The “Rio Foundation” is an environmental protection organisation that has been working for 23 years in the Rio San Juan Biosphere in south east Nicaragua. It has always been committed to working with the most underprivileged communities, and believes that a world of justice, solidarity and harmony between mankind and nature is possible.
In terms of natural resources, this reserve is one of the richest, but its people are among the poorest in the country, with high levels of illiteracy, teenage pregnancy and child malnutrition. Spiritual and financial poverty is the main heritage passed on from parents to their children.
A number of monoculture projects have been set up in this area, involving the African palm tree for example. These plantations are the property of rich foreign or local landowners, who bought the land at low prices from local farmers, taking advantage of their poverty, and the lack of stability of a population that is accustomed to migrations.
This situation has created several problems. Families who have sold their property have to resettle in areas that are increasingly deprived of public investment, without roads, schools or health centres. Those who remain find they are forced to change their way of life. They have to stop cultivating food crops, and become agricultural workers exploited by the same company that robbed them of their land, dependent upon the salary this company pays them.
With the help of international cooperation agencies, various groups have started to break down this vicious circle of poverty and environmental destruction. For instance, members of the Cooperative of Cocoa Producers United Families of the Chateau (COOPROCAFUC R.L.), who cultivate and sell organic cocoa, have been able to create a stable market that generates income for them all year round.
One of the keys to success lies in the fact that it is the farmers themselves who run these projects, with the help of supporting agencies, and who have succeeded in developing know-how that enables them to deal with any difficulties.
In Central America, many farming communities and indigenous peoples are displaced due to monoculture farming. This limits their capacity to escape the poverty trap and preserve their natural heritage. We cannot continue to believe that money prevails over everything else, and that human beings are just production factors for big business. If we can change this way of thinking, that will be the first step towards a world of justice and equality.
SAÚL O. Y TERESA M., NICARAGUA