While strategies and vision give structure to a sustainable development project, achieving lasting change ultimately happens through people. True change happens from the ground up, when people bring their own stories, experience, and perspective to a project. Emerita Montoya Vicente is an example of just one of those people.
Emerita is from the community of Wiwinak, situated on the banks of the Rio Coco in Nicaragua. Like most families in her community, she has her house in the village of Wiwinak, while she and her husband farm a plot of land deep in the forest. In Emerita’s case, it takes her four hours to walk to their farm each way. When asked how many children she has, Emerita responds, “Only five kids and three grandchildren.” Most of her kids are already grown and married, but the youngest son is twelve and still at home. He helps his mother and father in their fields.
Although growing their own food has always been a way of life for Emerita and her family, it wasn’t until recently that things began to change for them. Six years ago, Emerita became an “associate farmer,” being mentored by one of her neighbors who was an agricultural promoter in the first phase of the food security project being implemented by World Renew partner Acción Médica Cristiana. She began to learn new, simple techniques for farming from her neighbor who was receiving trainings at the Center for Agricultural Technology Transfer which had been established in Wiwinak. Emerita demonstrated such a willingness to work hard, that when the second project phase began two years ago, she was invited to be an agricultural promoter and participate directly in the trainings at the Center.
In the two years she has been an agricultural promoter, Emerita says that she has learned how to work differently. “Before,” she explains, “our mode of survival was to just plant our crops all over the place, here and there, with no particular plan. But through the trainings, we have learned the benefits of organizing our farms, planning when we will plant, having a schedule, and taking good care of our soil, crops, and livestock. We have learned about preventing pests, how to take care of animals, the importance of storing our harvest.” In a recent training on livestock management, Emerita shares how she enjoyed learning about the different methods of care for livestock – how to assist animal births, administer vaccines to prevent illness, and more.
Emerita’s hard work and dedication to the project have been visible to others, too. This year, she was nominated to serve as president of the council that has been formed to keep the agricultural promoters in her community organized. Her role has quickly gone from a first-time learner to a growing leader and advocate in her community.
“People always want to receive handouts, but training is better. Some people want to criticize what AMC is doing in our community – usually because they don’t understand it. But I do my best to convince my neighbors that what they are doing is good, that it is important and worth the investment.”
When asked if it is difficult being a woman and a leader in this project, Emerita responds, “Oh yes, because the physical demand is very high. When I started out there were three other women working as promoters, but they all dropped out in the first year because of the hard labor required. But I know that if you want to get anywhere in life, you have to work hard, you have to suffer a bit to get there, and this keeps me going.” Emerita explains that she also shares the labor load with her husband. She attends the trainings, gathers up all of the knowledge, and then returns home and shares with him what she’s learned. Together, they go out into their fields as a team and put into practice the new techniques. “Two of my producers already have their farms established [according to the project criteria],” she says proudly, “At first, they didn’t want to try these new techniques, but I convinced them it’s worth it.”
This project is important for her community, Emerita explains, because lack of food is a real struggle for her and her neighbors. “The months of June, July, and August are the worst and when our children suffer the most,” she says. By learning practical ways to plan their crops and experiment with new techniques, folks are being equipped with ways to reduce this hunger gap.
Ismael, the AMC technician at Wiwinak, explains, “The continual advance of the agricultural frontier is a real threat for these communities. For many, the trainings and knowledge acquired in this project are considered capital – an investment and a boost to overcome the many challenges they are facing.”
Emerita shares just how much of an investment into her family this project has been. Recently, they have not been able to continue putting their youngest son through school because of lack of money. Thankfully, a new opportunity arose. Her son was invited to be part of the nine-month intensive vocational course for youth that is also a component of the AMC project in Wiwinak. Students stay at the center for two weeks out of the month to learn practical agricultural knowledge, and then return to put into practice what they have been learning on their family’s land. Emerita’s son is a student in this program with this current year’s class. Many have praised the rigor of the classes as comparable with the regional agricultural university. With this program, Emerita’s son can receive a good education and technical skills when he otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.
Looking toward the future, Emerita and her husband would like to save up the money to build their house directly on their farm. And of course, she would like to continue learning in the project. “If God allows me,” she says, “I’m going to continue working with AMC. I’ve made this a priority in my life to show up to these trainings and learn. It’s important to fulfill your commitments, and I’m going to hold to that.”
Written by: Bethany Beachum