When it finally rained in Nicaragua in the evening of August 26, it wasn’t a gentle patter of raindrops. Over the course of an hour, more than five inches of rain poured down on the parched land along the pacific coast of Nicaragua and was the cause of much celebration. An entire cropping season had gone by in which most farmers couldn’t plant at all. For the few who did plant, the seed either didn’t germinate or the plants simply withered up for a lack of moisture. With this storm and the rain since, everyone was hoping that the drought was over, and farmers could begin to plant their next crop. However, food reserves in most homes are extremely low, and many farmers didn’t have any seed left for planting because they had used it for food. Others families had already made the decision to send their able bodied men to migrate to Costa Rica to find work.
Our partner, the San Lucas Foundation was able to distribute seed to over 400 families using funds from World Renew. I recall writing up the proposal for World Renew and asking the San Lucas Director Francisco Moraga and asking ‘how can we turn this crisis into an opportunity?’ The proposal was quickly approved and implementation began. Finding a reliable source for the purchase of seed took several weeks. On two occasions the seed was purchased on the condition of passing a germination test. Both times there was less than 40% germination, which meant having to start over and locate another source. Finally in the north of the country seed was purchased that met the criteria and the participant selection and distribution began.
One of the farmers was Juan Canales that I met two weeks ago he walked us through his fields just as his beans were ready to be harvested. Juan told us how the drought affected his family and community and what it is like watching your crops wither up and watch your food reserves dwindle to nothing. The beans that he will soon harvest will help, but it will continue to be precarious for the next six months in terms of food security. I then asked the question ‘I know the drought has severely affected you, but are there any redeeming things that you discovered because of the drought.’ I hesitated to ask this question because I did not want to downplay the severity of the situation, but in my experience almost every project has unexpected outcomes.
To my surprise Juan and his neighbor that joined us on the walk quickly began sharing a number of ways, it was obvious that they had already thought this through. Here are a few of their reflections…
- The unity in the community was strengthened as they worked with the San Lucas Foundation on how to organize this project. Even though some families were not eligible, it was felt that the process was healthy.
- Because of a seed shortage, a number of farmers managed to find seed varieties on their own that they traditionally did not cultivate. This is pushing farmers to diversify with ‘creole’ varieties that had been replaced with commercial varieties over the past few years. These varieties might not be as high yielding, but they are more resilient in adverse growing conditions. Some farmers were able to find some black bean seed in the market and planted small fields with this bean that is not traditionally consumed here.
- All the talk about climate change suddenly became real and they will have to take climate change adaptation seriously if they are going to continue farming in a new era where traditional precipitation patterns are constantly changing.
- Some communities had already had seed banks where farmers collectively store their seed. This community did not, and now they realized the importance of learning how to collectively select and conserve seed, especially in times of drought. Juan shared how the community will be organizing their seed bank after the harvest.
- Conservation agriculture, a new cultivation method that we are promoting that maximizes water conservation, suddenly became a significant alternative.
- Finally, there was a new realization of their relationship and dependence on God.
I want to share this with you as a testimony of the resilience of the Nicaraguan people. It also serves as a reminder how crises sometimes promotes innovation in ways that you never imagined.
Written by: Mark Vanderwees