Nicaraguan Cattle Farmers Debunk False Oakland Institute Report (Interview)

January 16, 2021.-  On November 20th 2020, Tortilla con Sal interviewed a group of cattle farmers in Siuna, near the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua, about a false report by the Oakland Institute. This report was recycled by different US news media including PBS and Reveal Newswith spurious allegations that export beef from Nicaragua originated in large part from areas of conflict between unscrupulous cattle ranchers and vulnerable indígenous people. These cattle farmers demosntrate teh falsity of these reports whcih were also analyzed and debunked in anarticle by FAIR.

Tortilla con Sal: Here we are with cattle farmers from the municipality of Siuna… questions are now being asked about the situation with regard to livestock production in the Bosawas Biosphere* area and in the lands of indigenous peoples. What is your experience as a livestock producer in this area?

Herminio Gonzalez: My name is Herminio Gonzalez, and I am a livestock producer here in Siuna. My property is 40 kilometers from the Bosawas Reserve and 50 kilometers north of the indigenous territory.

I don’t know if there are many cattle on indigenous lands, I think there are few in the Reserve, but they are not traded. Here we take out store cattle for slaughter, but we are also more involved as milk producers. There’s a great deal of dairy cattle in the whole area.

TcS: In your experience, does a high percentage of beef go for export?

Herminio: Yes, but not from the Reserve or from indigenous lands. There’s a lot of cattle in this area.

TcS: What has been your experience meat and cattle production in this area in recent years?

Samuel Cantarero Cárcamo: Very good afternoon. My name is Samuel Cantarero Carcamo. In the little experience of what little I have, those of us who are here are not at any moment in the Reserve. We are far from the Reserve. The cattle that we have are dual purpose cattle, for milk, as Herminio Gonzalez says, milk and meat. We sell to slaughterhouses, to the slaughterhouses we sell either the fattened cattle which then go for export or cattle that the slaughterhouses finish off fattening. Because the slaughterhouses here in Nicaragua finish fattening the cattle, we rear them to a certain point, and then they, the slaughterhouses, as we say in Nicaragua, finish rearing them prior to slaughter.

TcS: In your experience, what has been the role of IPSA (the Institute for Agricultural Health and Protection)? Do they maintain good control of livestock production?

Samuel: IPSA has been working, although not all of the cattle have there ear tag here in Siuna, in our region. But IPSA is working. We in our organization, the Association of Cattle Ranchers and Producers here in Siuna, have been helping to make cattle ranchers aware that they have to have their cattle tagged, with their registration.

TcS: Is it correct to say that cattle that don’t have their ear tag properly attached and registered in the IPSA system cannot be sent for export?

Samuel: Yes, that’s correct. For cattle at least, IPSA takes each rancher’s data, the coordinates of their farm, where they are and IPSA knows very well if they are working properly, they surely know how many ranchers are in the Reserve. Because we have the farm, so to speak, and when we tag our cattle for the first time, they are going to record their coordinates, give us the CUE code (Unique Farmstead Code), so they already know where each producer and the farm is located.

Jose Angel Rodriguez: Good afternoon, my name is Jose Angel Rodriguez, I am also a livestock producer and member of the Association of Cattle Ranchers of this area of the municipality of Siuna. In my experience as a cattle rancher, we have approximately twelve years of having got started in cattle farming, and we are a long way from the area of the Reserve. Our purpose is to produce milk and meat products that are the sustenance of our family. We also take our store cattle annually, sell them to the slaughterhouse, and they then are in charge of classifying what goes for national consumption and what goes for export product of the cattle that have better quality. My experience is that if there are people inside the Reserve, the authorities are the ones who have been handling that, the issue of people who have entered illegally, who are also affecting those producers who are working legally.

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TcS: Can IPSA control that as an institution or is it outside IPSA’s control, that illegal cattle farming?

Jose Angel Rodriguez: To my knowledge they are responsible for the registration of all the animals in the area. So, they cannot register a farm and issue its farmstead identification code if that farm is not legal. If it is within the Reserve they cannot issue its registration because they too would be getting into trouble. So those who are in the Reserve can’t export their cattle, they’re only a few that get used for internal consumption in the locality.

TcS: So it’s small-scale production?

Jose Angel Rodriguez: It is small scale because there is no probability whatsoever that livestock that is not legalized can be exported outside the Reserve.

Carmen Mairena: Good afternoon, my name is Carmen Mairena. I was born and raised here in Siuna. My experience is that the people who are inside the Reserve are illegal. IPSA is in charge of giving a CUE to each producer. And if someone is inside the Reserve, then they are not entitled to that CUE, nor are they entitled to bovine traceability, so they have no chance of sending their beef for export because in practice they are acting illegally.

The producer who is legal, complies with traceability, and sends their cattle to the slaughterhouses near the capital, which are then in charge of classifying the different types of meat, which one is for export, which one is for national consumption.

Each producer already has a code. He has access to be able to comply with traceability. Anyone inside the Reserve does not have that access. Very few people are inside the Reserve because they have no options, and they are illegal. If they try it and the Army finds them in the Reserve, they tell them they have to get out.

TcS: Am I correct in thinking, that the people who are criticizing the cattle control system here are going to say “Ah yes, but people with illegal cattle are going to be able to get their cattle under the IPSA system”? Do you think that’s possible?

Carmen Mairena: There is no possibility of getting their cattle into the IPSA system. Because the people who are qualified for the traceability process operate under the IPSA rules. The ear tag is not delivered to the producer, only the qualified agent can use it and go to the farm to attach it. Each farm with its producer code pays a fee in the bank, and the voucher of payment is given to the qualified agent and they are the ones responsible for getting to the farm to attach the ear tag.

Evelio Sosa: My name is Evelio Sosa, livestock producer, and I’m on the Board of the Cattle Ranchers’ Association. Well, what’s happening right now with the people who go into the Reserve is something that is necessarily illegal. Like someone who crosses into the United States illegally. It’s the same. They deport him and he goes in again, they remove him out and he goes in again. But of course IPSA is always at work on that. Of course, whoever is in the Reserve doesn’t get a code number, they don’t give them a code, that’s prohibited, definitively prohibited. Most of the people here, let’s say almost 100%, each one has their farm, their code number, they fatten their cattle, they send them to the slaughterhouse, from there the slaughterhouse takes care of the classification. But IPSA is working hard on that issue now, of course .

TcS: And do you have an estimate of the number of people who illegally enter the Reserve?

Evelio Sosa: I couldn’t tell you how many people there are, but not many people go into the Reserve, not many cattle go into the Reserve because the Army goes after them, as we say.

TcS: Would it be fair to say that the Army is doing an good job controlling that illegal activity?

Evelio Sosa: Of course, MAGFOR and the Army, together and MARENA. They all work together there.

TcS: And what is your assessment of the importance of IPSA’s work in terms of improving the quality of its livestock production?

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Evelio Sosa: Of course, of course everyone is improving the quality of their livestock and now at least there is control, you know where everyone is. IPSA has a map, I imagine it uses a satellite, and manages where everyone is. As producers, we are legal on farms that have always existed. Because in the Reserve, there is a fixed boundary no one can pass through. This side of the boundary you can work on your farm, you can have your code number but over the other side of boundary, you can’t, it’s forbidden.

Eugenio Torres: Good afternoon, my name is Eugenio Torres. I’m Vice President of the Association of Cattle Ranchers here in Siuna. I want to tell you that as regards what you are asking about the Reserve and the indigenous lands, which are most in the eye of the hurricane, where you can see that we are being made to look like a problem.

I was born here and I’m 52 years old, and all the time it has been well known there has been a law here that the Reserve cannot be touched. But what happens is that there are people who don’t respect it, and they go there covertly trying to work, and if the Army goes there and doesn’t find them, then there they are, but if the Army goes out to patrol the Reserve, the Army removes everyone they find or discover there. But of course, the Reserve is huge, and the Army has few numbers so it is very difficult for it to find them. That’s how they are able to cause us problems.

My farm is approximately 60 kilometers from the Reserve. I’m a long way outside, on the way to Rosita, or Rio Blanco. All of the ranchers who work here, those of us who are members of the Cattle Ranchers’ Association, none of us are involved in the Reserve, nor are our friends who live nearby here in the vicinity. It could be that people who have come from somewhere else have gotten into the Reserve illegally, but if the army finds them I am sure they will be moved out.

The Army operates with MARENA, with MAGFOR, all of them together, and people can’t farm there. With respect to IPSA, nor will IPSA give you a farmstead code number if you are in the Reserve or if you are on indigenous land, nor does it give you the code number so as to be able to tag your cattle. Every time we have a meeting, among the most important things we talk about is that we have to respect the limits of the Reserve, the boundaries, and our association members are also advised not to go buying land from indigenous people, because the indigenous people are there and they also want to sell so as to make a bit of money, but the best thing and the legal thing is not to do so there because it is something that is not…

The government has always maintained ts policy stating that we can’t be in the Reserve, we can’t be damaging the Reserve and so on. So we work in a controlled way on our farm because on our farm we work in a orderly way in our mountain land. For example, there are water springs and so we have to save them, not destroy them. We have to maintain them so that they don’t dry up, all of that. Here we are a large number of cattle ranchers, of beef producers, and I believe that about 13,000 of our animals leave each month for the slaughterhouses.

We… our mission is to rear cattle, we sell them to the slaughterhouses and from there, well, they do the work that they’re going to do, that’s their business. But our job, then, is to get the cattle, fatten them, and sell them to the slaughterhouses. They’re tagged, so they’re also traceable, and everything is authorized by the authorities. IPSA does not allow an animal to go for sale without its ear tag and other things.

Mel Treminio: Well, good afternoon. My name is Mel Treminio. I am a cattle rancher, a member of this Association of Cattle Ranchers here in Siuna. I currently have a property here in the community of Campo Uno. I also work as… I sell services… services, for example, authorized by IPSA where the producer can hire an authorized person to go and tag their animals, their cattle and where the authorized person also sets up the production records, the movement records, the inventory records, and birth records for the producer.

Organizing ear tags, organizing traceability, then, is also done together with the Cattle Ranchers’ Association via the producers who are members of this same Association of Cattle Ranchers. Because we are looking for regulation… to regulate the producer… By regulate, perhaps I do not mean merely control, but to regulate on the matter of quality, so that the producers obtain quality in their cattle farming. And that quality, we are getting it with these records because we really know, let’s say, what date this calf was born. We control the weight at the moment of weaning.

Because if we are looking for quality, if we are looking for export, we have to work differently. As producers, we have to act differently. How? Let’s say for example through silvopastoral systems. With silvopastoral systems we seek to conserve more water sources, conserve more springs, rivers, water channels, establish silvopastoral systems, let’s say with forage trees that also help the cattle to feed, not just graze grass, for example, but also other fodder. Look for how to establish live barriers as fences, protein banks. Now. If we make efficient cattle traceability as mandated by, for example, our government, as mandated by IPSA, as such, because IPSA regulates this matter of traceability, we can be more efficient in exports, more efficient as cattle farmers.

Now. When a producer wants to register a farm with IPSA in order to prove it’s their farm, IPSA asks for papers. Now show me your papers, your titles, your this and that. And then… based on this, they read them, they check them, and if you are within a Reserve, they don’t issue a farmstead code. Now. Because you can’t have access to the cattle tracing system in a place where cattle farming is prohibited. Yes, there can be cattle in the Reserve’s buffer zone, because we are in a buffer zone, but not in the Reserve’s nucleus zone. That is prohibited on account of the advance of the agricultural frontier and so on, which is going to bring us a future that, we can say, of devastation to the environment. So that’s the way we’re working.

TcS: How many Association members are there?

Mel Treminio: So there are now 279 associates. This is a solid livestock organisation. So what we need to do is to work on details, continue refining our work, so that we are truly coherent when it comes to competing, both for milk, for meat, for quality, for quantity. Now. So then we already have 279 that means yes there is a good raw material to develop. That is among the Association members. But there are also many producers who are not associates but who are big producers in the beef sector.

Carmen Mairena: For the Association of Cattle Ranchers and producers of Siuna it is very important to adopt innovative practices for the protection of the environment. We have to conserve water and soil. In fact, that is our practice… there’s no burning… and indiscriminate tree felling along riverbanks, and that… In general, producers are very respectful of rivers and water sources. Because without water and they can’t keep their livestock.

TcS: How feasible do you think the government’s policies are to develop silvopastoral practices and natural forest regeneration and reforestation practices? Do you think those government policies are going to get results?

Evelio Sosa: I’d say that they will give results because of course all that is important.

Carmen Mairena: Producers are very enthusiastic about implementation. We have been to several workshops on woodland regeneration and implementation of carbon capture. And you can see that producers are enthusiastic about implementing all these agro-forestry and agro-silvopastoral systems, because we are in the right kind of area for all that.

TcS: I suppose, because of the nature of the area, that you have relations with indigenous peoples? Are they good relations?

Evelio Sosa: We don’t have any problems with them. We always get on well with their communities. Of course we do.

Carmen Mairena: The relationship with the indigenous communities is very good.

Eugenio Torres: About two or three months ago I saw a report in a US newspaper where it said that we cattle ranchers are taking advantage of the Bosawás Reserve, the indigenous lands, to fatten our cattle. I want to tell you that it is not true. We are not taking advantage of the Reserve or of indigenous lands. There may well be people who… unscrupulous people, because they turn up, as they do everywhere. But we, as cattle ranchers, who are legally constituted, are working through the legal channels, working as we should, conserving our water and everything so as to leave to our grandchildren because if we start now to damage everything, we are not going to leave anything to our… to future generations.

So we, we as an Association of Cattle Ranchers, are seeing this and we have seen it for many years of not … not even getting close to the Reserve so that no one gets to desire to be in there making trouble because there… Yes, I have been there twice. When I went walking there it was beautiful. It’s beautiful because you can see the mountain animals, everything there. You get to see them during the day. And so, that makes you want to increase it, to increase it so that it continues to grow. So, it’s not true that we as cattle ranchers here in Nicaragua are destroying the Reserve. We are working through legal means on land that is far from the Reserve. And we reckon that while there may be three or four people who are there causing trouble, that the Army tends up removing, it’s not fair that they are criticizing us in this way… The whole cattle farming industry, because it’s just not like that.

Julio Cesár Portocarrero: Well, my name is Julio Cesár Portocarrero. I am a native of here, Siuna. I am a producer from this municipality, a young producer who started a little while ago in the activity of cattle farming and agriculture. Two things that we do here. And yes we were reading one day something that was uploaded on social networks that was criminalizing the entire cattle farming community. They were saying that… blood-based meat or something like that related to the issue…

TcSYes, they called it conflict beef

Julio Cesár Portocarrero: That’s right. As if we… that is, the cattle farming sector was going to take over those lands, killing the owners, which are what are called the Mayangna or Misquita ethnic groups, expelling them out and taking over those lands. Well, in this case, it’s totally false because… speaking for those of us who know each other, the ranchers of long standing, almost all of the ranchers from a long time ago, for example, we are natives of Siuna, right. We have properties here near Siuna. Just like the property I have… I have two properties. One of them… both are fully registered in the Land Registry. Right. And when a property is fully registered in the Land Registry then it’s not indigenous land or land that you aren’t entitled to own.

So, it’s good that you’re visiting us, that you spread the word so that they don’t criminalize us, the cattle ranchers’ association, because the way they put it … they paint us all with the same accusation. And in the end when a sanction or some such comes about then the slaughterhouses won’t buy the product from us and there won’t be anyone to sell to. We will be the ones affected as cattle farmers. And countless people depend on us.

For example, on each of my farms there are six workers on one farm and four on another. Just those ten who do the milking, who manage things, who do this that the other… a number of activities. And then if I can’t sell an animal to pay their wges… I mean, if I can’t sell an animal, right, how am I going to pay these people? What I’m going to do is dismiss them. And they’re going to lose everything because of a bad report by someone who making it with the idea of hurting us. Because I’m can’t say because I don’t know since I’m not keeping tabs on whether or not people are inside the Reserve.

But of the local people like those of us here ding cattle farming in Siuna, the Association of Cattle Ranchers, we are sure that we are not there, because the properties that one or other of us may have here and there, so far as I know, some may have more, are lands that are here in the municipality of Siuna. So far as I am aware I know of no colleague in the cattle farming business who is involved in the reserve of all those I know, of those I deal with. So a clarification would be good.

Notes

* The limits of the Reserve are the Bocay River to the west, Saslaya Hill to the south, the Waspuk River to the east, and the border with Honduras to the north.

Acronyms

MAGFOR – Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Forestry (now separated into the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the National Forestry Institute)

MARENA – Ministry of Natural Resources

IPSA – Institute for the Protection and Health of Agriculture and Livestock

 

 

Featured image: File Photo

(Tortilla con Sal)

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