Thursday it rained in Nagarote for the first time in 48 days.

This is the winter, or rainy season, when small farmers plant and harvest all their corn, sorghum, beans, and pasture for the whole year.  In October the rains will cease, and not start again until May.

Normally, there is a month-long dry spell that starts around the middle of June called the Canicula, or mini-summer.  This year it just kept going, and going.  Thursday morning I was visiting clients with Luis Rivas from CEPRODEL, and we kept hearing the same stories.  “I haven’t been able to plant corn, or sorghum, because it’s too dry.”  Here people often say caer agua, or water that falls, instead of lluvia, the word for rain.  “Tengo que esperar hasta que cae agua!” Everyone is working hard to keep the trees from the reforestation project alive.  We timed the project so that the trees would be distributed at the beginning of the rainy season and would be well established by the time summer hit, but we didn’t anticipate the arrival of el niño this year.

A dry struggling sesame field

A dry struggling sesame field

Friday I visited some agricultural clients with Edgard, from the León office.  The soy, sesame, and yucca were established, seeded in the early months of winter when it was raining.  The crops were all showing signs of stress, however.  On some plants up to a third of the flowers in the soy, which is just beginning to set fruit, where dried and brown.  The sesame, which should be over a foot by now, was stunted at a couple inches, but still alive. Edgard and I discussed the factors involved in deciding whether to release the next round of credit for the farms.

Agricultural crop credit works differently that urban loans or even loans to buy cattle.  Because of the long season for crops like yucca (seven months from seeding to harvesting, not including soil preparation) and the incontrolable weather risks involved, credit is not dispersed all at once.  A farmer works out a plan with the CEPRODEL officer, how much they need for soil preparation, to purchase seeds, to hire labor for planting and weeding, and to harvest.  The amounts for each activity are released only when they happen, not months ahead of time. This way, if the crop dies during a drought, or if the harvest is significantly lower than expected, the farmer is only in debt part of what he intended to take out. The client also only pays interest on the portion he has been given, so the delayed payment also helps keep the loan affordable.  The farmer can also choose not to withdraw the whole credit if it isn’t needed.

All loans are given for specific activities, and amounts vary depending on the crop the farmer wants to plant.  The timeline, cost of labor, and cost of supplies are standardized for many crops, and are tailored to the acreage of each client.  But the ‘flexibility’ of tailoring each credit personally results in an inflexible credit at the end of the day.  One of the farmers we visited was frustrated, because he had solicited credit for yucca and sesame, and he hasn’t been able to seed the sesame because of el niño. He is running out of time, because even if it starts to rain regularly this week, there probably aren’t enough weeks of rain left to ensure a good sesame harvest.  He could plant beans, which require less time.  That is probably what he will do, but he won’t be able to use credit to buy the seeds without returning to the office and re-working his plan with Edgard to tailor it to beans instead of sesame. I can understand how that is frustrating, on the other hand it seems like the rules are there for the farmers advantage in the long run.

When it did rain in Nagarote in the afternoon the sun burned through the clouds to the west adding theatrical lighting to the long awaited storm.

When it did rain in Nagarote in the afternoon the sun burned through the clouds to the west adding theatrical lighting to the long awaited storm.

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