Good Food for Cities

Nicaraguan cooperative finds the missing means in the midst of the pandemic

March 16, 2021
Selene Casanova
International communications
Guillermo Gutierrez

"Perspectives on the rainy season, Monday 19 May, connecting through Zoom", "Measures to prevent Covid-19 during agricultural work", and "Wishing you a happy start to the week..." are some messages that you see in the WhatsApp group of Nicaraguan vegetable farmers, agricultural service companies and other NGOs, including Rikolto.

In the country, farmers are not oblivious to the news and to prevention measures in the face of Covid-19. However, sometimes there is a fear on top of the fear of Covid-19; for example, supplying lettuce to the wholesale market or to supermarkets in the capital city, Managua, finding no buyers and losing the investment.

Figures on the impact of Covid in Nicaragua, published by a national research body in May 2020, pointed to an expected increase in the poverty rate to between 32.2% and 36.9%, and an increase in unemployment to between 7.3% and 9.2%.

Coosempoda participation in Expo Apen in 2017, Nicaragua.

In the midst of all the bad news accompanying the pandemic, Coosempoda, a vegetable cooperative, has recently reached a financing agreement with Kampani, a social investment fund from Belgium.

Coosempoda has 114 members, all vegetable farmers, and its main activity is the sale of cabbage. Currently, the cooperative supplies 80% of the cabbages supplied to the country's supermarkets.

Coosempoda has spent several years investing in its own organisational and business improvement, and in the business capacities of its members and its partners, and at the same time has been participating in advocacy to implement public policies that favour the vegetable sector in the country, with the support of Rikolto. Even so, they were not granted the much-needed loans to continue growing as a medium-sized company.

"We do not knock on the doors of banks, there are no loans for the vegetable sector, they consider it a high risk.’’

Jaime Rivera

Cooperative Manager Coosempoda

By working with Rikolto, the cooperative managed to become an organisation ready to receive and manage investments. Coosempoda only needed the means to grow - long-term investment financing under "fair" conditions.

Wouter Vandersypen, director of Kampani visiting the facilities of the cooperative.

Since 2012, Rikolto has provided technical assistance to Coosempoda, applying the Scope Insight tool , "which allowed us to develop several improvement action plans together with the cooperatives", says Guillermo Gutierrez from Rikolto.

"We have worked with them to improve their managerial capacity, increase their production through the adoption of more sustainable technologies, their access to new markets and their participation in knowledge exchange experiences with farmers, agricultural input companies and universities in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala."

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The dream of the farmers of Coosempoda

Visit of the management table and president and vice president of UCHON at the Rikolto offices in Nicaragua.

In 2019, together with 3 other cooperatives and with the support of Rikolto, the Union of Vegetable Cooperatives of the North (Unión de Cooperativas de Hortalizas del Norte, UCHON) was created to expand the offer and provide healthy and quality vegetables to national markets.

To achieve this, the union of cooperatives needs to improve the processing processes in their plant, as well as the washing and hygiene requirements.

Kampani’s loan means the cooperative will be able to invest in this, increasing its productivity and the range of products to offer to supermarkets. In addition, they will be able to buy a refrigerated truck to expedite the transport of their products directly to customers.

Kampani agrees that the cooperative has achieved a solid investment programme, the right managerial ability to carry it out, a stable member base, and a proven track record of working alongside Rikolto.

"We prepared the business plan for Kampani, incorporating our lines of work, then we received their comments and suggestions that we used to finetune the final plan," says Jaime.

The funds should also lead to Coosempoda increasing its member base by 50%. And through the newly formed UCHON, with assistance from Rikolto, Coosempoda can also continue its efforts to certify members’ farms in good agricultural practices (GAP) and promote environmental health, as well as promoting the participation of women and youth.

The cooperatives have shown an evolution in their ability to organise a complex supply chain, to meet the demands of a new market, and to maintain supply despite the difficulties of the context.

Wouter Vandersypen

Director General of Kampani

In times of pandemic

Coosempoda and the other cooperatives forming UCHON continue to evaluate their alternatives to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, such as, for example, the diversification of their crops to corn and beans, leaving a small part for their own consumption since the demand for vegetables has decreased.

Another alternative is to use online platforms to take the opportunity to accelerate online purchasing processes, not only for mass purchases from supermarkets, but also to invest in online platforms for individual consumers. These are some of the initiatives that they are already putting into practice. The certification of their production provides them with added value that was perhaps in the shadows before the pandemic.

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