Nicaragua: Harvesting Hope

The Problem

Even before the global food crisis of 2008, three-© Elizabeth Rappaportquarters of the population suffered from malnutrition on the North Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.  People confront grinding poverty, extreme hunger, an unemployment rate of 90 percent, and a lack of electricity, clean water, and other basic services. Poverty and social disintegration are compounded by environmental degradation. The coast is more vulnerable than ever to climate disasters, with tropical storms intensifying as sea temperatures rise. In 2007, Hurricane Felix destroyed the homes and harvests of hundreds of families along the Coco River. Meanwhile, the exploitation of the region’s natural resources by timber, mining, and fishing corporations threatens local economies and cultures and destroys the biodiversity on which Indigenous Peoples depend.

The Solution

MADRE trains Indigenous Miskito women in organic farming and provides families with vegetable seeds. Harvesting Hope organizes a seed bank, through which women cultivate, save, and share local, organic seeds from one growing season to the next. The program emphasizes sustainable land use methodologies, safeguards traditional Indigenous knowledge of natural resource management, and strengthens women’s economic self-sufficiency and participation in public life.

Through MADRE’s longtime sister organization Wangki Tangni, Harvesting Hope organizes local farmers’ markets where the women sell surplus produce.  The markets have become a focal point for community cohesion, with Wangki Tangni hosting innovative culinary contests, games, and musical entertainment. The markets also serve as an opportunity for Wangki Tangni to distribute popular education materials about women’s rights, collective Indigenous rights, and women’s health.

The Results

  • The community is eating more local, organic produce, grains, and animal foods that are part of the traditional diet, and relying less on costly, imported, processed foods.
  • Women are earning much-needed income for their families, and are able to pay for necessities such as shoes and school books for their children. In the process, women are boosting their economic autonomy and sense of agency.
  • In 2007, after Hurricane Felix destroyed 90 percent of the community’s bean harvest, the women were able to turn to their collective seed bank for a new supply of seeds. Encouraged by this store of resources, they felt able to face the challenge of replanting their crops and rebuilding their homes and community.
  • More than 2,000 Indigenous women and families have benefited from Harvesting Hope, as women who learn sustainable agricultural and livestock management techniques expand the circle of participants by conducting trainings in other communities.