Don Marvin Ordoñez grew up in the Nicaraguan countryside, although his family never owned their own land. He and his wife bought a few calves to graze on their rented land, slowly saving up money to buy a few acres. By the early 1980s he had bought 24 manzanas (41 acres) for his cattle. In 1998, after Hurricane Mitch destroyed his whole harvest, he was forced to sell 9 manzanas in order to stay afloat. When his first successful crop after the hurricane brought in virtually nothing, because the market was still flooded with relief grain from other countries and the prices had plummeted, he abandoned his land and began working at a supermarket. He worked there for seven years, until a neighbor encouraged him to plant plantains. He planted two acres and dug a well, and then took out credit with CEPRODEL(SosteNica) to buy a pump to irrigate. By selling the plantains in a city, directly to consumers, he avoids the costs of a middle man and has been reaping the profits. He is planning on paying back the loan that he intended to pay over two years within one year. If he had three manzanas of plantains he could support his sons’ family too, and so he and his son have plans to transplant the ‘children’, or clones, of their current plot into another manzana. Additionally the family has plans for a manzana of vegetables, and grafted mango and avocado trees.
Marvin’s farm is not organic, but he applies pesticides and fungicides only when necessary, in part because of the cost. In addition to a commercial fertilizer, he applies a mixture of cow manure, ash, and calcium, which acts as a naturally fungicide in addition to fertilizing the plantains. He also grows all the feed for his cattle, and has been saving seed from sorghum and corn. The corn and sorghum are open pollinated varieties, which allow him to selectively improve his seed stock each year. Most of the sorghum grown commercially is a hybrid that has a dark red color, whereas the open pollinated variety is white. Saving seeds is a practice that only small farmers who are under economic pressure to save costs put effort into, but it is becoming more difficult in some areas where industrialized farms are closer to familiar land and the varieties cross. Access to quality seed is limited, and seeds are expensive, so by saving his seed Marvin not only saves money, but he also retains control over the quality of the seed. Autonomy is important to Marvin, and he is proud that he was able to quit his job at the supermarket and work full time on his land. It’s clear that he views the change as a step in the right direction. “You have time and control when you are your own boss. Nobody can tell you that you can’t go to mass when you want to, or take you child to the doctor.”