By Cole Parkinson
The couple behind La Semilla Ministries had a long trek from Nicaragua to Taber in order to give an update on how their efforts have been going.
Robert and Leslee Oudman gave a presentation at the Independent Crop Inputs (ICI) building in front of a packed crowd as they gave a detailed description of their mission in Nicaragua.
“Seven years ago my wife and I went off for the first time and have been involved in this ag development project. I’ve been involved with agriculture my whole life and that never changed, I’m still involved in agriculture. I’m just thrilled that everything in my life, in this point, has led to a place where I can use my life experiences to help others,” said Robert Oudman during the presentation.
As Nicaragua continues to see high poverty rates throughout rural communities, La Semilla is working to provide Nicaraguan farmers with steady income and work through agriculture.
With ag being one of Oudman’s passions in life, he is happy with how things have been progressing in the seven years since heading over to Nicaragua.
One of the biggest factors they have needed to adjust to ag wise, was the climate.
“Agriculture in Canada is way different from Nicaragua and the first thing we look at is the climate but even the business environment, government policies that support agriculture, all of that is so different from Canada. Yet I am able to share because my passion is agriculture and when I get out in the field with Nicaraguan farmers, we kick dirt together and I can understand. They know that I have that experience as well, understanding the challenges of climate, of too much rain or too little rain or some new insect pest that comes along, I have that experience,” added Oudman. “There is a huge opportunity in Nicaragua to help people.”
The growing seasons in country are also vastly different from Canada’s, which presents another challenge to the Nicaraguan farmers.
“In our area of Nicaragua we have two growing seasons. One is from May to August and the second is from September to December, both of those fit within the rain season. Outside that rain season, how do the rural people survive? That’s when we see high levels of malnutrition, we see vast exodus of people that are going to Managua, the capital city, looking for work or migrating to Costa Rica or El Salvador. They leave their families behind to look for work. We are looking for solutions to that, we believe agriculture can meet that.”
Nicaragua has a population of over six million people and their main exports are sugar cane, coffee and cattle with 50 per cent of what they produce staying in country.
While the Oudman’s had a good life in Canada, they decided to go to Nicaragua because they wanted to provide agricultural assistance and to a larger extent, help for all Nicaraguans.
“We decided on Nicaragua not because we wanted to help agriculture as a whole but we wanted to help some of these people that are struggling in poverty. La Semilla is development work that aims to alleviate effects of poverty, and agriculture gives us a great tool in order to do that as well,” added Oudman.
One rumour he wanted to dispel in his presentation was the thought that Nicaraguans were happy with their situations.
In fact, he says it the exact opposite and they are always looking for opportunities.
“They’ve learned to be content perhaps in their circumstances but they do want more. This idea of human dignity and achieving more in life, they understand and it’s rooted in each one of us,” said Oudman. “There are opportunities and they are looking for ways that they can take advantage of those opportunities, that’s where the road block is.”
In working with the farmers, they want to help provide long term stability for years and years instead of a quick fix.
“We as La Semilla Industries, we don’t work to provide Band-Aid solutions. We don’t give things away, we do what we do for long term solutions,” said Oudman.
Since beginning their journey seven years ago, La Semilla have expanded their team, so much so that Oudman says that he and Leslee aren’t the faces of the company any more.
One of the additions to the La Semilla operations is a partnership with another organization.
“Just a couple of months ago, we started a new alliance with another Canadian organization that’s called Empower Global. Really what they do is they act as a back office for us in order to receive donations and be able to write taxable receipts for those donations. They are going to be working with us specifically on the certified seed programs.”
On top of expanding the team, another focus moving forward is improving quality seed.
“We focus a lot on quality seed because folks here involved with agriculture know, you can’t start without good quality seed. What’s the use of putting down fertilizer, what’s the use of weed control, because you’ve already limited the use of potential,” said Oudman. “In 2018, we hope to grow our quality seed program.”
With the tons of work La Semilla does over in Nicaragua, they need plenty of help from donors to keep going.
They say 57 per cent of their funds come from outside individuals, 26 per cent comes from different corporations, three per cent from churches and 12 per cent comes from in country.
They estimate it takes around $700 per person but the money used is well worth it.
“We’re investing in the lives of people, we’re not giving things away, we’re giving people the tools they need to secure a better future,” added Oudman.
For more information on La Semilla Ministries including how to make a donation, visit lasemillaministries.com.