The Landless Farmer

“Landless farmer”…how is that possible? A farmer without land cannot fulfill his calling. He cannot feed himself or his family. Where wealthy landlords control available property as large plantations, a farmer of humble means will struggle to exist. He must rent land from the landlord who profits from his labor. If the next year someone else offers the landlord a higher rent, the first farmer may lose his opportunity to rent that field.  It’s not possible for a subsistence farmer to save money to purchase a piece of land when he’s barely able to meet current needs. To borrow money for land is usually not an option due to exorbitant interest rates. A farmer without land to work, may feel compelled to leave his family behind to go search for work in a big city, miles away. Separation contributes to family breakdown and a perpetual cycle of poverty through generations.  Sadly, this is an all too familiar story for many rural Nicaraguans.

Farmer to Farmer Nicaragua and the Land Ownership for Landless Farmers program is successfully working to change that cycle by giving farmers an opportunity to purchase small parcels of land. Through Farmer to Farmer, North American businessmen, farmers, and churches have connected with farmers and organizations in Nicaragua to finance land loans and mentor farmers in sustainable farming practices. From small beginnings in 2003, the program has grown to include 7 different land banks with 110 farm families participating. At the end of 2019, 95% of the farmers in the 5 original land banks have repaid their loans. To have their land titles in hand gives them joy of ownership and hope for future security. 

Néstor Cristino García and his family are typical of the producers who have benefited from this program.  He says, “At the beginning, the plot had only grass (for cattle) but thanks to the technical support of ACJ, training, and my work commitment, I have managed to plant several crops such as: malanga, quequisque, yucca, corn, beans, rice, plantains, fruit trees, coffee and many other crops, which provide me with food for my family and from time to time an additional income from the sale of harvest surpluses, all thanks to the Land Bank project.”

Even with an interest-free loan from the Land Ownership for Landless Farmers program, farming isn’t easy for the Nicaraguans. Like farmers everywhere, they must deal with crop pests, livestock diseases, market availability, transporting produce and weather-related challenges.  They often do the hard work of planting, weeding, and harvesting with a single tool, the machete. The land they farm is located on hillsides where previous slash-and-burn techniques have rendered the soil infertile.  Sometimes it’s hard to keep believing that difficult circumstances can change.  One young farmer would get discouraged but his father would remind him, “Manuelito, you are not destined to be poor.” When he eventually received the title to his land, Manuel proudly declared, “I am NOT poor!” 

An amazing change of mindset and attitude is happening for these farmers. Farmers are eager to learn from training sessions and meetings with mentors. It’s been exciting to see them take initiative in starting new projects, trying different farming methods, and seeking more markets.  They have built homes on their parcels of land and tapped into water sources. Their families have enough food to eat and surplus to sell.  Their children are attending school and families are active in local churches. In some land banks, roads have been improved and small stores have opened.  Land ownership has made many positive changes possible in these rural communities.

To quote Geraldy Blandon, former partnership manager at Partners Worldwide:  “What started as a project to guarantee food security through the access of a piece of land became the foundation of a tremendous opportunity to develop a value chain proposition…which will bring a fair price for the farmer’s products by accessing the international market, reach levels of specialization and certification labels to maximize the quality and yield, build local organizational structures in the rural communities, increase income and much more.” 

“The Landless Farmer” by Mrs. Lynn Wielenga

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