Team Nicaragua is heading south in a few days and we’re very excited to land in-country and start working with our CRS partners face-to-face! We were told one thing at the start of Business on the Frontlines – change is the only constant – and that sure has been true! Our project in Nicaragua has evolved over the past few months. Initially it could be described as assessing the feasibility of a microfinance project, The Zaccheus Fund, and whether or not it would work on the ground with Nicaraguan cooperatives.
Once we started working directly with CRS, the scope of the project changed slightly from solely a feasibility analysis of the fund, to a more holistic view of efficiency and productivity of certain cooperatives in Nicaragua. CRS had a few goals for us:
- Evaluate the business planning, organizational structures, operational practices, and overall business models and provide concrete recommendations for achievement of business growth and sustainability.
- Evaluate the specific credit needs of the producer cooperatives per the revised business model suggested by our team.
- Evaluate the specific credit needs of the smallholder member-producers of the cooperatives and consider the farm-level business models and capacity for re-payment. From that information, create an out-of-the-box credit product model that would allow such producers to invest in their farms, improve productivity, quality, and profit while meeting their loan obligations.
From CRS’s goals, we came up with the following hypothesis: “Farmers can be more operationally effective by joining a well-functioning cooperative, which will increase crop yields, decrease costs, and provide access to affordable credit terms, in turn moving the farmers further down the value chain.”
With that hypothesis, Team Nicaragua has spent the last month researching cooperative best practices, reading up on case studies about cooperatives and the effect on individual farmers in different communities, and fully understanding the value chains for both individual farmers, as well as the different tiers of cooperatives.Now that we’ve armed ourselves with an initial understanding of farming and cooperatives, we’re ready to get in-country in Nicaragua and start meeting with individual farmers and cooperative managers to understand where they see issues within the current business models.
We’ll be splitting up into two smaller teams on the ground so we can visit two different cooperatives: COOPESIUNA and CECOOPSEMEIN. Both cooperatives are located in northern Nicaragua near the Honduras border. After we meet directly with the cooperative farmers and managers, we will have a better understanding of the problems they face and we can get to work on meeting the goals that CRS had set out for us. Again, as change is sometimes the only constant, we might find that the problems the farmers and managers face on the ground differ from what we initially thought. However, change is okay with us and we’re ready for any changes in project scope or hypothesis we might run into. And most importantly, we’re all very excited to get to Nicaragua and continue to work on the microfinance feasibility and cooperative analysis with our CRS partners in person!!