Olivia McClure | 7/29/2015 11:30:58 PM
News Release Distributed 07/29/15
BATON ROUGE, La. – Representatives from a Nicaraguan organization that works to improve rural life through agriculture research and outreach visited the LSU AgCenter this week (July 27-28) to learn about its programs.
CANTERA Nicaragua is a nonprofit organization based in Managua — the capital city — that operates a 300-acre experimental farm and a host of outreach programs. The organization focuses on agriculture research and sustainable rural development, said José Francisco “Chepe” Barnett, who is the agricultural and beekeeping cooperative leader for CANTERA.
Barnett and Alvin Raetzsch, board president of CANTERA’s fundraising arm, met with faculty on LSU’s campus and visited the AgCenter’s Sweet Potato Research Station in Chase.
Raetzsch, a former chemical engineer and math teacher, lives in Baton Rouge and leads local groups on trips to CANTERA.
Barnett said CANTERA has been hoping to partner with an institution like the AgCenter to fill a void of agriculture research in tropical climates. “There’s not a whole lot of incentive, not a whole lot of people motivated” to do that kind of work in Nicaragua, he said.
LSU Vice President for Agriculture Bill Richardson said the AgCenter has a history in Nicaragua dating back to the 1960s, when faculty collaborated on cotton and cattle research. More recent projects have taken AgCenter experts to Nicaragua for food safety and processing training. College of Agriculture students recently visited the country on a study abroad trip.
With increased immigration from Central America to the U.S., Barnett said he sees the two regions holding a “combined destiny.”
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, with more than 40 percent of its population living below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook.
About 31 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, which makes up a large portion of the country’s export market. Key commodities include coffee, bananas, sugarcane and rice.
Food security is a big problem in Nicaragua, Barnett said. Researchers at CANTERA’s farm work to select high-yielding seeds and help people run better family gardens and farms.
However, many people move away from those farms to get jobs in cities — an issue also seen in Louisiana. In both places, the rural economy is affected.
“They may have 15 acres of land with some crops on it, a few cattle and so forth,” Richardson said. “Even though they may make their main source of income working somewhere else, that farm is still economically very important to them.”
In Honduras, where the AgCenter has worked for years with agriculture universities and other groups, “a farmer with five head of cattle is a big operation in some of these small villages,” Richardson said.
Barnett said CANTERA works closely with small farms because they offer a “way of balancing a family economy.” Part of CANTERA’s experimental farm is dedicated to beekeeping, which can generate additional income with minimal time commitment, he said.
“We’re trying to do what we can to make it a better living situation,” Barnett said. “It’s hard to live just off the land, but there is a lot of room to get a lot more off the land that they do have.”