University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives

Co-ops benefit from fostering foreign links

by Jody Padgham

The Country Today

As she rode the bus into Camoapa, Nicaragua this past January, Anne Reynolds, my coworker at the Center for Cooperatives, was surprised to see a familiar logo- that for CRI, (Coop Resources International) a cooperative providing members with DHI, livestock and genetics services based in Shawno, WI. Just when she thought she was a long way from Wisconsin, Anne was reminded of the links forged between our state and Nicaragua, and the principle of cooperation between cooperatives that stretches across boundaries. Anne recently spent 10 days in Nicaragua with the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua (WCCN) studying cooperatives, and spoke to me about what she observed.

Since 1964, when Nicaragua was adopted as Wisconsin’s sister state, several cities and towns here have adopted sister cities in Nicaragua, including Richland Center (Santa Teresa), Clintonville (Boaca), Madison (Managua) and others. Several Wisconsin cooperatives have also formed links and partnerships in this country, which is about the same size and population as our state, but economically much more challenged, ranking as the second poorest country in the hemisphere (after Haiti). The links between Wisconsin and Nicaragua are very evident, and have become important in the communities on both sides of the border.

CRI, in a project funded by US-AID, is working with several dairy production cooperatives in Nicaragua to help improve the genetics of their milking herds, which to this point have been all Brahman cattle. Though Brahmans are superior in tolerating equatorial heat, they have milk production of only 20 gallons per day (approximately 12 lbs.), far below the North American herd average. CRI is working with the co-ops to develop cross breeds with higher yielding Holstein genetics to improve production.

The ‘Cooperative Masiguito’ in Camoapa, a dairy producers co-op, is one of the project partners working with CRI. 154 dairy producers, with an average herd size of 25 animals, paid $200 to become members of this marketing cooperative. In Nicaragua, access to markets is an important role for cooperatives to play, but access to credit and services are also very key. After the nationalization of private lands in the 1980’s, and then redistribution of that land in the 1990’s, access to money to purchase land and capitalize businesses has been very challenging. Cooperatives reorganized to be able to serve the credit needs of the population, in combination with other services. The dairy co-op in Camoapa not only sells the fluid milk of its members to a bottling plant, but also offers credit for dairy herd improvement and general agricultural loans, provides a system for equipment sharing and purchasing of inputs, offers education and technical assistance and produces cheese. The co-op has developed a market in other Central American countries for its cheese, one of the few export products produced in Nicaragua. By working to create this export market for a value-added product, the co-op is able to offer significant returns back to its members, in the form of quality services and strong milk prices.

Like cooperatives in the US, Nicaraguan cooperatives face challenges in accessing markets, reaching economies of scale, and accessing capital to expand their operations. Anne reminds me that there are also some unique challenges for the cooperative in Campoapa. "I asked them where the cows were, and they told me they were across the mountains". Anne tells me. "During the dry season, the farmers walk the cows across the mountains so they can graze in the cooler region where the pasture is richer." This seems rather bucolic, till I am reminded that the cows are still milking during this time, and that the co-op also has to travel across the mountains to pick up the milk production. We are not talking about tanker trucks or pump lines in these systems, either. Milk is stored and delivered in milk cans, now familiar in the US as front porch ornaments.

The motorcycle messengers that zip over the hundred of kilometers of rural roads delivering semen from your or your neighbors cows are forging change for the dairy farmers in Nicaragua. As the country slowly struggles to regain its footing after years of war and conflict, the cooperatives of the country are playing a significant role in providing real market opportunities, needed services,cash for farm improvements and value-added returns to the farmers.

Jody Padgham is an outreach specialist with the UW-Center for Cooperatives. She may be contacted at 230 Taylor Hall, 427 Lorch St., Madison, WI 53706; telephone 608/262-0705, e-mail

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