Vida Harvest

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Vida Harvest: Farming for Life

Ciudad Sandino, NicaráguaLeon, Nicarágua
Year Founded:
1994
Organization type: 
hybrid
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Vida Harvest reverses loss of family farming by returning more profit to farmers. We build value chains connecting farmers to markets while increasing income, promoting sustainable agriculture & securing food production. We provide organic farmers access to social, intellectual & financial capital.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if farmers and buyers could talk face-to-face and work together in relationships of trust?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Small-scale farmers are forced to deal with intermediaries whose prices often fail to cover production costs. As a result, farmers live hand-to-mouth, unable to meet basic needs. Short-term financial instability prevents long-term investments in education & housing. Farmers can produce profitable crops, but they are trapped in poverty because they lack access to loans at competitive interest rates & technical & social capital.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Vida Harvest partners - non-profit JHC-CDCA & farmer co-op COPROEXNIC - have been actively improving the lives of small scale farmers for 20+ years. We get commitments from buyers & sign contracts with farmers often before they put seed in the ground, giving farm families unprecedented stability. We work w/ farmers during the growing season, giving technical & organic traceability support, and with market intermediaries and the social enterprise sector to shift production to organic value-added crops that are marketed in North America and Europe. As a consequence, Vida Harvest increases income, promotes sustainable agricultural practices, and secures food production for rural communities in Nicaragua.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Vida Harvest farmers grow organic sesame, peanuts & cotton. We purchase & process farm stock crops which we export to buyers in North America & Europe. Through our shared risk investment fund, the Vida Fund, we provide limited financing to farmer co-ops at low interest rates, increasing stability & income for Nicaragua’s poor. For example, organic cotton is good business for farmers, bringing them on average a 43% increase in net annual income. Additionally, organic cotton production creates more jobs than other crops: for every 1.6 acres planted, 1 full time job & 2 seasonal jobs are created. We integrate farmers into value-added chains, our cotton gin provides 25 jobs seasonally & ensures farmers access to quality & timely processing.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Farmers have improved income due to better prices for value added crops, i.e. adding organic cotton to typical farmer’s crop rotation increases net income by 43%. Farmers have increased stability, leading to investment in their farms by acquiring machinery, animals & acreage. Farmers invest in future w/ improved housing & send children to school. Organic production creates more jobs than conventional, Vida Harvest has created 900 farm jobs growing to 8,500 by 2018 & 75 processing jobs, growing to 83 by 2018. All jobs comply w/ Fair Trade Standards. Organic production eliminates use of chemicals that poison air, earth & water. Food that farmers grow is also organic, improving health & nutrition of farm families. Vida Harvest promotes cultivating small plots, crop rotation, & monitoring, & contributes to land recovery from conventional farming devastation by converting to organic.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The organic cotton project has been successful since 2007, but in order for large numbers of people to be moved out of poverty, this project must be scaled up & include more of the value chain. Because the Vida Harvest believes that drastic, large-scale change is needed to combat poverty worldwide, we are excited that the organic cotton value chain can not only provide an economic benefit to Nicaragua, but it will also provide a replicable alternative development model for other disadvantaged populations, beginning with co-ops in Central America then with adjustments other 3rd World countries.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Vida Harvest needs additional working capital to help with cash flow, but COPROEXNIC is financially sustainable w/ annual sales $2.7 million, growing to $7.1 million in 3 yrs. Org cotton sales will sustain program in 2 yrs when production increases & cotton gin surpasses break-even. Farmer credits for planting & cotton seed integrity program are essential to sustain program w/ increased volume, the seed program will be self-sustaining in 3 yrs.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Vida Harvest’s farmers are the only growers of organic cotton in Central America, and all the cotton that we grow is produced by worker-owned cooperatives. Chetna Organic is working on similar initiatives in India, but faces organic seed supply issues. Vida Harvest is striving to maintain a seed variety developed specifically for Nicaragua, the only group we know of in the world has the capacity to preserve its own organic cotton seed variety. Additionally, Nicaragua does not allow GMOs, so Vida Harvest does not face the same GMO contamination issues that other groups have.
Team

Founding Story

In 1998 at an organics conference a buyer from Maggie’s Organics asked JHC founder Mike Woodard what he was doing in Nicaragua. Mike replied, “Besides growing organic sesame we're trying to find jobs for 15,000 Hurricane Mitch refugees.” The buyer replied, “Can any of them sew?” Maggie’s was sewing in the U.S. but had been affected by shuttering of sew shops in the South. Maggie’s worked w/ JHC-CDCA to start a women’s sewing co-op, but it soon became apparent that without a secure supply chain, the sew shop could not be sustainable. After trying & rejecting various alternatives for sourcing organic cotton, we planted our own organic cotton & remain the only cotton producers in Nicaragua.

Team

Mike Woodard, Director of Sustainable Agriculture JHC-CDCA. Founder of JHC, 20+ years working w/ Nicaraguan organic farmer co-ops; Finalist, Opus Prize for social entrepreneurs. Steve Virgil, Consultant. Professor of Law, Wake Forest University, +20 years practicing law with an emphasis on community economic development and the nonprofit sector, Equal Justice Fellow and a recipient of the Branch award. Raul Martin, General Manager, COPROEXNIC, Agronomist,specialization in organic production, 16+ years working with organic farmer co-ops in Nicaragua. Javier Ayala, Certification Expert COPROEXNIC, Agronomist w/ specialization in HACCP, BMP, BPA certification. Becca Mohally Renk Director of Sustainable Economic Development, JHC, 15+ years working w/ Nicaraguan women-owned industrial co-ops using sweat-equity models.
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]

Raw Materials, Manufacturing.

Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Farmer or Farmer Association Representative, 5Factory Worker, Factory Owner, Non-profit Staff, Supplier - contractor, Supplier - subcontractor.

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Auditors, Brands, Consumers, Designers, Farmer or Farmer Associations, Factory Workers, Factory Owners, Retailers - Specialty Store, Supplier - contractor, Supplier - subcontractor, Women, Youth.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Access to Finance, Conscious Consumerism, Environmentally Sustainable Practices, Labor Rights (i.e. Collective Bargaining, etc.), Gender Equality, Physical Working Conditions, Transparency.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Certification, Organizing, Other, [please specify].

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Hidden from View: Conditions in Forests, Farms, and Factories are Only Visible to a Select Few, A Job is Not Enough: Low-Income Workers Cannot Secure Long-Term Well-Being.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Activate Local Know-how for Driving Solutions: Build Opportunities for Workers to Become Leaders, Transform the Chain into a Web: Link Unlikely Sectors that Open New Pathways to Sustainability.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?

no

If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

Poverty alleviation, Sustainable agriculture.

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?

We work on the making of fair trade and organic garments from crop to consumer at each step of the value chain

Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?

Farmer co-op members are leading proponents of organic ag in Nicaragua & leading mitigation of effects from climate change.

● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

Project grew from collaboration w/ Maggie’s Organics, we partner farmers, processors & brands in relationships of trust