Better Coffee Harvest in Nicaragua

It's coffee harvest season in Nicaragua, and agronomic training is helping farmers like Juana Sanchez rebound after an outbreak of leaf rust that has devastated coffee farms throughout the region.

Juana Sanchez owns a small plot of coffee trees in a village near the northern Nicaraguan mountain town of Ocotal. Last year, the coffee leaf rust disease nearly wiped out her half-acre farm.

“I was unable to feed my family because of the low yields, I was barely able to recover harvest costs. I considered selling my coffee farm just to make ends meet,” Juana said.

Coffee leaf rust, or roya as it is known in Spanish, has been devastating coffee farmers throughout Central America for the past few years. The rust is a fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, which infects the plants’ leaves, making them unable to absorb the sunlight they need to survive. Once the airborne fungus infects a plant, it is nearly impossible to contain. The epidemic has ravaged coffee crops across Central America, afflicting half of the one million acres of coffee planted in the region.

I want this farm to stay with my family. It’s a bond that connects me to my parents and grandparents who are no longer with me.
– Juana Sanchez, Coffee Farmer

Juana wrestled with the decision on whether to sell or keep her farm since she didn’t have the know-how or the funds needed to combat leaf rust. One morning, as she walked through her farm, inspecting the leaves on her plants, she thought of her parents and her grandparents who were also coffee farmers. Coffee is what her family knew, it’s what her community knew. Coffee was more than just a crop, it was her livelihood.

Soon after, Juana learned about TechnoServe’s Better Coffee Harvest program from one of her neighbors and decided to participate in the program. “This was the first time in my life that I have learned the right techniques to produce coffee,” Juana said. The program provided Juana, and other coffee producers, with agronomic training on best practices for the entire coffee production cycle, from fertilizing and pruning her trees to harvesting the coffee cherry.

By applying the agronomic practices she learned, Juana was able to increase her production significantly.

Designed in consultation with local stakeholders, the Better Coffee Harvest Project is a four-year $3.9 million initiative funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the J.M. Smucker Company and the PIMCO Foundation. The project aims to sustainably reduce poverty and hunger by improving coffee sales among more than 6,000 smallholder coffee farmers in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The project helps farmers increase their yields by implementing pilot programs to certify farms and nurseries as credible suppliers of coffee seeds and plants. The project also aims to facilitate greater access to appropriate inputs by supporting cooperatives to develop and rollout financial products appropriate for smallholder coffee farmers. Today, Juana and her neighbors are regaining their production and discovering newfound potential from coffee. In applying the agronomic practices, Juana went from almost losing her farm to increasing her yields by almost 10 percent.

“I want this farm to stay with my family. It’s a bond that connects me to my parents and grandparents who are no longer with me. A bond that, thanks to TechnoServe, I will sustain for many years to come.”