I am just back from visiting our partners FEM and Las Diosas in northern Nicaragua. It was a great visit full of news about projects JCC has been supporting as well a getting the low-down on some new initiatives they have cooking there. A little background– in 2005 or so we found out about Fundacion Entre Mujeres (in English “Foundation Between Women or FEM) from the Madison-based non-profit WCCN. They had met them running a delegation to meet people who were benefitting from their micro-finance loan projects and thought they might be a good fit for us. A couple of us went down and were floored by their organization and what they were doing for women’s empowerment in a country that was dominated by a “machista” (macho man) culture. We have been working with them closely for over ten years and have a great relationship with them. Their coffee project– a co-op called Las Diosas– has increasingly become a separate entity and officially became independent two years ago. That said, they are still very connected to FEM and most members of Las Diosas are members of FEM’s larger women’s rights organization as well.
My kids and I flew into Managua and immediately rented a car and drove to the mountain city of Esteli where FEM’s office is located. Driving in Nicaragua proved to be like riding on a very long and dated carnival rollercoaster, but maybe not as safe. Actually, it was not so bad. We spent the night in JCC’s favorite little hostel and headed over to the FEM office early the next morning. Over the next few days we visited FEM’s office/cafe, San Pedro (the Las Diosas office and production center), the village of El Colorado, and the village of Los Llanos. I will give you the highlights.
The first thing I noticed driving up the hill to FEM’s office was their brand spanking new cafe. They have built on the the front of the building and now have, as far as I’ve seen, the coolest cafe space in Esteli. They have purchased a nice brewer and Rancilio espresso machine and grinder and have been training in town to pull great shots. They have been working on the idea for nearly two years and approaching it as a community and meeting space as well as a cafe. There are a lot of NGOs and different groups in the community. The cafe will feature Las Diosas coffee, honey, and hibiscus tea. If all goes according to plan they should be open for biz before the end of the summer.
As we drove to San Pedro I was struck by how green everything was. Northern Nicaragua has been in a climate change-induced drought over the past three years and it was clear that it had been raining buckets recently. We were greeted by the Las Diosas administrative team. We had some lunch and then sat down to an overview of their current projects which include:
– Seed storage for maintenance of native corn and beans
– Hibiscus production and the production of wine and tea from these flowers
– Roasted coffee for sale in local markets
– Honey from the bee project (JCC supported)
We also began the conversation about the rain they have been receiving this year and how it may affect them. It basically stopped raining in Las Diosas communities in Northern Nica after 2012. They have struggled not only to get their coffee properly hydrated, but also with raising basic food crops and having water to drink. The reasons for the drought are almost surely global climate change. Since june it has been raining buckets for the first time in several years. The good news is that corn and beans are making a comeback due to the wet weather– this is really good for subsistence, but is pushing down the prices that they can get in the market. The major issue though is that the early timing of the rain and the incredible humidity is shaping up like 2012– the year the roya fungus hit that killed 80% of their coffee. They are nervous and hoping that all of the work that they have done– deepening organic practices, extensive training on agroecological practices and soil analysis, and new and more resistant plants will pay off if Roya does come back strong this year. Fingers crossed!
When we visited the community of El Colorado we were able to have an extensive look at the recovery of different women’s coffee plots. The recovery has been really impressive and Diosas saw their production expectations exceeded this year. The women were very appreciative of the support we have given them in their recovery efforts– trainings, technical advisors, and new plants.
We also got to go to one of the places where they are carrying out their pilot project raising bees and harvesting honey. The hives were buzzing with activity– fer real– and they explained that they were European honeybees crossed with an African honeybee– they are very industrious and pretty aggressive. So far the project is going well and they are being certified by the local government to sell in the local farmers market.
One day we had the chance to talk with a youth group about the work that Las Diosas and FEM are doing with kids in the communities. Children knock off of school at noon in primary and secondary school because of a lack of teachers and resources. FEM is sponsoring a project where some of the older kids and young women are spending time in the afternoon with students to reinforce what they learn in school as well as to introduce the theme of women’s empowerment and equality, women’s health, and domestic violence prevention early in the kids’ lives. It was super inspirational to hear how the older girls are focusing on the youngsters to help them be as prepared as possible for school. Kids in Nica often drop out after third grade and the idea is to extend the kids’ education as long as possible and give them opportunities that the older women did not have.
All said it was a great trip and they are doing really well.