My name is Tracy Kirby. I am a Senior Vice President/Sales for Merrill Corporation and live in Wayzata, Minn. I am taking part in my third insight trip for Opportunity International. I have travelled previously with Opportunity to India, Kenya and Rwanda. I would like to share some highlights from today on our Insight Trip to Colombia and Nicaragua.
Today, we visited agricultural clients in Granada, Nicaragua and also Opportunity’s yucca processing plant. Most of the farmers Opportunity works with produce yucca, rosa de Jamaica (hibiscus), tamarind or beans.
In Granada, Opportunity International is participating in a pilot program for community development, aiding clients in everything from planting all the way to gaining access to markets. What a fantastic concept to work with the assets and strengths of impoverished people instead of constantly reminding them of their deficits, as so many charities do! Opportunity works with clients to teach them better ways of planting using high quality seed that is drought- and disease-resistant. Opportunity has also worked wth farmers to give them access to new markets in which to sell. In the case of yucca, all the parts of the plant can be sold instead of just the “A” table grade. Now they have access to sell “B” and “C” grade, using every part of the yucca plant and, because they have higher yields, they are also able to sell yucca for seed to other farmers. They’re processing “B” grade in the form of starch and “C” grade in the form of animal feed, which they’re now selling to Cargill and Cargill is working with Opportunity to help the farmers how to produce the best possible crop.
(Pictured from left: Client Eduardo Chavarria; and Opportunity Nicaragua staff member and agronomist, Helen Sandoval)
We first met with Eduardo Chavarria, a yucca grower who showed us his yucca fields and harvest. Because of better seed and growing technology learned from Opportunity International staff, he is experiencing larger yields. Eduardo was able to increase his yield over the past year by 20-30%, and he expects that this year he will have an increase of 40%. He says his income is 50% higher than farmers who do not participate in Opportunity’s program.
Eduardo said working with Opportunity has bettered his family’s life and instead of the single cart he used to own, he now owns two trucks. Eduardo started his first loan four years ago when he rented one manzana (1.7 acres) of land to plant yucca and now he rents and produces on six manzanas!
(From left: Lori Olson, Regional Director for Opportunity in Minnesota; Geralyn Sheehan, Program Director, Opportunity Nicaragua; and client Reynaldo Mercado, with dried hibiscus flowers)
Our second visit was to Reynaldo Mercado, an Opportunity client who farms hibiscus. The hibiscus is used for jellies, marmalades, teas, wine and juices. Similar to Eduardo, Reynaldo has seen improved quality of his plants due to technological support from Opportunity agronomists Hawell Martin and Helen Sandoval. Reynaldo said, “We are like the children of Opportunity. Opportunity loves and cares for us!” Reynaldo’s vision for the next few years is to help his neighbors become part of Opportunity and to develop a college scholarship fund for the community’s children. None of the children in the community have ever gone to college.
Visiting the Opportunity International yucca processing plant, I was most impressed by the fact that Opportunity Nicaragua’s Executive Director, David Kone, had designed and built a grinding mill to limit dust to 2% as he was concerned about employees’ health and wanted to alleviate any health risks in the milling process.
Every time I travel to a new country with Opportunity, I am continually amazed at how the local staff adjusts to work within local cultures, manage the legal complexities of each country’s banking laws, and find ways to utilize clients’ strengths to help them improve their living standards and that of their families.
Go on an Insight Trip with Opportunity and your life and way of thinking about people in poverty will be changed forever!!!