LEON, Nicaragua – Until this year, dairy farmer Marlon Baltodano used to have to sell several head of cattle each dry season just to earn enough money to buy bundled packs of feed to keep his other cows alive.
“For every 10 cows I owned, I would have to sell three just to feed the other seven,” Baltodano said, his boots covered in dust.
But with the recent help of the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Baltodano and his neighboring dairy farmers have changed their traditional farming practices and are now growing sugarcane on irrigated plots of land to feed their cattle. They are also supplementing their livestock´s diets with fortified salt and other vitamins to keep them fat and productive even during the driest months.
The result has been 30-50 percent increases in milk productivity, plus savings on feed costs.
“Before we were just trying to survive, but now we are planning on growing,” Baltodano said proudly.
Despite success stories like Baltodano´s, the MCC program in Nicaragua is expected to be canceled June 10 due to serious concerns about the country´s democracy. President Daniel Ortega has already written-off the MCC program, saying Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will replace any aid the U.S. withdraws.
But if the U.S. cuts aid, it could be a precedent-setting decision that causes a ripple effect among other donors.
“If the United States is not going to continue with its programs, that is a very important signal for Nicaragua, and one that we will also take very seriously,” Dutch Ambassador Lambert Grijns told The Nica Times last week. Grijns represents the European Union´s Budget Support Group for Nicaragua, which last year suspended some $70 million in budget aid over similar concerns for the country´s democracy.
Read the May 22 print edition or PDF of The Nica Times for more on this story.