the experiences of innovation promoted in the rural area between 2012 and 2013, present a summary of innovations that reveal a different way of thinking, then an analysis of the conditions that are blocking and facilitating the innovation processes, and finally policy suggestions.


  1. 2.     Innovation in the rural environment


In this section we talk about the innovations done, or being done, by “sandal-clad” innovators, in other words, done by the rural families themselves, producers and youth who are sons and daughters of producers. We talk about the innovations that we have been finding and of innovations that we are currently accompanying.


2.1  Innovations found


In addition to Ron Rivera´s filtron, there are many innovations in the country. Let us mention some of them. The coffee depulper in Matagalpa. According to Kühl (2004:158) in the Pacific zone “coffee was not washed, but they left the ripe cherries to dry in the sun and then they would hull them”, while in Matagalpa in 1880, because of the abundance of water, the process of depulping and washing of coffee was considered, like what was being done in Guatemala, and there were a number of attempts to do so. According to Vogl (1977), Luis Elster made the first try without success, and on that basis Otto Kühl in 1891 was able to make the depulper, including in it some round wooden cylinders with metal staples inserted in its surface which removed the pulp. And Vogl himself says that they accidentally discovered that leaving the gelatinous parchment coffee to ferment for one day made it much easier to remove the sticky honey by washing it with water.


Another innovation in 2003 is the grass mincer of Julio Rodríguez Madriz (El Cua), a small rancher. It is a mincer made out of local material, wood and other pieces of vehicles and tools like a machete; it is manually operated. The mincer has the capacity to cut 300 lbs of taiwan grass per hour. It is a very low cost innovation and appropriate for small scale ranchers.







A third innovation is the generation of electricity with the flow of water from creek in 2010 by

Concepción Blandón Ferrufino (“Conchito”). Concepción was affected by polio. His neighbors remember, “he would go to school in a little wooden truck that he invented.” Years later he worked on producing energy; he took a broken tape-recorder, adapted the motor and made it possible to receive energy. Then he got his grinder (for sharpening machetes) to function moved by water. Then for the generation of energy: using a hose and a discarded dynamo, which he fixed, he used an old pot that he put a hole in, and the floor to a latrine, completing his work with the “capacitor” (what makes the energy be released), and thus generated electric energy for his family and his brother´s family.


Diagram 1.organizational chart


Box 1: Vision, action and vision

  • In 1993 I saw that the peasants were making bad deals with the coyote to sell their coffee, and I saw that we could get around the coyote organizing as a cooperative; so we formed this cooperative.
  • Then I saw that the interest we were paying was getting away from us, so with our contributions and other loans we organized credit.
  • Then I saw that even though we were getting good money for the coffee, those earnings were going outside in clothing and food, so we organized a store.
  • Now we see that we need to learn how to invest …

Edmundo López, President

Now we have cooperatives with organizational and technological innovations. Mendoza (2013) tells about an organizational innovation in Guatemala. The Cooperative La Voz que Clama en el Desierto, located in the municipality of San Juan del Atitlán, Guatemala, with very high rates of illiteracy and poverty, achieved a complete success: the children of their members go to study in the universities; all the mayors of the municipality in the last 25 years were members of the cooperative, except once when they did not win. This was possible because the cooperative produced and sold organic coffee to the United States, had good yields and high quality coffee. And how was this possible? The novelty was in their rules (see Diagram 1): in order to be president of the cooperative you had to first have been a member of the Leadership Council; to be a member of the leadership council, you had to first have been a member of the administration commission; to be a member of the administrative commission you have to first have been a member of the health or education commission; you could only be president for two terms, and each period was only 1 year, and the posts in the commissions were for 2 years; each board member was responsible for 6 members. Studying the history of the organization, there was only one president who was re-elected for a second term, it was a cooperative where most of its members had already been president for one term.


The José Alfredo Zeledón Cooperative from the municipality of San Juan del Río Coco, Nicaragua, is a first tier organization, autonomous in practice, that has credit services, technical assistance and commercialization (products for its members) , thanks to a strict policy in favor of savings and contributions on the part of its members, and the visionary stubborness of its president, who, in contrast to the cooperative in Guatemala, has continued in that post since the founding of the cooperative. That vision (see Box 1), connected to a zone of peasant resistance, and the strong leadership for implementing the savings and contribution policies, has resulted in this innovation.


The Solidaridad Cooperative overcame the bi-annual nature of the coffee harvest and immunized itself against the attack of the coffee rust and anthracnose (Mendoza, 2013a). How was it able to do it? Since 2010 they had combined technical assistance and the on time purchase and application of inputs, credit and organizational policies. From an agreement of the assembly of the cooperatives, the members pruned and cut back a fifth of their total coffee plants each year, so they no longer suffered the myth of “one year coffee is good and the next year it is bad”, they have stable harvests year after year. As a grassroots cooperative they export quality coffee to market niches, get credit from international financial institutions, and have agreements with businesses that sell chemical inputs with two months grace period to pay. In the application of the inputs, the cooperative provides them in kind to its members as the $5 per quintal that fair trade assigns for productivity, and they do it in the precise moment when their coffee fields need it, an action that is supervised directly by the technician of the cooperative.


What is the common element in these five innovations? All of them respond  to real and urgent needs, the innovators are persistent, they do not give up, and are characterized by becoming indeependent of the ideas of others, seeking their own ideas. They are innovators in different positions in life, skills, places and use of local resources. In the case of the wire, depulper and water filter, there is a network demanding that innovation, the coffee growers, the ranchers and millions of people. In the case of the mincer and electric energy, they are innovations that respond to family needs and production needs. Behind the innovations are networks and organizations that also are overcoming what in the literature is known as “the dilemma of collective action.”


2.2  Innovations of youth and cooperative organizations with external facilitation


We present here the innovations that are in process within a framework of product chains and territories on the part of youth and cooperative organizations for the municipalities of El Cua and San Juan del Rio Coco[5]. In both places the accompaniment by way of modules on innovation was similar, but the innovations have taken on a differentiated dynamic, not just in terms of the type of innovations, but in their organization and their content. Territorial factors weight in and the promotion that the youth innovation facilitators themselves provide.


2.21 Innovations in Peñas Blancas, El Cuá


Most of the innovations are concentrated in the community of Peñas Blancas, and for that reason have a certain emphasis on “community tourism”, followed by coffee, vegetables, citrus, and services like credit. See. Table 1.


Table 1. Innovations in Peñas Blancas


Network of innovations


1.Community tourism
  • Lodging and food
  • Cattle, bananas… to provide food
  • Tourist guide, “La Niña” waterfall…
  • Julia and Francisca Cruz
  • Francisco Cruz
  • Francisco Cruz
  • Lodging
  • Naranjilla
  • Vegetables
  • Orlando Cruz
  • Orlando, Henry
  • Orlando, Henry, Arturo
  • Tourist guide “bird whisperer”, knowledge about birds, and lodging.
  • Abraham Cruz
  • Lodging, food
  • Marcial Gámez… others
  • Lodging, food, auditorium
  • Cooperativa GARBO
2. Eco-diner
  • Diner for tourists and bus passengers, and is market for products from Peñas Blancas
  • Diana Escorcia
  • Ornamental Plants
  • Marisela Cruz
  • Bread and nacatamals, hens and eggs
  • Noema Manzanares
  • Fruit
  • Isabel Manzanares
  • Cream
  • Javier Gadea –from outside of PB
  • Vegetables
  • Abraham, Arturo, Virgilio and Orlando Cruz
  • Coffee
  • Orlando Cruz
  • crafts
  • Martha
Credit for women
  • Seed capital provided by Fondeagro. Credit service to the community.
Pavona Arriba Women´s group

Peñas Blancas Women´s group

3. Credit
  • Pre-microfinance entity: Credit and savings.


  • Credit for women (basis: seed capital from Fondeagro, credit service for the community)
  • Diana Escorcia, Orlando Cruz y Francisco Rodríguez
  • Women´s group in  Pavona Arriba and Peñas Blancas
4. Intercultural communications center
  • Knowledge of Peñas Blancas in its different aspects. Communicating in Spanish and English. Musical guide: CREA, Fco-Mandolina, families that play at celebrations
  • Bird guide
  • Farm guide
  • Animal guide
  • Guide to Peñas Blancas cliffs, waterfalls…
  • Medicinal plant guide
  • Luis Carlos García



  • Abraham
  • Inés
  • Francisco Cruz
  • Marisela
5. Coffee roasting
  • Sale of roasted coffee in Peñas Blancas and Matagalpa
Orlando Cruz, Diana Escorcia and Francisco Rodríguez
6. Productivity
  • Increase yields
Bosawas Cooperative
  • Make use of discarded resource for coffee nurseries and other products
Maudilio Zeledon


Even though initially doing individual innovations was promoted, in the process networked innovations began emerging, not in a collective form, but individual innovations within a network framework – see for example the list in the second column of various innovations that as a whole form a network of innovators around the diner, community tourism, intercultural communication…This happened with innovative youth and families, while other innovations taken on  as cooperatives continued within this framework. What moves them to do so in networks? The context is pushing them in this direction, like the case of community tourism, which gets stronger by the increase in tourism and its demand for lodging and desires to climb to the top of Peñas Blancas, the farms, the cliff, the birds, the animals: it is also the tourism that is making the youth think about learning English to communicate the reality of their communities and their natural resources. In the case of the diner and its networt of providers, it is the tourism as well as the daily movement of the population by public transportation that has increased in recent years, as well as the coffee crisis since 2012 that is leading them to  value the importance of diversification. In the case of coffee, there is growing pressure to save costs and increase productivity, it is an imperative that can be assumed by the Bosawas Cooperative due to the fact that within it there are families with a coffee growing tradition and the spirit to improve their fields.


What are the visions behind these innovations? The virtue of the innovators is their different perspective of the world, of seeing beyond the common view. What have they seen? See Table 2.


Table 2. Visions behind the innovations



1. Community tourism Greater world concern for climate change will contribute to there being more tourism to places like Peñas Blancas because of the cliff. Simple forest tourism will be captured by CEN. A tourism that seeks to know animals, birds, farms and having personalized attention in a family environment, is also going to increase. CEN and CREA are investing for the first type of tourism.

Key: what is most important will not be compact and large forests, but corridors between patches of forest; community tourism will be needed that lives with nature and shares its experience of life, supplying itself from its own production and local resources; that is not there so much for the money as to expressing their lifestyle.


2. Center for intercultural communication Short term: Tourism, accompanied by concentration of land, is going to increase in Peñas Blancas, to the detriment of the local population of Peñas Blancas; homogenization of the culture to conservation, hiding the privatization.

Long term: Tourism is going to fall due to the exclusion of the local population, whose participation is key for the environmental sustainability of Peñas Blancas.

Key: Recreate the identity of Peñas Blancas through communicating cultures – the local, scientific, art and tourism. The interculturality will continue being the greatest wealth of humanity, and now also including nature


3. Diner and network of food providers Food will be scarce to the extent that Peñas Blancas gets privatized and tourism increases. That scarcity will mean that there will be less production and less diversity of production. Tourism will feed off the products that are brought in from outside of Peñas Blancas. Water is going to increase but in a privatized fashion.

This will happen because the producer families will react individually, without impacting the markets and the diners will depend on products from outside of PB.

The most scarce foods will be food that depends on local products, be it diversified (including organic products) and well prepared, done for different publics – tourists, bus passengers, local population. This food can only be produced in networks, people connected among themsevles and to different markets, with an awareness that we are part of something larger than ourselves.


4. Credit Short term: The privatization of Peñas Blancas and their control over the environmental issue makes the financial institutions distance themselves from Peñas Blancas, in particular credit for low income families.

Long term: what will be most valuable will be economic diversification compatible with the environment; and Peñas Blancas will have more and more relevance within the contecxt of climate change. External resources will come in through the “environmental” door.

Key: the financial institution that gets close to the people, finances the economic diversification, with climate change as its central focus, that it be sustainable based on local resources, that will win.


5. Roasted Coffee Roasted coffee is growing in the country, but roasted coffee of a coffee “that my grandmother used to make” and that comes from the Peñas Blancas cliff – Bosawas, is a coffee with its own brand for the population and for the tourists.


6. coffee productivity There is no other option than productivity, but one that at the same time as it increases, addresses climate change, will be the most appropriate. The families with a coffee growing tradition and more innovative spirit, will respond to this demand.



These 6 networks bringing together various dozens of innovators reveal a general vision for El Cua and specifically for the Peñas Blancas territory. What is that vision? In a context of the increase in tourism, of scarce resources from international aid and of the pressing need to preserve resources like water, the concentration of land and the privatization of the environment in order to capture income from tourism (and the population) is going to get worse, and given the primacy of the environmental discourse on the part of those sectors trying to control the Peñas Blancas cliff and control the tourism, the financial institutions will leave the Peñas Blancas zone, affecting the rural families in their perspectives of increasing their productivity and overall sustainability: consequently, helped also by the coffee crisis caused by the rust and the low prices since 2012, the families will be decapitalizing, migrating, becoming farm workers and selling their land, and with that the food produced in the area itself will get scarce. This perspective, in the long term, is not good for anyone, because with the social erosing the security of the zone itself will be affected.


In the face of this reality that is coming, the different innovations and entrepreneurial initiatives end up counteracting it. The rural families can be maintained and even progress through “intelligent” community tourism (that provide lodging and a family environment, knowledge about the ecology and advocacy – with experimentation with biological corridors for birds and animals- favorable to ecology), productive and economic diversification, and alternative financing; doing all these initiatives under the modality of networks – or informal coalitions – among rural families connnected to tourism and the population of the municipality that gets around in public transportation, that revitalizes the cooperatives themselves, and proposes an inclusive perspective of collaboration with even the large income families that present themselves in the area as tourist organizations and even as “non profits” and “protectors of the environment.”



2.22 Innovations in San Juan del Río Coco


Most of the innovations are concentrated in the communities of San Lucas and in Sanmarcanda.


Table  3. Innovations in  SJRC

Principal innovations Other innovations in the path of the principal innovation Innovators
Production of more and better honey and ecology in the municipality Overcoming the seasonal migration of bees Yeris Lanzas and family
Better hives so that the bees produce more
Combination of crops with flowers for rainy season (cítrus, granadilla) that at the same time benefits polinization
Honey with different flavors depending on times of the year
Social organization for responding to the demand for scale
Chile that adds more to life Chile sauce producing vinegar from farm products Everth A. Gonzales and family
Garden where the ingredients for the chile sauce are produced, also in the dry season: e.g. drip irrigation gathering coke bottles (with piece of cloth so that the water drips out
Versions of the ingredients for the chile sauce to get into the middle and upper classes, because currently chile sauce is a popular food of the “lower” classes. Make the chile attractive to the eyes: have special types, colorful and good flavor.
Possibility of producing it in ceramic containers.
Honey wine for the majorities Wine made from honey to bring the family together around a meal each weekend. A wine for no longer getting drunk. Darwin Lanzas and family
A honey subproduct, that you experiment with including other organic products to adapt it to healthy eating.
Chile: A new crop and pickled product (conserved) Introduction of new crop to the municipality Rubén Gonzáles and family
Pickled chile (conserved) in containers of up to 5 months to get better prices
Make the jump from parcel owner to farmer
Chocolate Cacao productivity (farm) With Mom and Dad
Collection, drying of cacao
Experimentation in chocolate and subproducts like cajetas for the local market (storefronts and schools)
Organic fertilizer for attacking infestations (bore ) in beans Carlos J. Dávila Matey
Hair cutting-barber shop In addition to copying famous haircuts, seek to propose haircuts depending on the face of your clients. Provide them with advice Olman Cruz
Create an environment (cool place with plants, and messages referring to hair) to have an impact on the mentality of your clients.
Economic autonomy as cooperative and as member families Coop. José Alfredo Zeledón
Organziational change in the cooperative Coop. Caja Rural
Inheritance and farm diversification, winning over markets Coop. Reynerio Tijerino
Commercialization of bananas and generation of technical-organizational consultancies Coop. Carlos Núñez
Generation of income through collecting coffee, administration of credit and intermediation of beans Coop. Che Guevara
Composition of songs Song 1:

Song 2:

Song 3:

Song 4: Innovators

Corn degrainer (in initial process). Innovators: Didier Alegría, Norman Elías Tercero, Dora Nelly Moreno  
  • Innovation: Handmade decorations based on tree waste. This innovation stopped due to the fact that the innovator Yuri found work as a domestic worker in SJRC
  • Innovation: Sewing embroidering. This innovation stopped because its innovator Arline got married and went to Chontales
  • Innovation: Cultivating on five levels. This innovation stopped because its innovator Iveth left for Managua


In contrast with El Cua-Peñas Blancas, the innovations did not turn into networks but to multiple innovations in the path of ONE innovation, a good part of them with a high technical component. Some have a territorial impact (bees, seasonal migration), others impacts on family networks (chile sauce, chile plants, wine), on neighborhood networks (honey, chocolate) and on organizational changes (cooperatives). Some, like the flower inventory, are contributing to science, something also part of the case of the birds in Peñas Blancas. There is a strong move into processing, be it with chocolate, chile sauce, chiles or wine, and from that phase they are expanding backward in the chain into innovations in the production phase: from chocolate to cacao production, to corn for posol and to the small bananas, from the chile sauce to the family garden, from wine to other products, from the honey-flowers to granadilla, corn…There is concern for health, for introducing nutritional elements be they in the wine, the chile sauce or in the chocolate. These innovations help to revalue what many times gets lost in the kitchen and in the farms, like tomatoes, to reassessing the yard space or the “garbage” like the bottles. Some innovations are a response to seasons of the year, like the flowers in the rainy season or the garden in the dry season when water gets scarce. And there are innovations like the composition of songs or the barber shop that, even though they may appear to be outside of what we are looking for, respond to the initiative of the youth, to the need to grow from their realities and skills, and to the urgency to contribute to the change in their communities.


The innovations in the cooperatives are characterized by being more collective actions and their novelty is that they are expanding their areas from coffee toward other crops, working on how to generate their own funds, decisively enter and win over markets, and innovate organizationally.


This type of innovations do not emerge by chance, but respond to the reality and challenges of their territory, of SJRC. See the following table.


Table 4. Vision behind the innovations

Innovation Vision
1. Production of more and better honey and ecology in the municipality Honey generates income in “dead times” in SJRC that depends on income from coffee between Nov and Feb, and contributes to the environment through their polinization. Many organizations promoted the production of honey; but due to the fact that the bees do not have food in the rainy season, they are transferred to another municipality, with all its costs, the low production and the discouragment that this implies. In the face of this situaiton, innovation will resolve the problem of food during this time contributing to the economy of the municipality- through the income, through contributing to coffee in its struggle against the rust, through raising the productivity of the honey (and other products through polinization), through improving the quality of the honey with different flavors (honey with a coffee flavor between Nov and Feb, citrus flavor in Oct, guagua in May… and through contribuing toward rethinking the farm, e.g. the fence will sustain flowers and fruit, not just wire. The flowers and the bees generate a lot of life
2. Chile that adds more  to life The high dependency on one crop is also expressed on the plate: the diet has been reduced to few ingredients, and chile sauce is disappearing in the country, in addition to the fact that its quality has gone down. Between Feb and July food is even less diverse because there is no garden due to the scarcity of water, there is even no chile production at this time. Getting diversification to become a concern in each home means resolving the diet, making it more diverse and nutritional. This innovation wants to make even a plate with only one ingredient on it respond to what the body needs, with the addition to the chile: “With this chile sauce the beans are even richer.” With the flavor provide a high nutrition substance (food security) and medicinal component, which would lead to revaluing “my Mom´s green thumb” (garden), to intensifying the farm, to test and experiment, and to generate a change in attitude. Any food, with this chile sauce, is more tasty and healthy.
3. Honey wine for the majorities Alcoholism is a serious problem, in addition to the erosion of the families without a space to communicate with one another. Running from this reality and expressing it with machism, getting drunk, has been a path mostly for the poor. Honey wine is organic, it is not like “cane” (rum) with chemicals: more than  “organic liquor” it is a pleasure of the population, health, an inducement for the families to communicate with one another and that they confront their realities and their futures jointly. Honey wine seeks to recover the original objective of drink, which is not to get drunk, but to communicate.
4. Chile: a new and pickled crop (conserved) Depending on just one crop is counterproductive, coming from a family who were fieldhands and now are peasants defines life. Chile is an attempt to introduce a new crop to a zone dominated by the “coffee king”, the novelty is in the attempt to pickle it (conserve, bottle it), above all the innovator seeks to take another step in the life of his family: from fieldhand to plot owners that his parents gave him, he want to take the leap from plot owners to a farmer who diversifies the production and enters into the processing phase.
5. Chocolate In other zones the families produce and sell dry cacao, while in other areas where cacao cooperatives predominate, the families produce cacao and the cooperatives process it (dry it). In SJRC cacao is moving in slowly (18mzs), the families sell dry cacao. There is a space for innovating in production, processing and commercialization. In the part of the processing the innovator is seeking to produce a chocolate with a health impact (diabetes) and aimed at children, as well as subproducts like cajeta and pinol recovering the use of corn for posol (a variety that is being lost in the country), at the same time thinking about how to innovate in the collection of cacao. From plot owner to farmer who goes from processing into production.
6. Hair cutting barbershop The young people want to look like Cristiano Ronaldo (player of real Madrid), Neymar (player of Barcelona). It is haircutting according to style and how famous people wear their hair. The novelty is in studying the forms of your clients faces and advising them on the haircut that will make them most handsome, and that in addition to a barbershop that is be a creative and welcoming space, with sayings that have to do with hair and barbershops. A barbershop that would inspire San Lucas. Sayings: “there is no bald man who is not important.” “he does have one hair of a fool on his head,” “shaved I am someone else” “rejuvenated”; riddles: “black like the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love” = cup of coffee. You get  a haircut and you leave thinking.
7. Innovations of the coops The dependency of the coops on coffee has made them the easy prey of domination. Part of their autonomy passes through the financial part, and above all, of responding to the diversity of products and markets. The cooperatives that respond to that diversity will achieve sustainability and will contribute to the transformation of the municipality.
8. Composition of music From a place like Sanmarcanda where you might least expect to find a songwriter, the innovator is fighting against heaven and earth to write songs. Sanmarcanda is not just a place for coffee, but something unthinkable can be born and grow: a songwriter. Sanmarcanda smells of coffee and is made itself heard through a musical beat.



What visions do these innovations reveal? The dependency of SJRC on coffee has caused counterproductive effects for them, even for the environment now with the rust and with the reaction of most of the producers, changing from the caturra variety to catimor, a variety that requires less trees (liberation of carbon dioxide). This dependency has to do with the history of the “coffee estate” in the municipality, and with the fact that most of the international organizations have prescribed diversification without generating innovation[6], so the honey combs are falling apart becaue they did not solve the problem of bee migration, the promotion of the family gardens without solving the water situation in the dry season, the push toward productive diversification without solving the market problems. This situation tends to make the concentration of land, the growing primacy of commercial intermediation combined with usury interest rates, and the impoverishment of the families all worse. This latter element is expressed in a high indebtedness of the families from a variety of sources[7]; in the reduction in the diet[8] implying that “my Mom´s green thumb” (garden) has almost been lost over time and the farm is less diversified, particularly between the months of Feb and July when the diet is almost just beans and bananas; and in the alcoholism with its consequences including the erosion of the institutional family.


Box 1. Myths that put a stop to innovation


  1. You cannot innovate without money
  2. We were born to plant coffee
  3. One person cannot make a difference
  4. Curiosity killed the cat.
  5. Innovation is for learned people
  6. We do not have the DNA of an innovator
  7. Producers do not know anything
  8. Peasants do not have any degrees and therefore do not create ideas
  9. The technicians know it all
  10. The illterate person cannot think
  11. The wise have everything they need
  12. He is right, because he is family
  13. Productivity is a problem of low schooling
  14. Peasant to your machete, never uses his head
  15. These are my oxen and that is what I am going to plow with
  16. What is old and known is worth more than what is new to learn
  17. In any event tomorrow I am going to die
  18. When I die I am taking nothing with me
  19. God made the clever and the stupid, so the clever can live off the stupid
  20. If you are born to be a corncob, it doesn´t matter whether the rainy season was good or bad
  21. If you were born a planter, you won´t leave the corridor
  22. Everything is made up
  23. Be content with little
  24. Only God can create (innovate)
  25. Peasant learns to read (miyth expressed in a song)
  26. Whoever studies and goes back to their community is a failure

The different innovations seek to find the root of the problem and experiment with ways of diversifying the production (farm and garden), processing (pickling-conserving, subproducts of honey, chocolate) and commercialization (bottling, packaging) and seek forms of organization in their families (e.g. the wine that provides spaces for family communication) and neighbors for questioning themselves about the scale of their actions in light of the possible markets. This search is connected to the discovery of the footprints in the history of the families themselves, that were diversified and self sufficient, and that different factors made them “forget” those footprints. The vision that is revealed is that the municipality can change with horizontal diversification (production) and vertical diversification, connected to their own footprints, turning the plot owners into farmers along with “my Mom´s green thumb” (gardens) with multiple effects in terms of productivity and the quality of the products, and of contributing to the environment along the lines of reducing climate change. Rethinking the farm and the municipality, precisely in order to innovate; drawing it differently to the extent that the footprints (and with it the awareness) re-appear; have the diversification enter in through the table and the plate, not as something imported but the result of endogenous innovation. The visions reveal a municipality without “dead times” (months without money and joy), that stagger their income with different products, an environmentally sustainable municipality, with technical innovations that express social changes, a municipality with farms that express production, processing and commercialization. A municipality with families that are not “loitering and falling down” (see footnote no. 7), that make a leap in economic, social and environmental terms, with innovations that free them from debt.


This vision could be possible if the innovations promoted by the cooperative and the youth are more and more combined, this has the potential of generating synergies that would transform the municipality.


  1. 3.     Institutionality that shapes and inspiration that awakens innovation


There is an institutionality that limits and facilitates innnovations. For example, the myths (see Box 1) are an incredible force that puts the breaks on innovation; if a person believes that he “was born stupid” and “is stupid” by nature, then how can he create ideas and innovation? If the so-called scholars believe that the peasant families are ignorant, what innovations can be expected on the part of the peasant families? A first and MONUMENTAL step is un-learning, and this implies dialogue with the myths, understanding the context in which they emerged and evaluating them in the light of the evidence; from there demonstrating the innovations like those presented in section 2.1 are a mental “shock” that makes one discover that the myths are only myths.


In this section we reflect on other factors, also institutional, and at the same time we ask ourselves about how to awaken this “worm” of an innovative spirit that each person carries within themselves and in the footprints of their families.


3.1  The harshness of the institutional reality


The first limiting factor is the economic environment in the territories that, in turn, is connected to the international environment. In SJRC as well as in Peñas Blancas the financial institutions have been pulling out, making credit more expensive, for different reasons; in the case of SJRC because of the economic crisis that is being experienced, because of the systematic corruption of some cooperatives, the over-indebtedness of the families, and because of the number of lawsuits over debt to now defunct Interbank (a bank that went broke at the end of the 90s, where 300 people from SJRC appear as debtors) and because of the weight of the No Payer movement in the municipality; and in the case of Peñas Blancas because of the environmental policies that make it difficult for productive activities to be financed. This situation is connected to international organizations; the environmental policies are global and national, backed by t state institutions and international organizations; and the break up of the cooperatives is due to internal factors of these organizations as well as the support of international organizations (financial and fair trade) for elites that everyone knows are acting behind the backs of the grassroots cooperatives and their members, violating their statutes and the cooperative law[9].


This economic crisis in the case of SJRC has to do with the dependency on the coffee crop; and in the case of Peñas Blancas with the primacy of a traditional environmentalism that priortizes large forest areas causing a rift with peasant agroforestry, but coherent with the interests of the tourism industry, and in part also to the relative importance of coffee as “the biggest generator of income.” In the face of this situaiton, when the families feel that coffee is falling into crisis because of the rust and the low prices, they perceive that their organizations are falling into corruption and they are losing their land in the face of the concentration of land in the name of “progress” (SJRC) and in the name of “environmentalism” (Peñas Blancas), the hopelessness increases, the weight of religions grows, conformism builds a nest and the innovators begin to wobble.


The dependency on coffee has even the potential of stagnating innovations for diversification. By the fact of receiving C$25,000 for 10 loads of coffee from one manzana in the month of December, it seems to them that it is a crop which really “provides a lot of money”, compared with bananas that each month could provide them C$640 (40 bunches in that same manzana at C$16), or C$7,680 a year, which seems so small to them that it paralizes their energy to sell those plaintains. And if the technicians do the addition for a year, without revealing that C$100 in the month of May is worth 10 times more because of the scarcity of money at that time, than C$100 in December which is the month of coffee, the paralizing effect is even greater. In some innovations like chile and the chile sauce, coffee stopped them: “The chile was there, but because the coffee harvest came, I had to leave the chile.” The belief that “having coffee is having money” is overwhelming. We could say that “it really is the limit for the small producer to bet on only one crop”, and believing that that crop is equal to money, forgetting his food security and his family labor during the entire year; the effect of this is that their social networks get reduced because they are only connected to those who are committed to that crop, they have a market reduced to that crop and their own cooperative organization is reduced to this crop and consequently only to the financial part[10]. It is like extractive activities in Latin America that bet on extracting natural resources and that blocks the innovation for the entire country (cf. The Dutch disease).


The mentality one has weighs more than a load of coffee. “Be happy with the little you have”, goes the myth. There are producers that dream about “not being like my father, the fieldhand” and then after jumping over a small mound, stay on that hill. “I learned commerce from my Mom, and then I remained a small farmer.” He did not continue combining commerce with the farming, the mentality of “farmer” separates production and commerce (See also footnote 10). The idea of accumulating under a large-estate-extensive-technology culture predominates, the new elite are constituted with the idea “the more land I have the more power I have”, where productivity does not appear; the peasant families, for their part, are prisoners of that very institutionality, they do not take on the challenge of productivity and prefer to wait for projects, credit, rent land or temporarily migrate to neighboring countries, they end up going into debt and come close to selling their lands. This dynamic is indirectly but effectively supported by the microfinance institutions and by the large export companies, when they provide credit to harvest collectors that give crop lien loans to the peasants and end up dispossessing them of their land.  The mentality of SJRC continues the same pattern since 1935 which was extensive agriculture with a company store on the estate and usury, and concentration of land; under this practice the institutionality has been “making the people go broke and hoarding the land.” The enormous challenge of the innovators is to break with this mentality.


Another aspect of the mentality is the combination of the patriarch and his children with formal education where the distance between the peasant who can even read and write and the so-called “scholars” gets even greater. It is common to hear the technicians say that there are no changes in the cooperatives “because the members of the cooperatives have low levels of schooling” and on the peasant´s side hear them repeating  “I don´t have much schooling”, and among the peasants themselves murmurring that “the scholar, the person who had studied is quicker than we are, with practice they can write very fast, add quickly, and we who do not practice, when are we going to be able to grasp and copy everything? They just do it, grab the whiteboard, put a bunch of numbers on it and get you all mixed up.” This distance is evident in the assemblies where people are afraid to question the scholar, and “everyone moves their heads like garrobos.” This situation is reinforced by the dominant model of technical assistance that ignores local knowledge and focuses on crops without contributing to changes that would allow the productivity to improve. Under this institutionality they self-exclude themselves from positions of leadership and to working on innovative processes.


The weight of tradition is decisive, which is the reason for the lack of search for new alternatives to deal with the crisis. For the coffee rust everyone says that cutting back in block provides the best results, but they do not do it; in basic grains everyone complains about the low yields, but they continue cultivating them in the same way. In general the producers do not believe in alternative ways of cultivating (organic agriculture, agroecology), because the attempts that existed did not work: e.g. the tomatoes planted by Orlando Cruz were affected by the lack of spraying. The heads of the families (fathers, elders) decide what it going to be planted on the farm, even though some allow their children to experiment and test new things (e.g. Don Chico let his sons grow vegetables even though he did not get involved); an experience of an agroecological crop which has been started is from someone (Matute the musisian) who is not from Peñas Blancas and was able to demonstrate that it was sustainable. He was able to introduce a change in the way of producing, showing that other practices are possible. In the case of Peñas Blancas, El Cua the development projects and studies of CEN and of master degree students, because of lack of rootedness, help to create an aura in the producers about the scholars; and the producers talk about how important the work in common in the cooperative is, but in practice they work individually or as a family, to the extreme that in GARBO they only participate if there is financing.


In terms of attitude, we pay attention to the institution of the family. Many young people have to fight with their own family, which can be a powerful obstacle, or a tremendous facilitator; if a member of the family is an alcoholic, is a jealous husband[11] or a father with a lot of lovers, the innovative person tends to lose perspective and be marked by the effects of this family situation; on the other hand, if the family is healthy and values the activity of the person innovating, the entire family fights so that that person might continue innovating, even when that person gets tired. In the case of most of the youth, the institutionality of the inheritance is a strong conditioning factor either in favor or against; in the families where the inheritance is getting set with clarity while their parents are still alive[12], they have conditions favorable for innovation; in families where that definition is delayed and confusing, that situation affects the entire family, it is a disincentive to make efforts on that which might not be yours, and above all, because in many cases the parents block certain innovations thinking that they are losing the power to control their family. In cases where the father is an alcoholic, unconsciously this marks the lifestyle of the family, it fashions in the person a short term, 24 hour mentality, of making the rest live with the uncertainty of “tomorrow he will quit drinking” or “maybe tomorrow he will start drinking again”. In cases where the father of the innovator has lovers, it accentuates the institutionalized myth that “a man who does not drink and does not have lovers does not exist.”


The networks have been an interesting response in the case of Peñas Blancas and in general in the cooperatives. Nevertheless, the internal tensions are difficult and shaped by history, at times tensions between families for many years, and other times because of the yearning of some of them to earn money quickly, or the tensions increase when the group is composed of people with too many differences –e.g. in the credit group in Peñas Blancas an external member was desperate to achieve earnings while the other two members were going step by step. In the cooperatives the same thing happens, for example in the GARBO cooperative in each election of the administrative council nearly their entire board has been changed, who then come in with their own accountant, which is why there is no continuity in the organization; in other cases, like for example the José Alfredo Zeledón Cooperative, the permanence of its president since its very founding can, in the long term, end up affecting the growth of the organization, not just because of the dependency on this leadership, but because a cooperative with various services developed and a certain volume of coffee needs a larger number of leaders and needs the rules and policies of cooperativism to be functioning.


The territories also have an impact, either in favor or against innovation. SJRC was a coffee estate area, this marked the entire life of the municipality: for being a coffee estate, the indigenous and peasant families who in their past would diversify, accepted and gave in to coffee and, in the beginning, to work as collective cooperatives at the service of the war in the decade of the 80s. Later on and up to now they have continued in the service of coffee and of the new patrons that appear with new discourses, and in addition blessed by national and international institutions. Another zone that was not an estate in the same municipality, like San José de Ojoche, Las Vegas, Matapalo and San Antonio, zones of small farmers and peasant families, have greater autonomy and a better cooperative. History plays an important role in the lives of people. They also have the potential of bringing about change, for example in Peñas Blancas the increase in tourism and the entry of groups like CREA (musical group), including their own studio, makes the place even more attractive for tourism, generating greater opportunities for the community, which can be provoke a response of greater innovation on the part of the local population.


Finally, we have run into the myth that “the small producer is not profitable” because of their scale of production. Some innovations that are making the transition into entrepreneurial initiatives require a certain scale (volume) to take larger leaps, so this myth stops and discourages them. Nevertheless, the problem is the slanted approach about volume (or scale) that this myth reveals, as if one family alone would have to produce large volumes, when this large volume can be brought together from various small producers and thus be profitable. A second problem is that the market sees each of them alone and the people respond to the market individually, and everyone believes that you have to produce ONLY for the market. The market can be responded to with volume from various producers – this is the case of the bananas in Sanmarcanda (SJRC), for example, the buyer requires 600 bunches for a truck, which can be reached by 10 producers that have 60 bunches each. So the challenge of innovating emerges in how to collaborate among various producers for a common benefit, under what rules to do so, how to coordinate in time and place. And not forgetting that it is not just something technical, it is looking for the footprints to give strength to this innovation. Francisco Cruz from Peñas Blancas attests to the fact that throughout his life he has worked in collaboration with neighbors to have lard in those times (from 1950-70) when his community was pretty isolated from the cities. Each family had to have 15 pigs a year to have lard throughout the year, so among various neighbors they had the rule of “what I give you, you give back to me in another time”, so everyone had lard during the entire year.  Others testified to the same, even now, for example with the boar (male pig), in order to always have two pigs all the time you do not need to have your own boar, so the one that has one, charges for the mounting: “for each mounting of the boar you receive one piglet.” So it is that we are finding hundred year institutions like the “mano vuelta” (you give me a hand when I need it and I give you a hand when you need it), or sharecropping…Another form of resolving the problem of scale has been organizing into cooperatives. The innovators are there at the moment of thinking about that problem of scale and organization: a chile sauce requires a lot of ingredients, which can be resolved through the extended family or through a network of neighbors. The strength of the innovation comes from the fact that we look for the footprints in our history, that we understand the new context, and that we make progress in the innovations of “together, but not scrambled” to respond to the market and to solve common problems.


3.2  What inspires these innovations?


Finally we ask ourselves about the origins of our inspiration, what inspires an innovator? Said in another way, what is the ideology of the innovators? For those who profess a religion, this gives them the passion or the “emotional gasoline” to dedicate themselves to the task of evangelization or work with the base communities, be that to “win souls” in favor of their religion or because they believe that helping people makes you more Christian. In politics, in the case of the guerrillas of Latin America, the perspective of the “new man” and the construction of socialism has motivated them; or in the case of capitalism, the possibility of earning profits.


The great innovators say that the power to contribute to humanity motivates them, and probably for many of them also the possibility of earning capital, particularly in the innovators since the XX Century. In the case of the youth with whom we have worked, there has been great initial enthusiasm and after a time only about 30% have remained working on it. What do some go and some stay? The culture of waiting and believing that projects are coming (donations) is so accentuated in the country that it has become an obstacle that feeds into the initial enthusiasm and then, given that the donations do not come, they quit. But deeper than this, it has a lot to do with the points of the previous section.


One general motivation is the desire to “quit being poor” and to not be like their father or mother[13], this desire results later in becoming aware about what is “being poor” and above all in understanding that that situation of “being poor” is not natural nor divine, but social, and that therefore it is possible to change; the youth, having as their source of inspiration the reality of their own communities, who are experiencing this process and above all the awareness that it can be changed, tend to persist. In some cases the fact of getting to know their own history gives them an even deeper dream, for example, in realizing that their parents were fieldhands and now are  owners of small plots of land, this fact makes them see that their obligation now is to move from being a small plot owner to being a farmer. But what type of farmer? Not the type of farmer who stays on their farm and progresses based on expanding area, but a farmer who progresses through agricultural intensification and connected to markets, and that includes various levels of processing. The trap is dreaming of being a large estate owner under the myth that “the estate provides while the small plot takes”, that progresses through extensive technology and stays only in production. The new model that inspires would be an intelligent, farming family that cultivates and processes, and does it within a framework of networking, where the “farm provides while the estate and the small plot takes.”


Another motivation is the self recognition and the recognition of their family, their friends and their community for the innovation that they are carrying out. When they see results to their experiments, even though they may be small successes, this animates them. “I have great news for you, I have seen two quetzals; I could have been mistaken in December when I saw one quetzal; but now, no, I need to find out what they eat, where they make their nests… … (A. Cruz, January 25, 2014); “The bee comes to me in my dreams”. If the fact that their families and communities recognize their work, this added to their own self recognition means then they are on a path that they will not likely abandon; it is the step where the initial criticisms received in their own community take a turn and become “social recognition.”


Finally, why do some innovators progress more than others? It will be important to reflect more with the innovators, but now some initial thoughts. The innovators are differentiated by their origins. Ever, Ruben, Freddy and others from Sanmarcanda are the children of fieldhands that became owners of small plots through the agrarian reform, and now are becoming small farmers. Yeris, Darwin, Abraham, Orlando and Maudilio are sons of established small farmers, three of them also have university training, and two continue working on the family farm (Yeris, Darwin), one (Maudilio) combines work in the cooperative with work on the farm. Diana is the daughter of a failed farmer. Probably these footprints mark differences in the growth of them as innovators.


Yeris and Abraham stand out, two youth that were born and raised in the same place, and in having the talks and innovator guide discovered things that others do not see. Abraham sees hummingbirds that he can live with on his plot, creating the necessary habitat, which he sees as generating resources for him; he is motivated, provides follow up, observes, systematizes and investigates. In San Lucas everyone see flowers, but Yeris see more than that, he sees food for his bees and deepens his knowledge, does an inventory of the flowers in his farm, then in his community, then in the municipality, and thus discovers that there are flowers with different shapes and notes down how he could domesticate them on his farm. What is most relevant in this case is that the exercise of doing the inventory moved from being an individual task to a family, neighborhood and even community one; the neighboring youth began to observe the flowers around them: “These are the flowers Yeris is looking for.” Orlando and Darwin are inspired by what they have seen (Orlando) or have learned in the University (Darwin), they have the idea that innovation is entrepreneurship of making money quickly, one producing alcohol from any fruit that can be fermented and the other from any activity that generates income, so it is difficult for them to be systematic in observing and investigating.


Another group (Ever, Ruben and others who have been inclined to do innovation in crops), because of their technical formation, tends to repeat things already tested (hens, insecticides, etc…). Diana, the daughter of a failed farmer, the result of the alcoholism of her father, seeks to generate income quickly, but clashes with the reality that is harsh,  where innovation needs patient constancy and the cultivation of a long term perspective. Fredy wants to be a great artist, he has the character to attempt it, his challenge is identifying what could really make him different and working on it in the long term.


By way of conclusion


Productivity in agriculture, commerce, and informal services is fundamental for raising national productivity and making the country grow with equity. Productivity is going to be raised on the basis of innovation. But the country is in last place in terms of innovation, at least among the countries of Latin America. This text talks about an innovation process that we have committed ourselves to.The young innovators and cooperative leaders have shown that, in addition to the 5 DNA elements of the innovator, making associations, questioning, observing, experimenting and creating networks, the DNA is needed of desperately trying to quit being poor and of overcoming the oral culture. These innovators, in contrast with the “creator business person” of Schumpeter, motivated by the monopoly of the initial income, are transformers of their communities, motivated by improving the lives of their families and neighbors.


Part of the conditions for these innovation processes are emphasizing the work in certain territories, cluster-like, so that they mutually infect one another; including research to understand the importance of the territories and of the different crops; that any innovation that is begun be experimented with and depend more on endogenous factors; that the innovators have this “innovative worm”; that these innovations be presented at the community, municipality and national levels, precisely to feed into the recognition of the innovators.


This year we are going to continue with the innovations, which will be more and more focused on agriculture, the integration of agriculture and ranching, including innovations in the vertical chain of each crop – at the same time maintaining our support for innovations that are outside of this sphere, like music, hair cutting or other innovations, that in the long term also find connections with the producer families[14]. We will continue committed to the grassroots cooperatives as the focus for re-inventing cooperativism; and to the innovative youth, because, in addition, they are the ones who will take on the leadership in the long term in their municipalities.






Brafman, O. y Beckstrom, R., 2006, La araña / la estrela de mar: La fuerza imparable de las organizaciones sin mandos.  Barcelona: Urano SA


Drucker, P., 2002, Managing in the Next Society


Dyer, J., Gregersen, H.B. y Christensen, C., 2009, The innovator’s DNA. Harvard Business Review


Külh, E., 2004, Nicaragua y su café. Managua: Hispamer.


López, M., 2009, “El Alfarero Fiel” en: Envío, 328. Managua: UCA.


Mendoza, R., 2003, Análisis de Capacidades Locales para nuevas iniciativas en comercio justo. Guatemala: Universidad Rafael Landívar


Mendoza, R., 2013a, “Nicaragua: El café en los tiempos de la roya,” en: Envío 372. Managua: UCA.


Mendoza, R., 2014, análisis de contexto y de oportunidades para el país. (En fase de escribirse).


OECD, 2005, Oslo Manual: Guidelines for collecting and interpreting innovation data. Europa: OECD & EUROSTAT.


Schumpeter, J., 1911, The Theory of Economic Development: An inquiry into profits, capital, credit, interest and the business cycle


Vogl, A., 1977, Nicaragua con Amor y Humor. Managua: GARCO



[1] We have been promoting innovation processes for two years in the north central part of the country. This text talks about this process and reflects on the scope and difficulties of the innovation.

[2] Collaborators and co-authors of this article are dozens of youth and cooperative leaders, particularly Abraham and Orlando Cruz, Diana Escorcia, Yeris and Darwin Lanzas, Evert Gonzales, Hulda and Eliseo Miranda.

[3] This graph is based on which in turn gathers information from 37 of the 56  university members of the CNU. Total registered students (new registrants and active students), 151,096; graduates without diplomas, 19,751; and graduates with diplomas 15,116. I am thankful to Jorge Alvarado for helping me get this information.

[4] In Latin America where extraction has been increasing in recent years, there are studies warning that this factor in contrast stops innovation. Iván Finot (“Is sustainable development possible in Bolivia?” in: La Razón, 29-12-2013) thinks that the Bolivians had the luck that a high economic cycle accompanied them when they faced racism and regionalism, writing it later into the new Constitution. Within this framework Finot states that what is typical of an extractive institutionality is privilege, and that puts a break on innovation, while what is characteristic of an inclusive society is situating everyone in equal opportunities in order to progress on the basis of their own efforts. Finot thinks that extractivism still reigns in Bolivia where some struggle to maintain old privileges and others to achieve new ones. How can one be freed from extractivism and achieve a sustainable economy so that all can live well without depending on the natural resources? 1) what is decisive for development is no longer industrialization but the capacity to innovate industries for the Third World, 2) the greatest advances in innovation and productivity happen in local environments and only later irradiate into the respective country and the world. For that reason, Finot concludes: what is fundamental is having inclusive institutions, knowledge and decentralization towards the local level.


[5] We have also begun to work in Waslala and La Dalia, which will be developed in the coming year.

[6] Unfortunately most of the organizations do not study the reality where they intervene. Currently Heifer is promoting the raising-fattening of pigs, in some communities it is going better than in others. Why? This experience falls into the mistakes of many other pig projects, that do not take into account the suggestion of the local populations; “We told them that instead of white pigs that we would buy native pigs from here, but they said that their pigs were better, and look, they died very quickly” (leader of Sanmarcanda). A lot of the success of these projects is not due to the supply of the type of pigs, but to the type of communities where they go; and much of the failure of these projects has to do with the mentality of the organizations that believe that “contributing” is bringing in something from “outside”, that what comes in from outside is always better, without concerning themselves with what different contexts have. This point about the pigs is applicable to other diversification projects that exist in the zone.

[7] The expression that summarizes the life of most of the rural families of SJRC is that they have a logic of “hanging out and falling down”, which means they have money, pay their loans and again go into debt; they are not able to breathe a life without debts. How to innovate so that each family is freed from debts?

[8] Baseline data done by Soynica, Heifer and Green Coffee Mountain at the end of 2013 showed that 55% of the children of SJRC are malnourished. This figure reflects the effects of the dependency of the municipality on coffee and its consequences, in years of low production and low prices for coffee, this gets expressed in the levels of malnourishment of the children:

[9] This effect of the organizations is when they only see their interests-objectives without prior research about the context in which they are operating, and when they do carry out studies and audits, only give those reports to the managers and presidents of the second tier organizations, so they have complete liberty to keep the first tier cooperatives from knowing about them. In micro, this is the case of any project, full of good intentions, that without research walks around blind, and in the worst of cases creates counterproductive effects of conformism and dependency. One of the innovators, for example, received support from a garden that fit with the innovation that he was carrying out. The garden would work during the rainy season, and when the dry season came it would quit, because our innovator was waiting on the project to resolve the water problem, unconsciously this project made him “stop”, to “wait”, it blocked his thinking, and made him forget that making the garden work in all seasons was in his hands, like his mother and his grandmother had done in the past.


[10] One of the innovators stopped in the first phase in seeing that he could earn money with this product, without finishing the innovation he was working on. There is no problem staying in a phase, but there is a problem when this phase has a counterproductive effect from the objective of the innovation, which is contributing to the improvement in the lives of the families. The power of money and the possibility of earning it quickly is blinding and keeps us only in the short term perspective.


[11] The institution of marriage is capable of erasing the innovative nature of people. Mostly the women innovators have left the innovative processes that they were committed to on getting married or living with someone. The pretexts (“my husband is jealous”, “I am pregnant, I need to take care of myself”, “I no longer have time”) only make the weight of that institutionality of marriage heavier, which is expressed in a very unequal way, in favor of the men and against the women.


[12] Clarity in that the parents set what the inheritance is going to be for the sons and daughters, as well as when they are not going to leave them anything. We have known of many experiences where the inheritance is defined and given to the sons and daughters, and the lives of everyone has improved; we have also known of some cases where the inheritance is not given, but there is clarity about that: “My parents live from the rental of their land, we as sons and daughters were clear that we had to make our own lives without the inheritance of our parents, so we are not protected, so each one has made their own lives” (Esperanza, President Carlos Núñez Cooperative).

[13] Expressions like the following are common: “At the age of 13 I was clear that I did not want to be like my father, I did not want to be a field hand;” “My father would say to me over and over, study son, so that you might be better than me;” “If the tears of my Mother stopped me I was going to end up being a fieldhand like my father.”


[14] In the case of the musician we have been supporting him with guitar courses and currently we have connected him to the CREA group, who will support him in a possible recording of a CD. For the case of the innovator of chocolate we are looking for an internship in a chocolate factory that would provide him with experience and motivation.

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