Jocelyn Maxine Kluger, a current intern with AsoFénix in Nicaragua, through the ESW Summer Engineering Experience in Development (SEED) Volunteer Program, writes about biodigestor installations & farming practices in Bramadero as well as cultural experiences she has encountered while in Nicaragua.
Since begining its involvment with the Bramadero community three years ago, AsoFénix has installed biodigestors behind three different houses. The biodigestor at the Gonzalez family´s house is a thick green plastic bag commercially produced in Mexico. AsoFénix installed this biodigestor in March of 2009, and the family has built a fence around it that prevents the community´s many free-roaming farm animals from puncturing the plastic. During my first week in Bramadero, AsoFénix spent a couple days doubling the capacity of the concrete cylindrical biodigestor behind Pedro´s house. Working alongside community members Tilo and Pedrito, Pedro´s son, we constructed a second concrete cylinder beside the first one. Later, the two cylinders were turned on their sides and sealed together. Additionally, a new biodigestor was constructed by Chica´s house. This new biodigestor is a concrete rectangular prism with a plastic top. The new biodigestors must receive the cow-manure-and-water mixture for two weeks before they will begin producing fuel for cooking.
During the next week, Karina and I introduced ourselves to the three families with biodigestors and began to learn about the community´s farming practices. One day, I accompanied my host father, Feliciano, to a corn field to remove weeds with machetes. Then, we began testing soil samples from land used to grow beans and corn. Many of the farmers in the community exhaust their land by growing the same crops year after year. Now, they have become very reliant on comercial chemical fertilizers. Working with Feliciano during my second week in Bramadero, I planted several hundred corn and bean plants. Once they grew to be about six inches tall, I applied chemical fertilizer to one-third of the plants, organic fertilizer from the biodigestors to another third, and left the remaining plants untreated. AsoFénix hopes that the results of this experiment will prove that the biodigestor fertilizer works well and encourage the local farmers to use it.
When not working on the projects, I spend a lot of time with my host family. Often, I chat with the adults on the porch and help the kids learn to solve a Rubik´s Cube I gave them. On some mornings, I help one of the daughters pound out dough into a circle and cook it over the open fire to make a tortilla. Once, I accompanied several women on the mile-long trek through the fields and up the steep hills to collect firewood for cooking. Last week, I went with a few family members on a two hour horse ride through the hills to a birthday party. It has been an excellent experience getting to know them.