Nicaragua: Managua’s Green Wave
by Karin Heinze (comments: 0)
Ola Verde means green wave and is an organic enterprise in Managua. Against the advice of her friends, Carla Fjeld launched an initiative for healthy living and nutrition, and her restaurant, adjoining shop and catering have proved to be a great success. She passes on her expertise in cookery courses too and maintains that people are beginning to think in a different way. The upper echelon in society and the middle class are also now increasingly realising that nutrition is the basis for healthy living.
Carla Fjeld is an American and a nutritionist. She worked for a long time at the United Nations in Vienna before being called back to the United States by the Ministry of Agriculture. A study of eating habits led her at the beginning of 2000 to Nicaragua. What she found there was worrying: the situation was dire both regarding the health of the people and the environment and sustainability. “You can't help people eat healthfully in the context of the omnipresence of junk foods or with nutrition studies alone",” says Fjeld. “The best approach is to create an alternative offer, to disseminate information and to convince people with quality." So she set up a foundation for education and sustainability and a restaurant where people can eat healthy food.
Aim: to develop the national organic market
This is how she began twelve years ago in Managua to pass on her knowledge and to live her convictions. As well as running the little restaurant Fjeld created a network of like-minded people in the city, established contact with small organic farmers in the vicinity of the capital and set up a supply chain. In those days an especially large number of aid organisations were operating in Nicaragua that supported small farmers. This helped a great deal at the outset to make the relevant contacts and to begin finding the right products. The work of the NGOs tended to concentrate more on exports whereas the aims of Carla Fjeld were first to drive up demand for organics and sustainably produced food in Nicaragua and secondly to support the farmers in developing their farms and thus preserve or increase regional biodiversity. She is of the opinion that you have to do better than being a food exporting country while at the same time not really bothering about healthy nutrition at home.
“By pooling our efforts, I would like to make the food market more sustainable, introduce more organic products and also create a greater awareness of a healthy lifestyle.” Ola Verde creates this awareness by, among other things, working in schools, cookery courses, lectures and a weekly column about healthy lifestyles in a daily paper. She supports some suppliers with micro finance that is paid back in the form of goods.
Carla Fjeld has set a great deal in motion. She has helped to kick-start a remarkable development in society. When she founded her company, Nicaraguan friends advised her to find another name because they claimed nobody there bothered about healthy food. Ola Verde – deliciously healthy would be anti-advertising, they maintained. But today, you read in the press about the “ethical restaurant” and the “socially responsible food company.” Recently Fjeld received an award for her work from the Ministry of Education.
After moving to a better location, Ola Verde is today a restaurant with plenty of customers, an adjacent organic shop and a catering arm. Cultural events attract even more people, who are still predominantly more well-traveled, more well-educated nationals, as well as foreigners working or traveling in Nicaragua, and local and foreign business people. However, nutrition-conscious students and young families are increasingly becoming a part of the clientele. Fjeld’s presence in the restaurant and the personal way she communicates what is so special to her guests – sustainability, the social and ethical level, the health aspects of the Ola Verde offer – are down to her sense of mission but also to her ambition to is to maintain the leadership in applying concepts and practices of modern cuisine, sustainability and human health.
Ola Verde branded organic products can already be found on the shelves of the duty-free shop at Managua’s international airport. The fact that the culinary offerings of Ola Verde, as well as their educational programs, are fact-based and inspired by sustainability, has created opportunities in the business community. Recently, Ola Verde was asked to open a café in, and thus join forces with, a large fitness and dance studio owned by a prominent family that aims to promote exercise and healthy eating in Nicaragua.
Searching for partners for expansion
The intention is to sustain the leadership role by providing the best products that meet current consumer demand while simultaneously maintaining their position of leadership in catalyzing further commitments to healthy foods and lifestyle and being prepared to offer new products and services to meet increased demand. Carla Fjeld would like to continue developing these activities in Nicaragua and to promote more knowledge and application of healthy eating in businesses in Nicaragua and Central America. She can also imagine expanding the model with an experienced business partner in both Nicaragua and other Central American countries.
In particular, Fjeld regards the high certification costs as an obstacle to expanding organic cropping. “This is clearly asking too much of the farmers here. They can’t pay these high prices,” she says. At the same time, she is convinced that more organic farming has to be in the interest of the country from the point of view of the environment and sustainability, nutrition and health of the population and also of promoting eco tourism.