Food insecurity and armed conflict threaten the lives of many who call the North Caribbean Coast Region (RACCN) of Nicaragua their home. Zorayda Gutierrez and her family, who live in this region, have experienced these challenges first hand. Like many of her neighbours, she grows rice and beans on the lands of her Miskito ancestors. However, with recent armed conflict and poor crop yields the food security of families in the RACCN, like Gutierrez’s, is at risk.
The RACCN is inhabited by the Miskito people and other indigenous groups who heavily rely on “slash-and-burn” farming to cultivate their crops. These farmers cut down and burn natural vegetation in order to clear land for planting. When a specific piece of land can no longer produce crops, the farmers move to a new plot of land and do the same again. This method of farming rapidly depletes the soil’s nutrients and forces farmers to move further and further into virgin forest every few years.
In other regions of Nicaragua, farmers have experienced crop failure due to widespread drought. As a result, many have fled into indigenous territories in search of more fertile. This has increased tension between the indigenous people and the new settlers.
In September 2015, armed conflict and violence erupted between these groups, leaving at least nine dead. In the wake of this violence, an estimated 30% of Miskito people have fled their ancestral lands in Nicaragua, finding refuge across the border in Honduras.
For those that have remained in the RACCN, safety is an enduring challenge. Many farmers fear for their lives and are afraid to go out to their fields. This fear has clearly affected the food security of many communities, as crops suffer with minimal maintenance.
This conflict over land ownership has exacerbated the already existing climate change problems of excessive rains and even major hurricanes, proving these traditional farming techniques unsustainable for these conditions, and leading to significant food insecurity. Families are reporting that they expect to be without sufficient food for up to six months of the year. Already, many young children are showing signs of malnutrition.
World Renew is responding using funds from its Canadian Foodgrains Bank account and working in partnership with Acción Médica Cristiana (AMC) to bring long-term change in the region.
This starts with training local farmers to produce high quality crops each year while farming on the same land. World Renew and AMC are teaching men and women about the prevention of crop pests, how to reduce weeds, the use of natural fertilizers, and how to apply other conservation agriculture techniques. As a result, 445 farmers have improved their soil quality, reduced insect infestations, increased vegetable production and developed better storage techniques.
This has also had a side benefit. As land fertility increases, farmers are able to practice crop rotation, which has helped to reduce tensions over land rights with new arrivals.
“I have learned the benefits of taking better care of our crops and the advantages of living close to where we farm, working the same piece of land year after year,” Zorayda Gutierrez explained. She also expressed her gratitude to World Renew and AMC for this program and has committed to sharing her knowledge