The sound of cicadas is deafening in Las Brisas, Nicaragua – a sign of the dry season and the months of the year when the sun is scorching and water is scarce. This small farming community nestled in the dry, mountainous region of the country has always experienced times of water scarcity during these months, but a changing climate is making it harder to predict the length and timing of the dry and rainy seasons.
Six years ago, Pedro Juan and Blanca Garcia moved here to raise their three young children and cultivate the land. Like the farmers of his parents’ and grandparents’ generations, Pedro relies on his sense of history to predict when the rains will come. Each year, he carefully prepares his fields and plants his seeds at just the right time to reap the benefits of the annual rainy season. Unfortunately, these rains are becoming more and more unpredictable each year.
While farmers have always faced climate variability, the weather in recent years has been especially unpredictable. Farmers all over the world are talking about changing weather patterns that they have experienced. They cite huge changes in the onset of the rainy season, the length of the rains, and the frequency of both droughts and floods.
These changing weather patterns and extreme weather events are disrupting food production for farmers all over the world. While we see some evidence of this in North America, the changes in developing countries are even more drastic. The impacts are also felt more severely since small-scale farmers have no fallback plan if their crops fail.
Pedro’s story in Nicaragua is a great example. About 17% of Nicaragua’s population live in extreme poverty with 76% of the poorest people living in rural areas and making their living as farmers. Over the past 50 years, Nicaragua has seen significant climate changes. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the average temperature in Nicaragua has increased by two degrees Celsius and rainfall has decreased by about 15%. And it isn’t just the UN that says so.
In response to this situation, ACJ has been implementing “climate sensitive agriculture” in these communities for the past year. They are using a community assessment tool called CRISTAL (developed by CARE) which walks a community through a process of identifying threats and vulnerabilities, the resulting risk, and strategies for adaptation.
The tool was useful for finding out how the climate was impacting food production and just how much of an impact the changing weather has had. The process helped Pedro and his neighbors confirm what they already suspected: rainfall has become increasingly erratic, there is less rainfall overall, and that the rainy season has shortened from eight months to six. Also, typically the month of August separated the first and second growing season which allowed a window for crops to mature and dry down before harvest. This short little midsummer drying season has shifted and often Pedro’s crops are moldy at harvest. Pedro and his neighbors also observed that there has been an increased amount of crop pests that they traditionally did not encounter.
ACJ is facilitating adaptation strategies that include tree planting to control soil erosion and take carbon out of the atmosphere. They have also introduced several new varieties of crops that are more drought tolerant, shorter season varieties that mature quicker although yield slightly less, and new methods of growing higher value crops using drip irrigation during the dry season. Additionally, ACJ is working in the area of post-harvest storage to reduce crop losses due to mold and pests.
This year, Pedro and his family have planted beets, cucumber, watermelon, melon, tomato and green pepper – all for the first time. Pedro also came up with an innovative idea to create a homemade drip irrigation system using recycled plastic bottles and IV equipment discarded from the local hospital. Additionally, Blanca has integrated into a group of women who are being trained in preserving fruits and vegetables for consumption during months of scarcity.
Pedro, who is now a promoter for climate change adaptation in his community, explains, “Before we planted the seed and the rainy season brought us our harvest. Now, however, this isn’t working for us. We are learning to adapt by planting trees, conserving water, and experimenting with different crops.” Both Pedro and Blanca are grateful to be learning these new strategies that are helping them adapt to their increasingly unpredictable environment.
Written by: Bethany Beachum