Central American and Brazilian Peasants Join Forces Against Drought

Central American and Brazilian Peasants Join Forces Against Drought

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Having on the dining room table a seven-liter container with a filter that purifies the water collected from the rain, and opening a small valve to fill a cup and quench thirst, is like a revolution for the Salvadoran farmer, Víctor de León.

As if that were not enough, having a pond dug into the ground, a reservoir of rainwater captured to ensure that livestock survive in periods of drought, is also an unprecedented event in La Colmena, a hamlet in this rural municipality Candelaria de la Frontera, in the western department of Santa Ana.

“All our lives we have spent going to rivers or springs to get water, and now it is a great thing to always have it within reach,” De León, 63, told IPS while carrying grass (forage) to a farm. of their calves.

This farmer is dedicated to the cultivation of basic grains and the production of milk, with his 13 cows.

“These Brazilian producers have a lot of experience on the subject,
They are very organized, their motto is not to fight the drought
but to learn to live with it ”: Vera Boerger.

This region of El Salvador, located in the so-called Dry Corridor of Central America, has suffered for years the effects of extreme weather: droughts and excessive rains that have spoiled corn and beans, the two main agricultural items, several times. of the country and basic in the local diet.

Likewise, water for drinking and for watering livestock has been scarce.

But now the 13 families of La Colmena and others in the municipality of Metapán, also in Santa Ana, are adapting to climate change.

They have learned the sustainable management of water resources and soils, thanks to a project that has joined the efforts of international cooperation, the government, the municipalities involved and the communities themselves.

The project, with an amount of 7.9 million dollars, is financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and executed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with the support of various ministries and mayors.

Sharing experiences

The work in the localities involved, which began in September 2014, is already yielding positive results, and this led to the visit, in May, of a group of 13 Brazilian farmers, six women, who also live in a region with water scarcity.

The objective was to exchange experiences and learn how their Salvadoran counterparts deal with droughts and climatic effects on crops.

"It was very interesting to know what they are doing there, how they are dealing with water shortages, and we told them what we do here," Salvadoran farmer Pedro Ramos, 36, told IPS.

The visit was organized by the Articulation of the Brazilian Semi-arid (ASA), a network of 3,000 producers and social organizations from that ecoregion in Northeast Brazil, the driest region in the country. Now, six Salvadoran peasants will travel to see that reality between June 26 and 30.

"The Brazilians told us that there was a year when what rained was barely what the families in the area consumed in one day, practically nothing," Ramos continued.

The Brazilian delegation learned about the project that FAO is executing in the area, and visited similar initiatives in the municipality of Chiquimula, in the department of the same name, in the east of neighboring Guatemala.

"These Brazilian producers have a lot of experience in the matter, they are very organized, their motto is not to fight the drought but to learn to live with it," said Vera Boerger, Land and Water Officer of the FAO Subregional Office for Mesoamerica .

Brazilians, he added in an interview with IPS from Panama City, live in more complicated conditions than Central Americans: in the Dry Corridor it rains between 600 to 1,000 millimeters a year, while in the Semi-arid ecoregion, from 300 to 600 millimeters, "When you want to rain."

In La Colmena life has been and is precarious, without access to electricity and piped water supply, among other deficiencies.

According to official figures, the supply of piped water in El Salvador in 2017 was 95.5 percent in urban areas and 76.5 percent in rural areas. Poverty in cities reaches 33 percent, while in the countryside it rises to 53.3 percent, in a country of 7.4 million inhabitants.

In La Colmena, Brazilian peasants were able to see in detail the two reservoirs built in the village to catch rainwater.

They are rectangular ponds dug into the ground, 2.5 meters deep, 20 meters long and 14 wide, covered by a polyethylene membrane that prevents seepage and retains the liquid. Its capacity is 500,000 liters.

The village was just beginning to fill up, IPS found, because the rainy season, from May to October, has just begun. In principle, the water will be used for cattle and for small gardens.

Ofelia Chávez, 63, is dedicated to cattle ranching on her 11.5 hectares of land. With 19 cows and calves, she is one of the main beneficiaries of the reservoir installed on her property, although the water is shared with the community.

"With the cattle, I would go down to the river, and I was tired and worried in the summer when the water was scarce," he told IPS, on the shore of the other pond, on the De León farm, together with several neighbors who watched with enthusiasm how its level rises every day, as it rains.

"Experts tell us that we can even grow tilapias here," added Ramos about the possibility of improving the community's income with fish farming.

He added that the Brazilians told them that the reservoirs in their country are built with cement plates, instead of polyethylene membranes. But he believes that in El Salvador that system probably will not work because the soil is brittle and the cement would end up cracking.

“It is possible to do (this membrane design) in some locations in the Semi-arid region, it can be experienced here,” said one of the Brazilians who visited the country, Raimundo Nonado Patricio, 54, who lives in a rural settlement in Tururu, a municipality in the state of Ceará.

For the producers of the Dry Corridor, he told IPS in a telephone interview from Rio de Janeiro, a useful experience "is our diversity of crops and the systems for capturing rainwater."

In the two Central American countries visited, production is concentrated "in two or three crops, mainly corn," he said, while in the Semi-arid, dozens of vegetables, fruits and grains are planted, and various species of animals are raised, even with little land.

In total, the Salvadoran project financed by the GEF built eight reservoirs of similar capacity.

Each beneficiary family also received two tanks to catch rain, made of polyethylene resin, with a capacity of 5,000 liters, so they can store up to 10,000 liters. Once purified with the filter provided, the water is fit for human consumption.

"My wife tells me that now she sees the difference, we are grateful, because before we had to walk for more than an hour through paths and hills to a spring," said Daniel Santos, 37, also a grain producer.

In addition, living barriers were erected in the beneficiary communities, with grass, and dead, with stones, on sloping lands, to prevent erosion and achieve water infiltration, an effort aimed at preserving water resources.

300,000 fruit and forest trees were also delivered, as well as seeds for growing grass, in order to increase plant coverage.

María de Fátima Santos, 29, who lives in a rural community of Fátima, in the state of Bahia, told IPS that of the experiences she had in El Salvador and Guatemala, the one that was most profitable is “the use of the water filter to drink, which is common, similar to that in Brazil, but little valued here ”.

For their part, his Central American counterparts, he considered, could adopt the "economic garden", for which a large hole is made in the ground, a tarp or plastic cloth is placed, covered with the removed earth and then some tubes holes and also buried provide it with underground drip irrigation.

With the contribution of Mario Osava from Rio de Janeiro

Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez

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