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Fighting poverty in Latin America

This spring, the Gay Lea Foundation announced a donation of $20,694 to the SHEAF/ESPIGA Foundation, a registered Canadian charity dedicated to fighting poverty in South America. Focusing on health issues, educational programs and agricultural projects, SHEAF is committed to helping the poor, the marginalized, the underprivileged and minority groups lead more meaningful and productive lives by promoting holistic development at the grass roots level.

SHEAF’s latest project, supported by the Gay Lea Foundation, involves the introduction of cocoa, a non-traditional crop, to the Department of Boaco, an extremely poor rural community in the heart of Nicaragua.

Early in 2018, 24 families in this region earned the title to approximately 5 acres of land each, after cultivating the land with traditional crops for 10 years as part of a ‘land bank’ system administered by the Asociación Cristiana de Jóvenes (ACJ-YMCA), a developmental agency in Nicaragua. While the harvest of these crops was enough to provide food security and meet the basic needs of the families while they paid for legal title to the land, however, the ACJ-YMCA saw opportunity to do more: improve the quality of life for these families by helping them diversify their crops – something having legal title now enables them to do.


Why cocoa

In 2016, another group of 40 farmers received titles from the ACJ-YMCA in the Department of Boaco. Knowing that the national and international demand for cocoa is increasing, these farmers chose to plant 0.8 acres of cocoa plants with money received from a city government in Spain. An external study and the experiences of these farmers have shown the land and climate in the region to be well-suited for growing coco, and a cocoa tree has a substantial life span of about twenty-five years.


Developing an infrastructure

Cocoa can be harvested after three years of growth, which means the first set of farmers will be ready to harvest their crop in 2019. This also makes the purchase and construction of appropriate processing equipment a necessity. Cocoa processing includes fermentation, drying, cleaning and selection, classifying and, ultimately, packaging and storage.

With the help of the ACJ-YMCA and the remaining funding from the city government in Spain, construction on a metal dryer began in the central Boaco region in March. The appropriate equipment and supplies to complete the fermentation and drying process, however, were still very much needed.


How the Gay Lea Foundation is helping

Working with the ACJ-YMCA, SHEAF/ESPIGA appealed to the Gay Lea Foundation for help in early 2018. Funds granted by the Foundation have since been used to procure 15,000 cocoa plants, provide training and assistance for the 24 families establishing their cocoa crops, and purchase the necessary equipment to make the Boaco dryer fully functional, including boxes for fermentation, trays for drying, thermometers, moisture testers, scales, and a guillotine to determine grade and quality.

In an update sent in late June, SHEAF/ESPIGA board member Greta Hofstra told Gay Lea Foods that the project is moving ahead quickly.

“Cocoa seeds have been planted in a nursery and the consequent seedlings, once big enough, will be grafted onto a more robust variety before being planted in each farmer’s plot by the end of July.”

The project is expected to significantly improve the quality of life for the 24 families who will each receive cocoa seedlings for 0.8 acre, and enhance the lives of 40 more whose cocoa will soon be ready to process.

“The Gay Lea Foundation has seen the positive impact of SHEAF/ESPIGA’s work before, through our support of a project that resulted in the construction of 120 latrines in rural Nicaragua between 2015 and 2017,” says Gay Lea Foundation Chair, Rachel Caldara. “When this application came before the Foundation board in March 2018, it was likewise plain to see the significant and sustainable impact our support could have in this community.”

“We are tremendously proud to partner with SHEAF/ESPIGA and the ACJ-YMCA again as they continue to provide hope for the people of Nicaragua,” Caldara added. “We look forward to hearing more about the success of this project in the fields of Boaco.”


About the SHEAF/ESPIGA Foundation

SHEAF/ESPIGA is a non-governmental organization established as a registered Canadian charity in 2006. Its purpose is to fight poverty in Nicaragua by working with donors, volunteers and local agencies with like-minded goals to promote integrated, holistic development at the grass roots level. SHEAF is a Spanish acronym for the organization’s primary areas of focus: Health, Education and Agriculture.


About the Gay Lea Foundation

The Gay Lea Foundation is the official registered charity and collaborative forum for Gay Lea Foods and its members, directors and employees to support families and communities in need. Since receiving charitable status in 2014, the Foundation has provided more than $685,000 in funding support for education, poverty relief and community well-being projects in Canada and around the world. The primary source of funding for the Foundation is an annual $150,000 contribution from Gay Lea Foods, which is supplemented by personal contributions from across the Gay Lea Foods family. Funding applications are assessed twice a year by the Foundation’s Board of Directors, which is comprised of Gay Lea Foods Directors, delegates, dairy producer members and employees.

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