Notes to broadcasters
The women’s vegetable garden project in Santa Lucia is not a member of the UCA, the regional co‑operative association, so it is not yet officially recognized as a co‑operative. But in time it may become a formal agricultural co‑operative. If it does, it will be the first women‑led co‑operative to join the UCA.
A few years ago, a group of women in the village of Santa Lucia thought of a way to solve a problem that had them all worried. They were concerned that their children were not eating well.
Santa Lucia is in a rugged, hilly area in Nicaragua, in Central America. Most of the people who live there support themselves with subsistence farming and small‑scale commercial crops. Some people, for instance, grow and sell coffee or tea. Most of them are poor.
Maize, beans, and rice were the regular diet. Almost nobody in the area grew or ate other vegetables. The women thought that if they started growing vegetables, their families would eat better, and their health would improve. And they would not have to spend as much money buying food.
The women of Santa Lucia decided things would be easier if they worked together. They lived in the town and they had never grown food before. Nobody wanted to begin all alone.
A group of women brought manure, leaves, and other organic waste to the compost pile in Doña Estela’s yard. They all helped turn it over. Then, when the compost was ready to use, they shared it among themselves.
Since there was no large piece of land available, the women decided to start several small gardens. In January 1992, fourteen women were working on nine gardens. Women who have land of their own plant vegetables there. But if somebody who does not have any land wants to join the project, there is no problem. They just make arrangements for her to share work in another garden in return for produce. In fact, sharing produce is an important part of the project. The women distribute what they grow so that everyone involved has a variety of vegetables to take home to their families.
They also hold meetings to discuss common problems and make decisions as a group. For example, they get together to decide what to plant and how to get seeds and tools. They also discuss how to deal with municipal authorities. Older women, and those who have been involved right from the beginning, usually have more influence. But when a decision must be made they talk things over until they reach an agreement everyone accepts.
They also work together as a group to get assistance from the local co‑operative association. The local co‑operative association, known as the “UCA,” provides technical support and, sometimes, seedlings, tools, and other items to co‑operatives in the region around Santa Lucia. The government Nicaragua used to do the work the UCA does now. Since the government of Nicaragua no longer supports the co‑operative movement, the UCA is trying to fill the gap.
UCA agricultural advisors travel through the region and work directly with farmers and gardeners. They sometimes hold workshops on different agricultural matters.
They grow many different kinds of vegetables. By trial and error they have been learning which are most productive, and what combinations of vegetables work best. Onions, peppers, radishes, lettuce, peanuts, carrots, tomatoes and garlic are all popular.
Growing a variety of vegetables and rotating the crops constantly helps keep harmful pests and diseases out of the gardens. Using natural pesticides also helps.
Doña Estela and the other women involved in the Santa Lucia vegetable garden project also believe that compost and green manure make for strong vegetables that are more resistant to disease. Like many other farmers and gardeners in this region of Nicaragua, they use organic farming techniques. For instance, they do not use chemical fertilizers. They have found that compost is more effective than chemical fertilizer. Compost may have as many as 14 different nutrients, while most chemicalfertilizers only have potassium, phosphorous and nitrogen. Other farmers in the area have shown that beans grown in soil fertilized with compost are more solid and heavy than beans grown in soil that has been fertilized chemically.
The women also practice small‑scale agroforestry in their gardens. Along with vegetables, they grow citrus trees and other fruit trees including papaya and mango. They also grow other trees such as neem and lucaena.
Doña Estela’s garden is typical. She has a rectangular plot, 15 by 25 metres. She grows about 15 different kinds of vegetables, a dozen or so fruit trees, and also keeps chickens.
They have faced other obstacles as well. One of the first problems the women of Santa Lucia ran into was over the location of their gardens. They wanted the gardens in the village. But the mayor of Santa Lucia, and other local authorities told the women they should start their gardens outside the village, in the surrounding rural area. No one had ever had gardens inside the village before.
Doña Estela and the others knew that putting the gardens in the village was a good idea. With the gardens near their homes, they would not have to spend extra time walking back and forth to look after them. And they would not have to carry their produce as far. So the women got organized and explained their plans to the mayor and the other community leaders. They found that working as a group, they were stronger. People listened to them. And, in the end, they got what they wanted. Most of the gardens are now planted in the village.
Another problem is that some of the men oppose the project. They do not like the idea of women getting together to make decisions and plans on their own. They think women should stay home instead of going to meetings and working on the gardens. In some cases, husbands have used violence to try to stop their wives from joining the gardening project. The women of Santa Lucia have found that talking this problem over with each other helps give them confidence and courage. They feel stronger because they know they are not alone.
But Doña Estela and the other women are pleased with their success. They now have healthy vegetables. And, just as important, they have learned how to organize and get things done. They have gained confidence and hope.
Now the women of Santa Lucia are using their new organizational skills to solve other community problems. For example, Nicaraguan parents have recently started having to pay for their children’sschool uniforms, matriculation fees, and even for classroom desks. These things used to be free. Some parents can no longer afford to send their children to school. People in Santa Lucia, encouraged by the success of the co‑operative gardens, are now meeting to discuss this problem. They want to work out a co‑ operative solution so that all their children can go to school. Working together, they realize, is the key to success.
This script is based on information provided by the Is Five Foundation. Researchers from Is Five visited Santa Lucia and met members of the project. Is Five Foundation produces educational publications and is currently investigating alternative economic development projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The address is:
Is Five Foundation
400 Mount Pleasant Road
Toronto, Ontario M4S 2L6