Since May I have been participating in a series of workshops run collaboratively by UNAN Leon department of Agroecology and several other agricultural government programs and NGOs.  Every month about thirty agronomers working for NGOs, universities, and government programs from Masaya, Managua, all over the Occidente, and parts of the northern Segovia region get together for workshops.  The series is intended to grow and strengthen a network of Plant Clinics throughout Western Nicaragua.  A Plant Clinic is a place, usually a stand at the local market, where farmers can come and get free advice on how to properly treat pests and diseases in their crops.  While not strictly organic or agroecological, the workshops promote a method called Integrated Crop Management (MCI).  MCI somewhat resembles the system recently promoted in the states, Integregrated Pest Management (IPM), in that it strives to reduce the chemicals to absolutely neccessary situations and promotes using alternatives, but doesn´t eliminate them altogether.  MCI goes a step farther than just disease and pest management, and adresses all farm managment practices, such as planting living fences to attract beneficials and using crop rotation.

Although the main focus of the series is on fitopathology, or plant diseases, last week the workshop theme was animal husbandry.  I was particularly looking forward to this workshop given that the vast majority of SosteNica clients I know are primarily cattle farmers, and it´s an area of agriculture that I have virtually no previous experience in.

We started talking about general animal sanitation practices, the importance of keeping feeding areas clean and not contaminating drinking water (potentially spreading eloptirosis, a bacteria that lives in water after being deposited there by feces).  A chicken farm of decent size should work in batches, and only have birds of one age at a time to prevent epedemic diseases.  The importance of changing or sterilizing needles and thermometers.  Basic stuff.  The presenters then chose three diseases to focus on: Brucelosis,  a cattle disease the affects the respiratory system and causes aborted pregnancies; Newcastle disease, a avarian virus that got its name when it travelled to Newcastle, England from Indonesia in a ship in 1926; and Cattle Tuberculosis.

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UNAN Leon has some excellent resources for hosting conferences. Note the large air-conditioner, which may be a reason that some people travelled so far to sit in a classroom for three days!

One of the most interesting parts of the presentation was when the Veterinary Profesor strayed from medical terminology and talked about how international regulation of Brucelosis affected the cattle market.  According to the presenter, since 1992 when Nicaragua began exporting cattle en pie, or alive, the numbers of cattle shipped annually have grown to 70,000.  The primary buyer is Mexico.  Since the adoption of NAFTA, Mexico changed its import regulations to those of the U.S., which require 99.9% of all cattle shipped to be tested and certified according to a standard of procedures that differed from what Mexico had accepted before.  Although Nicaragua had controlled the disease and had an excellent track record with Mexico, they were forced to rapidly implement a new certification program in order to secure the market in Mexico.  The program cost the government millions of dollars to implement, and was at first only available to larger ranchers, cutting small farmers out of the export market.  Currently, there are a variety of commercialization avenues designed to access small farmers, but they are often still left out due to the inaccessibility, or cost, of these certifications.

The presenter then offered his controvertial opinion that cattle was only profitable on a medium scale, and that a small farmers was better off to sell his two cows and buy seeds to plant agricultural crops than continue maintaining such a small number of cattle.  The room erupted with contrary opinions – hello FOOD SOVEREIGNTY???!!!  A cow is one of a poor family´s most secure sources of protein!

My next project: to publicize the dates, times, and locations of all the Plant Clinics in all the CEPRODEL offices for the rural clients to know about.

The professor showed us how to hook a cow up to an IV to administer antibiotics or saline solution for dehydration....

The professor showed us how to hook a cow up to an IV to administer antibiotics or saline solution for dehydration....

...and then we did it ourselves.

...and then we did it ourselves.

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