HOW DID SOSTENICA START?
The idea behind SosteNica was conceived in 1989. Its name derives from the Spanish, “Soste,” (taken from “sostenible”, meaning sustainable) and “Nica”, an abbreviation of Nicaragua.
The organization was conceived when Alan Wright (founder of SosteNica) encountered a women’s weaving cooperative in León in need of capital. The weaving cooperative had began in 1984 but by 1988 it was inactive due to lack of capital. Soon thereafter, as an experiment for small-scale development, Alan made a $500 micro-loan to the cooperative. That productive group of six women overthrew all problems and the result was very impressive. Within six months they set up six looms for full time production. They repaid their first loan and assembled additional investors for their cooperative.
The success of the women-run business caused the SosteNica founder to expand his experiment. In 1992, a few people from North America invested a total of $75,000 to create a larger credit program for Leon. Two funds were in motion. The first was focused on medium-sized producers and second aimed for micro entrepreneurs. The Spanish government development agency (Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional) contributed $20,000 in matching dollars for the cause. The Municipal Economic Development Leon City Hall also joined in the experiment. U.S. and Spanish partners organized a large survey of non-profits in Nicaraguan with the motive of selecting one to administer for micro-loans. CEPRODEL (The Center for the Promotion of Local Development) was among the survey participants that took steps for supporting and promoting economic and community development of Nicaragua.
In 1993 the partners chose CEPRODEL as their micro-loan fund administrator. From this cooperative effort SosteNica’s precursor was born. This new micro-loan fund focused its efforts on improving the economy of Río Chiquito, the poorest neighborhood in the city of León. In its first 33 months this new fund extended 974 micro-loans worth a total of $335,653.
In the late nineties, a number of initiatives emerged helping to foster SosteNica’s commitment to the promotion of sustainable agriculture and rural development in Nicaragua. In 1995, Alan Wright, organized two series of field trainings on permaculture and sustainable agriculture. In 1996, the UNAN (National Autonomous University of Nicaragua) department of biology began offering a new degree program: agroecology. In 1998, CEPRODEL began pilot program offering credit and technical assistance to farmers whose farms had been devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
In February 2002 these three paths met, and the Sustainable Rural Development Program was born — collaboration between SOSTENICA, CEPRODEL, and the agroecology department of the UNAN. By the end of 2002, CEPRODEL’s León office had assembled a consortium of organizations working with farmers to create business plans, provide ongoing technical assistance on ecological practices, and improve marketing. SosteNica loaned CEPRODEL the initial $300,000 to provide credit for participants and made a $34,000 grant to help fund the initial technical assistance program.
If the natural resources available today to small farmers disappear, a secure future is impossible. In 2008, while attending agroecology training at Las Cañadas, Mexico, CEPRODEL’s Board of Directors and several of their top managers began discussing the relevance of water preservation to their current work. If the natural resources available today to small farmers disappear, a secure future is impossible — regardless of how much credit is available. That discussion fueled the creation of SosteNica’s Reforestation and Water Source Protection project in Nagarote, Nicaragua. In its first year, farmers in the project received trainings, technical assistance, and loans of trees that they could pay back “in-kind” by producing seedlings on their farms. In its second year, the project helped plant over 19,000 trees and had a payback rate of 92%. Long-term, this project increased the quality of life for farm families and workers, diversified their food supply, preserved their topsoil, and made small scale agriculture a more viable and sustainable economic sector.
In 2011 SosteNica’s expanded effort to support greater food security and crop diversification extended into the urban centers of two small towns in the Pacific region and the capital city of Managua. A grant from SosteNica made possible the establishment of thirty kitchen gardens and a community garden,
providing urban families with the opportunity to harvest a portion of their own food or earn a small income from their own gardens. SosteNica continues to support both rural and urban diversified sustainable agriculture.