Agros Blog

View from the Field

CEO Don Manning recently returned from a visit to four villages in Nicaragua and brought back this update.

You may be surprised to know this, but one of the hardest aspects of development work is not developing a solution to a particular problem, like increasing crop yields. It is getting the farmer to adopt the solution. If it is a proven solution, if it is guaranteed to increase his income, why in the world would a farmer not adopt the practice? To answer that question, let me ask you one. When was the last time you backed out of, say, a New Year’s resolution? Within six months, only 44% of those who make New Year’s resolutions are still in the game. So, I’ll ask you again. Why would any of us not adopt better eating habits or stick with an exercise regimen when we know these things increase both the length and quality of our lives?

This is why Agros hires people like Urania Gutierrez, our human development specialist in Nicaragua. Urania’s job is part marketing expert, part psychologist, part life coach and part customer service representative. She has the unenviable job of convincing families to accept levels of risk beyond anything they could have imagined, and work harder than ever before, in the hope that doing so will improve their health and increase their incomes. Despite the odds, Urania is extremely successful in her work. Once you meet her, you will understand why. Her winning smile, bright eyes and kind heart make it hard not to instantly like her. Yet it is her expertise at building relationships, and her willingness to doggedly walk beside the families, that produces results.

Without Urania and our other human development officers, the proven Agros Development Model would just be a slick and glossy book sitting on a shelf. If she ever becomes a personal trainer, I would be the first to sign up. With her help, I might actually keep that New Year’s resolution. Fortunately for Agros, Urania is committed to our villagers.

View from the Field

CEO Don Manning recently returned from a visit to four villages in Nicaragua and brought back this update.

Boris knew there was a problem long before the rest of us. Sweating and sticky from the short, steep hike through the shaded coffee fields, I emerged into a cleared, cultivated plot of peppers with several other visitors from the United States. The deep green plants stood about two to three feet high in neat mounded rows. To my untrained eyes, the field looked magnificent, each row beautifully symmetrical and carefully covered with plastic to keep out the weeds. Drip irrigation lined the field and tightly strung twine, like clotheslines, stretched the length of each row supporting the plants. I could not spot a single weed in his entire field. To think that these three young men standing proudly among their crop had done all this back-breaking work by hand just amazed me. I shared their pride. An enterprise loan from Agros had provided the needed capital for these hard-working young men to start their crop.

As the young men told us about their work, Boris Corpeño, Agros’ Regional Director of Economic Development, listened intently. Periodically, he bent down and examined the dirt, rolling it between his fingers; or gently inspected the plants, lifting the leaves and examining the growing peppers. When the young men finished talking, Boris waited until others had asked their questions. Then he asked a simple question: “Do you have everything you need to be successful?” The three men quickly responded yes. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Do you need more advice or technical support?”

Boris has the look and continence of a wise and kindly grandfather. His gaze was intense, but his eyes sparkled with a hint of amusement. Without in any way demeaning the three men or their impressive efforts, Boris began to ask them questions. Did they know that by spacing the plants further apart they could increase their yield? Did they know that putting up barriers between fields would reduce the spread of disease? Did they know why some of their plants were diseased? The young men knew the answers to some of his questions and were skeptical about others. With confidence, they let Boris know that they had the disease problem under control. They would not replant until all the existing plants were destroyed and removed. Boris probed further. Did they understand that the disease was also in the soil and any new pepper crop planted in that field would be infected? As Boris pushed them, their resistance and skepticism ebbed until one of the men said a bit sheepishly, “I suppose we could use some more technical assistance.” Boris had won them over. More importantly, he had expanded their horizons. Getting four or five healthy peppers per plant was no longer acceptable. Now the young men wanted ten or twelve healthy peppers per plant. As they began to mentally convert the greater yield into their potential earnings, the skepticism disappeared and smiles returned to their faces.

Over the past year, Agros has invested in technical expertise and competence. Not only have we hired full-time expert agronomists like Boris Corpeño, we are reexamining every aspect of the Agros model with the help of experts in multiple disciplines like health, nutrition, land selection, and microfinance. Within the next six months, these experts, working in collaboration with our staff, will identify specific techniques, processes, and strategies for expanding our work and improving our results. Like the three young men proudly standing in their field, we want to push beyond our current success, and like the three young men now armed with the technical expertise from Boris, we will expand our reach and improve our methods. We will, both metaphorically and literally, increase our harvest.

Later that day I caught up with Boris sitting at a table punching away on his computer. “Que paso?” I asked. He was drafting a specific plan of action for the three young men with whom we had visited. Boris smiled and looked at me, and said, “I love my job.”

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