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Climate change

Farmers forced to find new way to survive in El Salvador

by Oliver Moore, Trócaire supporter

For the first week of this month, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit El Salvador with Trócaire.

We visited marginalised communities all over the country, communities at various stages of organisation and needs. Some communities were very much in need of aid to help with basic survival, others were more organised and were building resilient livelihoods for themselves.

The country is prone to disasters such as earthquakes – in fact, there was a tremor in San Salvador the day we left, from a large and destructive earthquake in neighbouring Guatemala, which has left over 10,000 homeless and dozens dead already. Hurricanes too are regular in this region.

Natural disasters are compounded by the extra extremes of climate change. According to the IPCC’s 4th report from 2007, “the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes increased by about 75% since 1970.” Weather patterns are more erratic and less predictable, as experts have predicted.

Trócaire support various NGOs on the ground in El Salvador. These NGOs are partners who help rural, marginalised communities to survive, cope and then hopefully thrive.

What was most surprising, from my own perspective, was how the communities themselves all used organic methods to try to adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

Farmers find new ways to survive in El Salvador

Importantly, this was not ‘business-as-usual’ subsistence farming. Instead the communities we visited, to varying degrees, were involved in an organised, learning led and NGO supported step up from subsistence and into agro-ecological food production techniques.

Agro-ecology involves producing food using locally available and affordable techniques and inputs, ones which involve environmentally sound principles. Inputs should break down easily in the environment and not be persistent and toxic to nature or people, for example. Agro ecology also involves growing a wide variety of crops using rotations, often companion planted with a variety of fruiting and other trees.

All of these methods help to build soil structure and quality, which in turns makes communities more secure in their food supply. This holds for those who are just surviving, and also for those trying to produce food not just for their own community but also to sell on for much needed income.

One such community was called Los Montes Cascieres. This community is in Cuisnahaut, in the east of El Salvador, the country’s third poorest municipality.

Manuel Montes Careas, 43, is the President of a network of 127 small farmers in the community of Los Montes Cascieres.

Manuel explained that the community had much less rain than normal between March and May this year, which meant they lost 50% of their crops. “We are measuring the rainfall now to understand the changes.”

He says the changing climate is forcing farmers to find new ways to adapt if they are to survive.

“In October this year we had 110 millimetres of rain in one and a half hours, the river flooded and all the small plants we were cultivating were lost.”

Rain fall patterns here are now extraordinarily erratic. Despite downpours, including disastrous downpours just before crop harvesting time, overall rainfall was lower than usual for the growing season.

With support from Trócaire’s partner El Balsamo the farmers network are producing all their own organic fertilisers for their crops, rather than going into debt to purchase expensive synthetic fertilisers.

“The soil and the crops are more resistant to rain than in areas where chemical fertilisers are being used. The soil also has more nutrient value.” Manuel explained.

“Using organic fertilisers and diversifying our crops is helping us to overcome the challenges of climate change. The soil is sandy and the organic fertiliser increases the soils capacity to absorb water and nutrients meaning if we get enough rain we will have a better harvest. We are also diversifying the crops we sow so we are less reliant on individual crops in case of future weather events”.

Supporting organisations like Trócaire means supporting this sort of work in the places its most needed.

Take action to secure climate change legislation in Ireland here.

Captions: Top left and bottom. Fedelina Ramos Arhoeta lives in the area of Cantón San Lucas in the municipality of Sonsonate, one of the poorest in El Salvador. Photos by Conor O’Loughlin. Top middle and right: Fedelina and Manuel Montes. Photos by Michelle Moore.

This article originally appeared in the Examiner on Nov 15, 2012.


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