Enterprising alumna takes action to address development challenges in coastal community

Filed Under: EARTH Stories
Date: November 11th, 2011

When alumna Andrea Mora (’09, Costa Rica) moved back to her hometown of Cahuita on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast after graduation, she was shocked to discover a community mired in social and environmental problems.

“When I returned home, I realized that there were many needs,” Andrea explains.  “The community needs jobs, young people need opportunities and then there’s the waste problem—the trash is everywhere.”

She credits her education at EARTH with instilling in her the knowledge and enterprising spirit to seek solutions to these challenges.

In 2010, Andrea began developing a business plan to create a center for training and innovation in organic agriculture on her family’s property in Cahuita.   The center, which she named SIEMBRA (meaning “plant” in Spanish), has three components: promoting organic agriculture among small and medium sized farmers, developing recycling and waste management programs, and educating the community in organic gardening and waste management.  With a bank loan, she was able to begin construction of the center’s training facilities and seed bank; however, Andrea required an additional $26,000 in start up costs.

Then she heard of Esto Promete (roughly translated “Promising Projects”), a contest developed by Costa Rica’s Channel 7 and the National Bank of Costa Rica to help entrepreneurs in the country gain exposure and financial support to implement their projects.  The six-month contest began with nationwide auditions in which contestants had three minutes to present their business project.  In September, Andrea traveled to Playa Bonita in Limón for the audition.

“During the auditions, I did not feel nervous but the moment I was selected as a finalist and I found out I that I would be interviewed on (T.V.) live, I became nervous,” Andrea explained.

Of the 300 contestants, Andrea was selected as one of the seven finalists.  Each finalist was featured for a 15-day period on Channel 7 (view segment here) and on the Esto Promete web site, in which individuals were encouraged to donate to the project.  While SIEMBRA only generated about $250 in private contributions, since her exposure on Channel 7 in October she has received several significant in-kind donations from Wal-Mart, Hortifruti, and Grupo Olefinas worth approximately $7,500.  In addition, she has submitted a proposal to the National Bank to provide scholarships to small farmers in the region for training in organic agriculture.

“The money raised from individual donors wasn’t much, but the project continues to move forward,” remarked Andrea who is also working as a coordinator of the Agricultural Ministry’s Sixaola Program, which is helping to finance projects of small-scale farming cooperatives, associations and organizations in the Talamanca region. She was also recently elected president of Cahuita’s Integral Development Association.

While SIEMBRA still lacks infrastructure, Andrea has already hosted two groups of high school students, teaching them how to make bioferments (a liquid made from an anaerobic “composting” process) and fermented rice semolina, both of which can be used as organic fertilizers.  She has also organized trash clean-ups.

Andrea’s goal with SIEMBRA is clear, “I want to see a litter-free Cahuita, to help give local residents opportunities so that they don’t sell their land and open doors for young people.  I want to contribute my grain of sand.”