More thoughts on food --- the cost of things here
My uncle used to sell wheat to the hippies with a price something like a dollar over what the commodity price of wheat was. At that time, wheat was selling for something like $3 a bushel, with a bushel weighing at 60 lbs. The interesting things to do here would be compare US commodity prices (farmer's price with Federal price support) to what Nicaraguans are selling bulk grain for in small lots at the markets. I think it's something like twice US commodity prices.
I think one reason things are cheaper here that isn't a toxic reason is that supply lines are very short. I can see corn growing on the lower slopes of the mountains surrounding Jinotega. People have dairy cattle in a pasture in walking distance. There are other fields and pastures at the other end of town. Not sure where the wheat comes from, or the poultry, but the beef comes from Conedega, and commercial rice comes from Sebaco (and smaller plots are closer). If local grains are priced per pound so that the bushel here costs a end user twice what it would sell for on the US commodity market, that's a significant chunk of the savings. Milo was going for 10 codobas a pound when I bought it -- and 100 lbs. for around US $13 on today's market. When my uncle was selling wheat, the local health food store was selling bulk wheat at $.30 cents a pound, so the bushel price was $18, six times the commodity price to farmers. My uncle had wear and tear on his sense of humor dealing with the hippies, but could have charged circa $6 a bushel if they bought in bulk and both parties would have been happy with the deal.
Some of the lower prices comes from this, very obviously.
The other thing that brings down prices are lower wages -- and if wages go high enough, mechanizing operations and consolidating farms is how food prices are kept lower. Some crops are low or no cultivation -- winter wheat in the right climates is one, milo appears to be another one (dry season crop apparently). Corn needs some cultivation to keep weeds down until it's established Most vegetable production is high maintenance as is small animal meat and eggs production and dairy operations. Fruit production, judging from what my neighbors and I don't put into the back yard, is low maintenance.
Coffee has periods of intensive hand work at harvest, but less work most of the year. Tobacco requires cultivation to keep weeds down, and also either chemical sprays to inhibit suckering and eliminate insects, or another bout of intensive hand work (including picking larger caterpillar larvae by hand and crushing them). Harvest requires lots of hands both for picking the leaves and for putting the leaves on sticks for drying (some tobacco varieties are pulled and hung as whole plants). Both these crops bring higher prices per pound than culinary products, but also require very significant labor outlays, including food for harvesters at least in the case of coffee. Nicaragua appears to use most of its tobacco crop in cigars, which give value added to the agricultural product, but wages for cigar rollers are fairly low.
Beef cattle make sense in many contexts because they're self-defending and tend to be sturdier than sheep (amazing the trouble sheep can get into), plus in Nicaragua, cattle are used for traction. Most more specialized cattle operations wouldn't use aged dairy cows for anything other than processed meats and hamburger, but Nicaragua seems make double use of cattle for more than just hamburger. Dual use cattle tend to be more common in small scale agriculture. A herd that's used strictly for milking is more likely to be Holstein or Brown Swiss here -- the carcasses are still useable as beef unlike the yellow-fatted and smaller Jerseys. In a country with coyotes, pumas, and the occasional jaguar, plus dogs that may not be socialized about chasing stock, sheep and goats are going to need more supervision and probably won't be run on open range even where that might exist (anyone know if Nicaragua has any open range areas?). Goat might be cheaper than pork or beef because they can be dual purpose animals with kids produced as a by-product of getting does to give milk, but I suspect that peliguey would be more expensive. Wooled sheep would be impractical here due to climate and skin parasites.
Like cattle, pigs tend to be able to defend themselves against predators up to coyote size and might in a herd be able to chase off a puma. They tend to eat things that could be fed to humans or they can be fed, with some spreading of parasites, on human scraps (slop buckets). They appear to be pastured more than kept in close confinement in northern Nicaragua. If they are not fed specialty grains, they'd be cheap enough meat animals, second to range/pasture only cattle.
Chickens outnumber other poultry species probably over 200 to one. I've seen Muscovy ducks both in Jinotega and out in the country, and have seen very occasional geese. Turkeys seem even rarer, though I know they do exist here. Both geese and Muscovy ducks seem like possible useful additions to land that has a pond or a lake, but Muscovies can fly if their wings aren't kept clipped or if they're not pinioned. They will remain around a home area where they're fed, so leaving them intact for flight might help them escape predators.
The prices for live chickens I've been quoted have been around C$100, not from specialist chicken vendors, so roughly $4.50 for a hen weighing around 5 pounds dressed out (figure 4 to 6 pounds as the range, lighter if broiler aged), circa US $.90 a pound, or C$20 a pound for whole chicken. This strikes me as fairly close to what getting a live chicken in the US might cost. US $.90 to $1.00 per pound for dressed whole chickens was what the University of Minnesota Extension agency suggested was possible in 2005 or so. I haven't tried to see about getting cheaper live birds than that, but if the range is C $75 to C$100 for a live hen, the prices are not too far off from what a small scale poultry operation would be able to get at the farm gate in the US, so poultry prices may not be lower because of wages, but because all distances between feed production, hatchery, and grow out operations are shorter. Farmyard hens would be even cheaper to raise, but losses to predators (I'm remembering the weasel that carried off a half grown chicken) would be greater.
Beef in the US goes though an extensive fattening process in feedlots, which involve keeping the animals medicated against problems with what is for cattle an unnatural diet (corn or other grains). Feedlot cattle come from the western ranges, so must be transported by truck or rail car to the feedlots, and then to processing plants (I've seen feedlots in Colorado and met a cattle buyer in Kansas). Also, US beef is generally aged at least minimally, which also adds to the overhead on beef. Nicaraguan beef appears to be minimally fattened compared to US beef, and is moved far shorter distances between pasture and slaughter (whole country is around the size of NY State; most US beef travels across half the continent.
I also think that store or market markup may be lower for a range of reasons.
If the shorter distance and fewer steps between producer and consumer explain most of the difference in food prices between the US and here, this savings can be maintained. The part of the difference that's due to extremely low farm wages could change if farms have to compete with industries for labor.