“The desert” brings images to my mind of sand dunes and a quest for water. However, not every desert looks like the Sahara. In reality, the desert is a harsh ecosystem where everything fights to survive. In the rain shadow of Nicaraguan volcanoes lives a community of people who were in need of new ways to thrive in this harshness. This community was smart and motivated. All they needed was some resourcing to help them thrive.
Working with the community, Convoy of Hope’s Agriculture team put our heads together to find something that would work well with the assets this community already had. Though the community was in desert-like conditions, agriculture appeared to be the best answer. Growing food in this environment wasn’t going to be easy, especially because drought conditions were anticipated for several years.
The team decided to focus on a cash crop that could grow in the dry environment — dragon fruit. Dragon fruit is a perennial cactus that produces a large fleshly body which can be consumed and exported around the world. A dragon fruit plant can produce viable fruit for over 10 years once it has been established. The stage was now set to start farming in the desert.
As the project moved forward, we worked with a group of first-generation farmers with little or no knowledge on the production of dragon fruit. Convoy’s local Agriculture staff educated them on all aspects of production. This included pest management, choosing varieties, fertilization, irrigation, and harvest.
When the planting began, the sandy volcanic soils provided a great foundation for the plant to thrive. The cooperative clearly understood that in two years they would provide the startup plants for another cooperative who needed resources just like them.
Nine months after planting, I walked into the dragon fruit plantation and was blown away by the level of precision agriculture and human talent. The growers had set up experimental blocks away from the main field to test new varieties, pest management plans, and try new techniques. The cooperative had purchased a drip irrigation system so they could water the plants based on true evapotranspiration rates. Each plant was being managed with nutrients individually, not just as a whole field, allowing for environmental stewardship.
Convoy’s Agriculture staff were working with the growers almost every day, transferring knowledge so they had the skills to problem solve on their own when problems came up. As we continued to walk the field, I hear how they have fought off disease, pests, and lived through acid storms*.
As the plants grew and started to produce fruit much earlier than anyone expected, the government of Nicaragua started to take notice. As Nicaraguan government agriculture staff toured the fields, they found themselves learning from the individuals in the cooperative on best practices and what they had learned from the process. The government staff now goes around teaching what they learned from Convoy’s staff and partners.
There are now several dragon fruit cooperatives working with Convoy and the government, learning and working together like never before. A hope is seen in a group of people who are living in the rain shadow of a volcano.
*Fun Fact: The flower is almost 10 inches long. When the volcano is active, the steam clouds hold acid in their vapor. As the steam clouds move away from the volcano, they create their own weather. The rain that falls is acidic, burns the blossom, and destroys their ability to complete fertilization.