Nicaragua is one of the countries most affected by climate change. The people most vulnerable to climatic hazards are farming families, whose crops either dry up during droughts or drown in torrential rain. Under these conditions, greater resilience based on agroecological mehtods can mean the difference between ruin and survival.
The project aims to increase resilience to climate change in one of the driest regions of Nicaragua. To this end, the project aims to improve the availability and management of water resources for production and consumption in 6 municipalities of Matagalpa. It also aims to establish a sustainable and high-quality climate information system for the population and introduce agroecological practices that help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change and reduce their vulnerability.
Anyone who last visited the Garcia Valle family seven years ago would probably turn away and leave if they saw the fields now, convinced that they had come to the wrong address. No-one could blame them, because Rosamelia Valle Riviera’s farm in the district of San Ramón is almost unrecognisable. In 2012 she only grew beans and corn on her 0.7 hectares of land, but now the area is overflowing with an abundance of plants and flourishing fruit trees growing in the fertile soil.
Land of drought and floods
In this country, regularly swept by hurricanes or impoverished by intense waves of drought, such as El Niño in 2019, the effects of global warming have been felt for many years. And its consequences affect the agricultural sector above all.
While farmers have little influence on climatic hazards, their resilience to these changes is an essential component in their survival. A study conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the country in 1998, shows that agroecological farms suffered less damage and recovered better than conventional farms. In six provinces in the Matagalpa mountain region, SWISSAID is supporting the inhabitants in developing tools and knowledge about agroecological practices.
The agroecological knowledge taught by the project is based on three pillars: agroecological techniques, water management and climate information. With this, farmers are better prepared for the changing climate.
This knowledge is based on 3 pillars. The first includes agroecological techniques such as soil management, using local seeds, diversification and crop combination. The second aims at mastering water management at the local level (through collection and irrigation) and regional level (by providing a platform for managing shared water resources). Finally, the last pillar focuses on the climate information system, so that farmers can anticipate changes to the climate and better defend themselves against them.
Local drivers of change
Manuel, 70 years old, was born on the farm he still runs today. He too has seen his fields transformed by agroecology. “Before, all I grew was corn, beans, and some coffee. I burned my fields after the harvest. I burned my own fields!”, he explains. Now, thanks to training in agroecology, he covers the land with straw and digs terraces for soil conservation. He spaces out his seedlings to improve productivity and creates his own natural fertiliser. “I have 57 varieties on my 1.75 hectare plot. Before, I didn’t have any jocote. Now the fruit makes up a third of my income! I also have some rare fruits that were in danger of disappearing. Planting them saves those fruits.” He is now one of the local promoters who are at the heart of the SWISSAID project. He tests new techniques in his own fields and then shares his knowledge with other members of the community. Making them responsible for the methods ensures sustainability, even after the project has finished.
The “finca faro” are the farms where local promoters test and pass on their knowledge to other farmers. A guarantee of sustainability and resilience for the region’s farming families.
For the Garcia Valle family, also a local promoter, it all began with their son, Benigno, and the agroecological training course for young people that he went on in 2012. There he learned how to diversify planting, cultivate seedlings, irrigate fields and make biopesticides. His contagious enthusiasm soon spread to his whole family. Beyond its way of farming, the family’s entire way of life has been transformed. “If you change your way of thinking, you change your farm,” says Rosamelia Valle Rivera as she looks at her finca.
Continuing to spread the knowledge
In addition to farmers promoting good agroecological practices, local project partners – farmers’ associations – are organising awareness-raising campaigns among farmers in the form of flyers, brochures, workshops and radio broadcasts. In the municipalities, “Environment Days” take place regularly, during which the inhabitants discuss topics related to climate change. Various actions such as the reforestation of plots of land and clean-up days to collect the rubbish have been carried out as a result. Even schools are mobilising by raising awareness among pupils.
Whether thanks to increased awareness or through experience, agroecology is becoming more and more popular, even in the poorest regions. Manuel is convinced: “From an environmental point of view, you can see the difference in the wildlife and the landscape. Culturally, I am helping to protect and preserve native plants. Finally, on a social level, family life is more harmonious and we have closer relationships with other farmers. And, above all, I am contributing to making a better world!” The challenge now is to document the successes carefully so that the political authorities are also convinced and the fight can continue at national level.