Global Programs

Agricultural Renaissance: COOPMIJO’s Impact on Sustainable Farming Practices

COOPMIJO members pose with RAA’s Field Technician, Davidson Espinal, and volunteer Mahiler Vasquez, at their organic fertilizer production site.

In the San Juan province, communities have been grappling with the devastating impact of frequent floods on their key crops over the past couple of years. The most recent flood in November 2023 is a stark example, causing extensive damage and resulting in crop losses exceeding 75% across entire plots. These recurring floods disrupt agricultural activities and leave many communities vulnerable, as their livelihoods heavily rely on these crops. Among these communities, La Zanja, a historic bean and sweet potato producer, has been particularly affected despite having consistent access to water resources. Despite their advantageous location, they continue to face the persistent challenge of these destructive floods.

In anticipation of the ongoing challenges and to effectively combat them, Cooperativa Agropecuaria y De Servicios Múltiples Río Mijo (COOPMIJO) proactively collaborated with the Resilient Agriculture Activity (RAA). This program, funded by USAID and implemented by NCBA CLUSA, provided a valuable platform for COOPMIJO to address the challenges head-on. Together, they combined their efforts and expertise to seek innovative alternatives during times of need. By leveraging the resources and support offered by RAA, COOPMIJO enhanced its resilience and adaptability, ensuring the sustainability of its agricultural practices.

This work began with COOPMIJO’s strategic decision to establish a crop nursery to stop depending solely on sweet potato and bean production. COOPMIJO had a 2-week workshop on Nursery Establishment and Management with volunteer Isabel Rodríguez under RAA’s volunteer assignment component; this workshop created an alliance with neighboring cooperatives like Cooperativa Agropecuaria y De Servicios Múltiples Espíritu Santo (COOPESPIRITUSANTO), in El Batey, to start practicing their nursery skills and approach.

A cost reduction was a must as an integral part of their crop nursery approach. From there, the choice was made to create organic fertilizer with local inputs for the nursery. Through knowledge sharing, RAA staff showed COOPMIJO members how to make different fertilizers using compost and green manure via climate-smart agriculture practices. Later, to test the quality of these fertilizers, they were used in small areas in the members’ plots. The results of pest-resistant and more productive plants lead to substantial cost savings of up to 35% from their last harvest. With this success, COOPMIJO decided to also venture into organic fertilizer sales.

CLUSA El Salvador facilitated a 5-day Trainer of Trainer (ToT) workshop on organic fertilizer production, in which COOPMIJO participated. During the workshop, participants learned to make low-cost inputs such as solid mountain microorganisms, bokashi, and even apichi, an insecticide made from kitchen spices like peppers and chili. COOPMIJO and other participant COOPs received starter materials to inspire their microenterprises in this workshop. Additionally, to support COOPMIJO’s new-found knowledge from this ToT, volunteer Mahiler Vasquez took a day to expand further the new techniques discussed in the ToT.

Leveraging this newfound knowledge, COOPMIJO’s non-farmer members took the initiative to produce their tanks of solid mountain microorganisms. Recognizing the potential impact, a strategic marketing campaign was launched, where samples of the organic fertilizer were distributed to farmers outside of the cooperative. The results were remarkable, as these farmers witnessed the evident benefits of the product. The success of the samples led to a group of local bean producers placing an advance order of 10 tanks of organic fertilizer. This positive response validates the effectiveness of COOPMIJO’s organic fertilizer and highlights the growing demand for sustainable agricultural practices in the local community.

To support their initiative of scaling up their new microenterprise, COOPMIJO successfully acquired 20 tanks, each with a capacity of 55 gallons, through RAA’s grant program. Ten of these tanks will be allocated to their new clients, while the remaining ten will be utilized within the organization. Mr. Alcántara, the president of COOPMIJO, witnessed remarkable results in his sweet potato production. By transitioning from chemical fertilizers to locally sourced organic inputs, he achieved an impressive 30% increase in his harvest compared to previous years. The positive impact extended beyond the yield, as Mr. Alcántara experienced a significant economic advantage. With a reduction of over 50% in production costs for his 30-hectare sweet potato plantation, he now saves between 30,000 and 35,000 pesos (equivalent to 509 to 593 US dollars).

The transformative impact of these efforts has instilled a renewed sense of purpose and resilience within the community of La Zanja. No longer merely struggling against the odds, La Zanja has emerged as a shining example of sustainable agriculture and community empowerment. Mario Alcántara eloquently captures this sentiment, stating,

“Diversification of our business has rejuvenated our community spirit, showing us that with determination and collaboration, we can show others La Zanja has a future.”

Through their unwavering commitment and collective action, La Zanja has become a beacon of hope, inspiring others to embrace sustainable practices and envision a brighter future for their communities.

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