Thursday, 08 February 2018 00:00

Building community resilience in Nicaragua: Canadian development assistance at work

The poorest communities are often faced with the worst impacts of climate change, and when climate shocks happen, everything is at stake.

Mona Fortier-womens cooperative in Esteli Nicaragua-3

Liberal MP Mona Fortier was invited by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to visit Nicaragua in January to witness some of the community agriculture projects supported by the Canadian government. (Photo courtesy of Canadian Foodgrains Bank)

By Liberal MP Mona Fortier

FIRST PUBLISHED by The Hill Times: Wednesday, February 7, 2018 12:00 AM. See original article here.

This past January, I was very privileged to be invited by the Canada Foodgrains Bank to accompany other Canadian Members of Parliament to visit Nicaragua to witness some of the community agriculture projects supported by the Canadian government. This work is supported by non-governmental organizations, including the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, USC Canada, and the World Food Programme, and funded in large part by Global Affairs Canada.

What we witnessed was the story of farmer communities carving out their own future, with benefits far beyond agriculture.

Agriculture is one of the main sources of livelihoods in developing countries, particularly for women. The women, men and young of the department of Esteli (in the western, dry corridor of Nicaragua), carry out agricultural programs that increase food security by growing diverse, healthy and nutritious crops. The USC Canada program operates in 47 communities in 6 municipalities in Esteli and Madriz, reaching almost 5,000 direct beneficiaries.

The poorest communities are often faced with the worst impacts of climate change, and when climate shocks happen, everything is at stake. So, the women, men and youth farmers of Esteli are working to diversify their options, and minimize their risks—by increasing the diversity of what they grow, and improving crop and seed quality through participatory breeding. Because they grow more varieties, this biodiversity acts as an insurance policy against hunger.

Crop diversity not only means more food, but better nutrition for every member of the family. It means resilience to climate shocks and the continuing challenges posted by climate change. It means the empowerment of women in the community. It means farmers have high quality crops and vegetables to sell, and improved regional economic development.

FECODESA, the Nicaraguan partner organization that works with USC Canada, provides the technical support and training to help the community make it happen. The programs are helping farmers, 48 per cent of whom are women and 33 per cent youth, to strengthen cooperative businesses to provide stable incomes and livelihoods for families, and helping them market their products locally.

The ecological agriculture that the community is practising is highly attractive to young people, helping to reduce youth unemployment and migration, both significant challenges in the Americas. During my trip I saw firsthand that when youth are offered the opportunity to gain meaningful livelihoods, many choose to stay, and become leaders and innovators in the community.

During our stay, we shared meals, stories, and joyful experiences with the people of Esteli. My colleagues and I left Nicaragua with a sense of hope and solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, and with a sense of pride. This is what good international development looks like, and it's supported by Canadians. I am encouraged to see Canada continue to focus its international development efforts on sustainable programs that encourage economic development through cooperative initiatives.

Our government through International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau just began implementing Canada's first Feminist International Assistance Policy that applies to all our international aid programming. The policy is about upholding human dignity, empowering women and youth, enhancing ecosystems, and promoting growth for everyone. Through the multi-faceted and effective agricultural programs we saw in Nicaragua—carried out by the community, and putting women in the lead—we're closer to these goals every day.

Mona Fortier is the Liberal MP for Ottawa-Vanier. She travelled to Central America last month.

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We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.

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