Increasing the productivity of small-scale production systems to make animal-source foods more readily available to poor consumers is a complex issue which requires a multi-faceted approach. Supporting technical solutions to on-farm problems with knowledge for development initiatives is crucial to ensure rural families can better manage their resources to rise out of poverty.
With this concept in mind, scientists are working alongside territorial alliances to generate knowledge and initiatives to improve resource management through research. An example of this initiative, called the Learning Alliance, is being implemented by the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) in Northern Nicaragua, where the Livestock and Fish program also promotes capacity development activities to strengthen the involvement of small farmers in the beef and dairy value chains.
The Learning Alliance brings together local actors who are active in the region to support integrated research for development work that empowers farm families working with coffee, cocoa, and staple crops to increase systems productivity and improve natural resource management as a means to advance human development and increase quality of life.
Margarita Cerrato, Field Technician and Project Coordinator at the Alliance member ADDAC in Rancho Grande, Matagalpa, explains that farm families show great interest in acquiring and exchanging knowledge with institutions and other farmers. ‘We have seen so much positive change. There are farmers that used to live in plastic shacks, but we have experimented together, and they have seen positive results in their farms and in their family lives. Now they work and their livelihoods have evolved and improved.’
The Learning Alliance’s guiding principle is that there are many actors working towards development in the region, and many of these actors focus their work on research. It is therefore important to create platforms where these actors can work together, developing joint initiatives which result in more efficient interventions based on shared regional goals.
‘In the future, my children will need to build their homes, and wood is expensive’, explains Maria del Carmen Herrera, from Rancho Grande, Matagalpa. ‘My children’s homes will be built from this land, so we have to care for these resources. We have to teach children that when we harm our resources, we are harming our community. Some people think, “This is my farm, I can do whatever I want,” but this is wrong. You’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting the community as well. That attitude is no good in the long run. We have to teach our children to conserve resources for tomorrow, but it is difficult. It is difficult to learn something good.’
Communities have expressed their joy in sharing in participatory learning and trust-building activities, which encourage them to take on leadership roles and manage their community’s resources, particularly in the face of climate change and an evolving economic landscape. Bringing together local organizations, farmers, rural women and youth has been a revealing learning process, highlighting the value communities place on knowledge and information as a key building block for development, translating into improved livelihoods.
Isabel Meza, Project Coordinator for the local organization Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM) in Estelí, highlights the importance of working in a continuous process of empowerment to build trust with farm families. ‘Walking side by side with farm families contributes to that element of trust. It is a shared commitment. Farm families must make sacrifices to improve their lives. Rural women must negotiate established gender roles in their families and communities, so we work by their side to understand their needs. Empowerment requires an integrated approach, and we have seen the high level of commitment these women have taken on to improve their lives.’
Gloria Martinez is one of many rural women in Estelí who have experienced firsthand the positive changes brought on through their day-to-day collaboration with the organizations who are part of the Learning Alliance. ‘I feel happy, because if I wasn’t organized I would not be where I am now. Thanks to these initiatives, I acquired an education and we have learned together.’
‘My family has changed. I used to stay home and never participate, but now things are different. Domestic chores are shared, and I visit the field, I go to workshops in my community, and this has transformed my life. I have a voice and I have learned many things that I didn’t know before. This helps me because I can share it with my family and my community, and I can make my own choices. I also have a right to decide.’