CRS Work in Nicaragua
Agriculture and Natural Resource Management
Three-fourths of Nicaragua's poor live in rural areas and are heavily dependent on agriculture for survival. With little access to credit, equipment and infrastructure, small-scale farmers in the hemisphere's second-poorest country struggle to feed their families by growing corn and beans for local markets. Today, global economic forces are driving Nicaraguan farmers to find alternatives to selling their crops in local markets, where pay is often low and unpredictable. A stable livelihood now depends on getting crops onto supermarket shelves and into the hands of buyers in Nicaragua and beyond.
Catholic Relief Services Nicaragua implements a number of projects that help small-scale farmers boost their incomes, while reducing their vulnerability to the constant threat of natural and man-made disasters and long-term trends such as climate change. At their core, the projects promote sustainable farming practices, strengthen farmer organizations and link farmers to formal markets. CRS also works with farmers to foster environmentally friendly agricultural practices that focus on soil conservation, water source protection and the development of agroforestry systems.
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Small-scale farmers in Nicaragua rely on affordable credit, whether they use it to buy seeds and fertilizer, raise livestock, or to avoid selling the fruits of a harvest until the price peaks. Although many small-scale farmers have been able to access credit through microfinance institutions, the poorest are being excluded from accessing loans as the institutions increasingly seek to earn a profit by minimizing risk.
To address this "mission drift," CRS has used funding from the Ford Foundation to promote socially responsible practices among Latin American microfinance institutions. The first phase of the Integral Management of Social Performance in Microfinance Organizations project helped microfinance institutions refocus their missions to reflect the purpose for which they were originally founded. The second phase of the project is building on the lessons previously learned and is expanding the project, in Latin America and Africa, to reach more than 100 institutions in 13 countries.
CRS manages a variety of health projects in Nicaragua, the majority of which focus on education and disease prevention. For example, CRS, in partnership with the Catholic Church, has been working through education campaigns in schools to increase awareness and decrease the transmission of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
In the rural regions of Nicaragua, many women do not have access to adequate prenatal and postnatal health care. CRS Nicaragua is working directly with community health workers, local partner organizations and the Ministry of Health in these areas to improve the health of pregnant women and infants and decrease maternal and infant mortality and disease rates. The project is training community health workers to recognize danger signs in pregnancy and other related health issues. It is also working with the Ministry of Health to improve the quality of care that people receive at community health posts. Ultimately, the U.S. Agency for International Development–funded, four-year project will reach 43,000 beneficiaries in four municipalities that have some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Nicaragua.
Emergency Response and Risk Management
Geographical isolation, limited access to even the most basic social services and extreme weather patterns caused by global warming conspire to make the North Atlantic autonomous region of Nicaragua particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. In September 2007, Hurricane Felix devastated the region, one of the poorest in the country, killing at least 100 people. Earlier in 2005, hurricanes Stan and Beta lashed several indigenous communities living on the banks of the Coco River on the Honduran border. In both cases, CRS, together with longtime local partner the Vicariate of Bluefields, responded quickly, providing food and material for temporary shelter to the most remote areas of this region. The emergency response projects emphasized teaching better management of natural resources, improving degraded land and helping communities organize into emergency teams to better protect against future disasters.
In addition to emergency response, CRS places emphasis on improving communities' ability to manage and reduce risks and to prepare for and mitigate future emergencies. Activities that improve the communities' capacities include mapping out where they are most vulnerable, training in evacuation plans, increasing defenses to extreme weather, and adopting practices that mitigate the impact of potential shocks such as drought, flooding and epidemics. Such activities are cross-cutting features of most projects, be they in agriculture, natural resources management, health or human rights.
Human Rights and Civil Society
High unemployment and increasing poverty in Nicaragua have resulted in a steady stream of migration from rural to urban areas, to Costa Rica and to the United States. Today, a quarter of all Nicaraguans live outside of the country. About 450,000 Nicaraguans live in neighboring Costa Rica, where the economy is stronger and jobs are more abundant. These migrants are especially vulnerable to abuses by police and government agents along the way. They often fall prey to abusive labor practices.
CRS Nicaragua supports shelters in border cities in Nicaragua and Costa Rica that provide food, shelter and legal advice to Nicaraguans migrating to Costa Rica. Advocacy efforts in both countries call for legal and policy reform to better protect the rights of Nicaraguan migrants. To attack the root causes of labor violations and support a culture of labor law compliance, CRS Nicaragua educates workers about labor rights and provides them with legal guidance about the procedures and documentation needed to exercise those rights.
Nicaragua's youth have been particularly affected by increases in unemployment and poverty. Violence is on the rise in urban populations, as youth turn to alternative means to make a living. To respond to the country's rapid urbanization and the needs of disadvantaged youth, CRS Nicaragua provides technical and life skills training to at-risk youth in some of the country's most dangerous neighborhoods in return for their involvement in community service.