The rural Nicaraguan communities of Las Breñas and San Sebastian are not easy to access. My recent journey from the SHI-Nicaragua office took nearly six hours and, in transit, everything I passed was either enchanting or disheartening – mangroves, swamps, tropical low-land forests, pastures, the ruins of what was once nature now slashed and burned. As the path took me deeper and deeper into human-induced destruction, ignorance and lack of knowledge, I grew more and more disappointed until, that is, I would arrive at an SHI participant farm, such as Don Esteban’s, Don Santos’ or Don Candido's. In the past, these farmers raised cattle, deforested vast tracts of land and ignored the need to diversify, but now they are changing as they learn from SHI Field Trainer, Don Cipriano, using his farm as an example.
Written by Kevin Johnson
Does SHI’s work address the United Nations’ new goals?
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development
The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals are an unprecedented, collaborative global effort to improve quality of life around the world. These eight goals are meant to serve as focal points for the work of organizations like SHI, who are engaging directly with some of the most vulnerable people on the planet to help them meet their most basic challenges.
SHI proudly addresses several of these goals at once, with an emphasis on an integrated vision of sustainability. Take Millennium Development Goal #1, for example: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. SHI’s efforts to sustainably improve production of staple crops (corn, beans, rice, cassava) while also diversifying traditional food production systems (incorporating fruit trees, non-traditional vegetable crops, etc) provide a more accessible, varied and healthy food base for participating families. SHI’s extension program emphasizes the use of local, natural resources – such as animal waste, kitchen scraps, ash, leaf litter and native leguminous cover crops – decreasing families’ dependence on harmful chemical fertilizers which also erode their economic independence. At the same time, by promoting organic agriculture methods, SHI is making great strides in ensuring environmental sustainability in our work sites (MDG # 7), improving maternal health (MDG #5), and even reducing child mortality (MDG #4). It is hard to fully assess the extent of our impact on our beneficiary communities, but without doubt, it is far-reaching.
One response to the UN’s call to “eradicate poverty” has been a renewed focus on the “green revolution”, which puts its confidence in large-scale, non-organic production of pest-resistant staple crops in order to maximize yields. Unfortunately, small-scale subsistence farmers must rely on selling a large portion, if not all of their products in order to recover their investment in genetically- modified seed, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Too often the harvest is not consumed by its farmers, who have already put their health and the integrity of their environment in jeopardy in this new production system. Families become distanced or entirely cut off from the inputs of production, as well as the outputs.
In contrast, there are a wealth of social benefits to SHI’s work. The focus of our extension program is unequivocally on the well- being of the participant families, and making their lifestyles and production systems more fruitful and sustainable. Because SHI participants have been able to increase production on their land to the point of selling product to neighbors or local markets, many have enthusiastically reported that they are able to afford the cost of sending their kids to school (MDG #2). Also, since men often leave home for work, many women engage with SHI Field Trainers and become the primary caretakers and beneficiaries of projects like family gardens, wood-conserving stoves, and chicken coops. Some of the community loan funds SHI supports are comprised only of women, empowering them to invest their funds based on their needs and skills (MDG #3).
At SHI, we proudly put into practice the idea that success is measured in sustainability, and that these different issues are all aspects of the same challenge. We’re happy to be doing our part and providing a model for organizations to emulate in other parts of the world.
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Voices from the Field