One of the first things I always do when I arrive in a new country is trying out the local beer. Toña is a nice fresh beer and light to drink, but I like to spice it up as a Michelada, the Bloody Mary version of beer.
The local rum is truly delicious. The most famous brand is Flor de Caña and is best drunk pure with ice. It is also very common to order a bottle, a bucket of ice, lemon, salt and a gaseosa of choice and build your own cocktails at your table.
At the end of this blog post I will give you the recipes for Toña Michelada and Macua, my favorite Nica drinks. But let me first take you to the place where these drinks are produced, namely the oven of Nicaragua: the sugarcane fields in the west around the village of Chichigalpa.
Chichigalpa is a small town of 50.000 inhabitants. Temperatures can reach 42ºC / 107ºF and it is the hottest place in Nicaragua. This climate and the vicinity of many volcanos make this region extremely fertile and suitable for sugercane agriculture. Some of the most successful Nicaraguan enterprises now flourish internationally by producing sugar, rum and beer in this region. Every single family is in some way dependent on the sugarcane fields and the enterprises that own the land and the production facilities.
Now, here come the shocking facts behind this seemingly pretty picture.
About 50% of men under 45 years of age in Chichigalpa show symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). This is 13 times more than the national average. Some patients are not even 20 years old. Chronic Kidney Disease manifests itself by a deteriorated kidney function, loss of appetite and a general feeling of being unwell. There is no treatment for the disease other than to slow down the progression towards the most advanced stage 5, when dialysis and ultimately kidney transplantation are required.
In a developing country as Nicaragua, this unfortunately doesn’t always belong to the available options. Within this small region of Chichigalpa, more than one thousand persons per year die from Chronic Kidney Disease.
All of them have worked in the sugarcane fields.
I meet with Don Jose Donald who is the president of ASOCHIVIDA, an organization for sick ex-sugarcane workers and their families, as well as the women and children of the deceased. Donald himself suffers from an advanced stage of Chronic Kidney Disease. He shows me the scars of the dialysis treatment which he undergoes three times a week in the larger city of Chinandega.
Nineteen years of working in the fields has broken down his body. He now relies on the little money that he receives from insurance and runs ASOCHIVIDA in the hope of bettering the lives in his community.
Over the past years, there have been numerous investigations about the exact causes of Chronic Kidney Disease in relation to sugercane workers. Donald explains to me that the workers are out in the field for as long as 9 ½ hours a day, under the burning sun with little to no water, 7 days a week. The men use machetes to cut the cane manually and are paid not by the hour, but by the amount they harvest.
But also, they are exposed to the agricultural chemicals that have contaminated the soil and the groundwater after decades of excessive use. Forget any protective clothes – there are no such regulations nor reinforcements in developing country Nicaragua and it is simply way too hot to wear those.
To make matters even worse, the sugarcane season only runs for 6 months from November until May. There is a whopping 80% unemployment rate outside of the season, leading to lack of income, excessive drinking and smoking, and pregnancy of girls as young as 14 years of age.
Why do these men still want to work in the sugarcane fields even if they know they will get sick?
Because it is the only option they have. There are even reports of identity falsification – fathers that take their son’s name to be able to continue working and earning an income.
Even loan officer Fernando, university-educated, smart, strong and in his early twenties, has worked in the fields for one season to pay for his university diploma. He says: Of course I feared for my health. But it was the only option I had to be able to finish my studies.
In Nicaragua, students need to pay about $1000 at the end of their studies before they receive their diploma, on top of the yearly tuition fees.
He was lucky not to get sick. Now that he got his diploma, he is dedicated to better the lives of the sugarcane workers in his own town, many of whom are family and friends, and he manages the full portfolio of ASOCHIVIDA clients for CEPRODEL.
Now, how does this all link back to Kiva and what can you do?
CEPRODEL is one of Kiva’s field partners in Nicaragua and has been providing microloans to ASOCHIVIDA members since September 2010. Up until now 730 microloans to ASOCHIVIDA members, with an average amount of $200, have been used to start or expand a business like a small pulperia, tortilleria or work their own piece of land. These loans were a lifeline for many of the families in Chichigalpa, allowing them to develop other sources of income and give a boost to local small businesses.
However, it is a risky target group for CEPRODEL because these clients are not trained or used to do other work than in the sugarcane fields, they are not physically fit and may die. Six clients have already passed away since the start of the collaboration. Nevertheless, CEPRODEL continues to offer these loans against a 1% monthly interest rate, 12% annually. That is an extremely low interest rate in the Nicaraguan microfinance industry.
It is fully thanks to Kiva that CEPRODEL can offer these loans to some of the most left-out and vulnerable communities in the country.
The loans for ex-sugercane workers and their families will come online soon. Watch this space and become a member of the Fans of CEPRODEL Lenders Team to be the first to know! In the meantime, lend to any of CEPRODEL’s clients here.
UPDATE Sept 28, 2012: The loans to ex-sugarcane workers and their families are now online here.
Or choose Country “Nicaragua” and “Vulnerable Groups” on the bottom left on the Lend page.
Now, the recipes for some of the best Nicaraguan drinks:
1 bottle of Toña beer
1 lime juiced
2-3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
Put a squeeze of lime on the rim of a glass and stick salt on. Then add ice, the juiced lime, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco (as little or as much as you like!) with a hint of pepper and extra salt and stir. Pour in your Toña beer and enjoy!
2 parts white Flor de Cana rum
2 parts guava juice
1 part lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
Shake all ingredients together with ice. Pour into a glass over more ice. Salud!
But please think twice about how your drink ended up in your glass.
This post has also been published on the Kiva Fellows blog on September 3rd 2012.