A Q & A with Javier Callejas, GFN member from Chinandega, Nicaragua, about his return to farming and how he introduced technology into his farming business.
I was born in Nicaragua in 1963. I left Nicaragua when I was 14 because of the political situation that occurred in the late 70s in Nicaragua. The government was overthrown and we ended up as political refugees in the US. We applied for political asylum, we got work permits, and we started working in the US. At the same time I started going to school. And then once I did that, I started working for Home Depot. I worked for them for 35 years. I started at the very initial job there at Home Depot and then I worked my way up and ended up in technology in Home Depot.
Now in 2015 I went back to my country. I always wanted to go back to my country. And it was the perfect opportunity. I started investing, initially buying land where I grow sugarcane now. And then with Cargill we started looking into the opportunity to becoming a private producer for them. And once I moved back to Nicaragua, we started that project.
We all at one point, including my parents, left the country of Nicaragua because simply we did not agree with how the government was moving the country. We all moved to the US and when elections occurred in Nicaragua in 1990, the Sandinistas lost those elections and then my parents returned back to the country. We stayed in the US always thinking when we’re coming back and for me was 2015 but by then five other brothers and sisters came back already. So six of us live in Nicaragua now in the same town where we were born and we all have farms and businesses where we’re private producers.
The Jump from IT to Farming
There’s a big transition there. But at the same time, I always wanted to do that anyway. Because my background is in IT, it made it easier to introduce technology into the farming business. So on our farm, which is a 30-acre complex, we ran fiber optics and now we have video that we can look into the poultry business, inside the chicken houses and we have data that I can look at my phone anywhere in the world, as long as I have internet. I can see what’s going on. I have a dashboard. I can make changes. I can do anything with technology in the chicken houses, so technology plays a very important part in our business.
Q: How does your farm compare, from a technology standpoint to other farms in Nicaragua?
Oh there’s no – it doesn’t exist. Actually when we put in technology into our farm, even Cargill came to see it because they don’t have that technology on their farms. And now they’re introducing that technology into their farms. They’re cabling with fiber optics and they’re bringing that technology in because now they see how important that is, because they can see what’s going on in their farm at any point at any time. So technology plays a good part.
Q: So you knew the technology part. How did you learn the farming part?
YouTube played a big part in it. The poultry business is very difficult. It’s very closed. They don’t allow you to come in because of biosecurity. You cannot just walk into a poultry business and say let me see how your chickens are doing. You can’t. So we learn it because we ask questions. And we watch a lot of videos on YouTube. But other than that, we learn it on the job.
We also have about 800 acres of sugarcane production. And we sell our production to the biggest mills that we have in Nicaragua. We have been doing that for more than 10 years now.
Q: What’s the benefit to you of coming to an event like the Global Farmer Roundtable?
The biggest benefit for me is knowing the people, understanding what the others are doing. I get interested in everything, so knowing people is important to me – understanding what they’re doing, their practices in their farms, what they’re not doing and getting ideas. I think that’s very important.
Q: In Nicaragua, is it important for consumers to understand how you produce food?
It is not as it is for example in the US. They’re just interested in eating. Unfortunately. It’s up to the farmers to do the right thing. And we’re actually partners with Cargill which is a very conscientious company. But in all, half the population makes two dollars or less, so they’re interested in just eating something. So they don’t have that in the forefront but more and more that’s becoming something that’s closer to them.