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Miraflor Combines Sustainable Agriculture and Ecotourism

The Miraflor Nature Reserve, located two hours from Esteli, in northern Nicaragua, supports the 4,105 people who live there, through a combination of sustainable agriculture and ecotourism. It was started by local farmers, who recognized the harmful impact of conventional agricultural practices on their land and decided to do something about it.

Soil erosion and damage from pesticides were slowly destroying the fragile ecosystems of the area and affecting the health of the community. So in 1990, under the UCA (Unión de Cooperativas Agropecuarias Héroes y Mártires de Miraflor), the people organized to promote environmental protection. Since then, farmers have moved away from chemically-intensive potato production to growing organic vegetables for local consumption and organic coffee as a cash crop for the export market. After much effort, the organizers received official recognition of Miraflor as a protected area. Visitors to Miraflor are best off hiring a guide through the farmers’ cooperative union.

My friend and I first learned about Miraflor from our guidebook and decided to visit the UCA office in Esteli. A friendly young man arranged a tour for us the next day. He explained that the UCA offers a wide variety of activities and experiences and can customize a 1- or 2-day tour with a local guide according to your interests.

The many different ecosystems to explore in the reserve include tropical savanna, tropical dry forest, pine forest, and, at the highest elevation (about 1,450 meters above sea level), cloud forest. Your guide will lead you through these eco-systems, pointing out the diverse flora and fauna, wildlife and medicinal plants.

Activities include horseback riding, hiking to the waterfalls, exploring caves, viewing the many species of orchids, birdwatching, and visiting a preColumbian archaeological site.

Visitors can eat meals and stay overnight with local families, or they can stay in solar-heated cabins. Gender awareness is an important component of the project, and visitors can go to a women’s agricultural cooperative to talk with them about their experiences in Miraflor. The UCA teaches the importance of protecting the environment through participatory education in the local schools.

A stay at Miraflor is a remarkable value. Homestays cost $10 per day, including three meals. The solar-heated cabins cost $15 a day. A local guide charges $10 per day for up to eight people. All the income from the project benefits the community directly. From the beginning of the project the whole community has been involved in all the stages of planning.

There is a continuing need for the guides to learn and improve their English, and a British woman, Maggie Jo Saint John, has set up a program for volunteers to help teach English classes in Miraflor. For travelers who can make a minimum three-month commitment, this is a wonderful way to get involved in the project. Part of its success depends on guides being able to communicate with visitors who do not speak Spanish.

While ecotourism has been thriving in Costa Rica, it is relatively new to Nicaragua. It will undoubtedly gain in popularity, given the implementation of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, a regional strategy for the sustainable development and conservation of the biodiversity and natural resources of Central America. Extending from the southeast of Mexico to the Darien region of Panama, it will connect the protected areas of the region, which together contain 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

As Nicaraguan farmers suffer from a drastic fall in world prices for coffee, projects such as the Miraflor Nature Reserve provide much-needed economic diversification and a source of income. The successful efforts of the people of Miraflor are showing that this is indeed possible. If you have the opportunity to visit, they are eager to share their knowledge with you and introduce you to their beautiful environment.

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