The Tisey-Estanzuela natural reserve in northern Nicaragua is one of the few areas in the country where resources are managed by both the government and local residents. The reserve is home to eight agriculture-based communities. The key to a successful co-managed protected area is community participation in environmental conservation efforts, and the key to participation is local leadership. No other family within the Tisey Estanzuela reserve demonstrates this kind of positive leadership quite as well as the Cerrato family.
During the past five years, the Cerratos have developed their organic farm (La Ecoposada) into an eco-tourism destination, as well as a community center where workshops, seminars, and meetings are held. The Cerrato family has had a presence in the area for generations, but it has been only in the last five years that they have dedicated themselves to the conservation of their area’s natural resources.
UÁP is currently conducting a socio-economic study with students from UNAN Leon to support the creation of a local cooperative that the Cerrato family is spearheading. The cooperative, COOSMURTE, will benefit 40 community members by providing access to small credit for production, a fair market for organic produce, training, and the establishment of a cooperative store where farmers will be able to purchase goods at bulk rates. The results of the study will be used to improve COOSMURTE’s ability to organize community initiatives through consensus, as well as establish a five-year strategy to include more community members, and participate more directly in the management of the area’s natural resources.
In organizing the study, UÁP has worked closely with Dimas Cerrato, one of nine siblings who manage La Ecoposada. Despite finishing only his junior year of high school, 52-year-old Dimas has become one of Nicaragua’s most recognized organic producers. He has hosted numerous post-graduate students at La Ecoposada, giving them a first-hand opportunity to study soil conservation, to explore the use of natural pesticides, and to experiment with nontraditional crops.
Aside from being an organic pioneer and local environmental spokesman, Dimas is also the leader of COOSMURTE. He originally declined the community’s nomination to become the cooperative’s president, but accepted after realizing the positive effect he could have in his community. He has seen cooperatives managed poorly and end up failing, and wants to do things differently. For this reason, he contacted UÁP to ask for assistance to conduct the socioeconomic study. Dimas recognizes the need to gather sufficient information about the real issues within the community so that action will be based on community opinion instead of pure instinct.
“I enjoy participating in community activities, but only when they consist of more than just meetings. It seems to me that the people in our community with the most needs are always left out of the social programs and projects that come from outside the community. This is a problem I would like to work to resolve, and this is one of our main goals of the cooperative. Since it is an initiative that comes from within the community, we are more aware of the actual needs that the people here have,” says Dimas.
Dimas is a natural leader. Recently, another community member complained to him that the government wasn’t doing enough for the country’s natural resources. Dimas responded in a friendly manner: “That may be true, but what are you doing? We are working hard at La Ecoposada to preserve our forest, learn more about organic production, and educate people about its benefits. Why wait for the government when we can take charge ourselves?”
The Cerratos are working hard to manage their resources and to extend their philosophy within their community. They are teaching by example that small-scale farmers can lead the environmental movement in Nicaragua.
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