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La Maquina Conference

Weather was harsh on the 29th of September, with wind and rains pounding the already inundated lands. The conference had been scheduled for weeks, but the rain was presenting a real threat –with farmers saying that they wouldn’t be able to make it if it was raining. Tropical storm Matthew loomed on the coast, and the outcome was looking grim. We decided to stay the path with the original date and time, but were forced to move the location to a nearby school, as the road to the local promotores house was too muddy and perilous. Association leaders assured us that they would still be coming, and as the rain cleared for a brief period around 1pm, we convened underneath a palapa style patio.

This conference represented the first manifestation of Semilla Nueva’s model in action; that is, bringing together local farmers to share information and emerging sustainable technologies. Semilla Nueva was represented by field director Brook Golling, associate Darren Yondorf, volunteer Callie New, and local promotor and association leader Isaias Alvarado. Also in attendance were local association leaders Marco Tulio (APMAPOR, 127 families); Gustavo Rivas (ASODINA, 100 families); Ciriaco Olmos (Cooperativa Willy-wood, 80 families): Noé Estrada, a local farmer with over five years of experience in zero-till corn farming; and José Estuardo de Leon, a local representative of the Programa Mundial de Alimientos (World Food Program). The total attendance of the conference was 49 people, mostly made up of interested local farmers and those who had travelled with their association leaders to the event.

The conference lasted from 1pm until around 4pm. Brook Golling opened the event, speaking about the philosophy and model of Semilla Nueva, our objectives of economic, environmental and social gain through the promotor system and information sharing, and the creation of a mutually supportive network of educated farmers.
Darren Yondorf spoke on the theories of recent green manure tests with Mucuna pruriens (aka velvetbean) and upcoming investigations with Canavalia ensoformis (aka jackbean, a dry season green manure often used in Cuba and Honduras), speaking of the tests as investigations in the pursuit of an agroecological system. Isaias Alvarado explained the results of recent tests, and his personal observations as to the viability of Mucuna in the coastal climate as a weed suppressant and soil enriching plant. Noé Estrada then spoke on his personal experiences with zero-till and minimum-till corn farming, speaking of incredible successes in terms of yield and soil health, and dissuading myths about rampaging pests (mostly the infamous gallina siega).

The audience remained involved, showing interest and enthusiasm for the new ideas and technology, and there was a healthy discourse about the practicality of using conservation agriculture as a small-scale rural farmer. José Estuardo de Leon wrapped up the conference with a talk on the correct use of the small corn silos for in-home preservation. The floor was then opened to association leaders to exchange contacts and speak on the ideals of organization, cooperation, and mutual benefit. The conference ended with some traditional Nicaraguan refacciones (snacks) and rosé de jamaica juice made by the family of Isaias with the help of Nicaraguan friend Yaoska Suarez.

As 4 o’clock rolled around, the sky darkened and the wind picked up. Everyone knew it was time to leave, and hurriedly piled into trucks, onto motorbikes, and under covered trailers to make their way back home. As soon as everyone had dissipated, the sky breathed a heavy sigh and let loose its torrent once again.

One down, many to go!!

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