MANAGUA – At Maria Cristina Mena and Pedro Antonio Sevilla Molina’s San Antonio ranch located in the town of Morrito in Nicaragua’s Rio San Juan department, cattle roam fertile grasslands wearing numbered earrings, their ID.
When this family of cattle producers sell a calf or milk, the industrial plant and the dairy collection and processing plant know that it comes from San Antonio, a fertile land of 95 hectares located near Lake Nicaragua, where grassland and aquifers abound.
In Los Planes, the Campo Cerda family farm located in Paiwas, a remote and mountainous municipality in the Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean (RACS) of Nicaragua, the 50 animals that produce 50 liters of milk daily, also wear IDs on their ears.
This system is known as bovine traceability, a plan that in its beginning, in 2006, was financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, and 15 years later it is part of the commitment of Nicaraguan livestock to improve their productivity, quality of bovine meat and its cuts, and conquer the US and European markets, the executive director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Bovine Meat Export Plants (Canicarne), Juan Velazquez, told EFE.
Of the more than 146,000 cattle farms in Nicaragua, which generate 650,000 jobs, 125,220 are registered in the National Bovine Traceability Information System (SNITB), equivalent to some 6.28 million head of cattle, each with an earring.
Velazquez, who has a master’s degree in Agriculture and a doctorate in Zootechnics, explained that the SNITB identifies the cattle herd with an earring and with a number that corresponds to a farm or production center.
“Through this system, it can be ensured that an animal does not come from areas where it is not allowed to buy or produce animals, such as protected areas and biosphere reserves,” or from indigenous communities, he said.
That allows ranchers in Nicaragua, who are 85% to 90% small and medium-sized, to focus on improving the productivity and quality of their cattle, he said.
“The first thing European and North American consumers do is go to the product and see the label, where it is produced, if it has traceability, if it is produced naturally, which is how Nicaragua produces in the open field, in grasslands, under shade, and based on grass, mainly,” Ronald Blandon, general manager of the National Livestock Commission (Conagan), told EFE.
Blandon, who noted that in Nicaragua there is practically one head of cattle per inhabitant, explained that the union’s line and strategy is “to continue advancing in the strengthening of these control tools” to obtain better quality meat and to be able to place it in demanding markets and then create a country brand for Nicaraguan meat.
In Nicaragua, there are eight industrial plants or slaughterhouses, of which seven are authorized to export, including one with Mexican capital and the other Panamanian, which are annually certified by the US in risk analysis and critical control points.
Nicaragua mostly exports industrial meat to the United States, which is consumed in hamburgers and tacos; however, what the livestock sector is betting on is also placing cuts of select beef in that large market.
For the Conagan chief, the United States and other markets can be conquered if they strive to produce a differentiated meat, of better quality, with safety and complying with the control and verification tools “of what is really done in a farm, and that tool is bovine traceability.”
In Central America, Nicaragua is the largest producer of cattle and has chosen bovine traceability to conquer new markets.
Another challenge to compete in demanding markets, according to the ranchers’ union, is to develop and fatten the steers in 24 months, because at that age the meat is of better quality, it is soft and juicy and has more flavor.
They must also try to increase productivity and intensify the silvopastoral system, which is the practice of integrating trees, forage and grazing domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way.
“Our challenge is to disseminate and massify the silvopastoral system in 10 years. If we continue at this rate, we are going to make our country exemplary, not only in producing good quality meat, but also in a carbon neutral system,” stressed Blandon.