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Climatic Change Vulnerability For Small Scale Farmers In Nicaragua
limate change is gradually being felt by communities all over the world. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns are already contributing to increasing the vulnerability of many of the poor in developing countries. In Nicaragua the weather pattern has changed dramatically. This creates another factor of vulnerability for small scale farmers with few or no other options to secure their livelihoods. Based on information and data from local farmers in Nicaragua, this publication will assess how climate change is affecting the situation for farmers, and how they are working towards limiting vulnerability to changing conditions. The study has been conducted with cooperation from the Centre for Promotion of Rural and Social Development (CIPRES) in Nicaragua.


Improved varieties of beans developed through Participatory Plant Breeding.

Nicaragua - rich in varieties Nicaragua is situated in Central America, bordering Costa Rica in the south and Honduras in the north. A population of about 5.5 million lives in the country, the majority living on the Pacific coast. Agriculture, especially coffee production, is a major activity in the northern and Pacific region. Coffee, bananas, beans and tobacco are some of the agricultural commodities which the country produces. The biggest rainforest in Central America is found in the Atlantic region. However, due to deforestation, this has been drastically reduced the last two decades. The Atlantic coast is also home to 12 000 varieties of plants and 1400 animal species – making this region very rich in biodiversity. Nicaragua is the poorest country in the region with around 80 % of the population living on less than 2 US dollars a day.

Earlier, farmers used to know exactly when to plant their seeds in order for them to grow and be ready for the harvest. Now the first rains fall at unpredictable times and the intensity varies too. Farmers and local organisations are, however, developing various methods for adapting to such climate change. These practices include the improvement of their seeds and crops, and promoting alternative livelihood strategies for food production. The livelihoods in the area are mainly small-scale basic grain production at subsistence level. Maize, beans and sorghum are common crops. A part of the crop is sold when there is surplus, but storage capacity is small and hinders storage for better prices at other times of the year. Households also produce vegetables, cooking bananas, and fruit. They raise pigs and hens in the yards and most people keep a few cattle. In some districts, shade coffee is grown in the highlands, some of it produced organically in agro-forestry systems, and tobacco is also being grown.


Climatic Change Vulnerability Factors For Small Scale Farmers in Nicaragua The study area and project site Nicaragua (project area in green)

The study was carried out in the Municipalities of Condega, Pueblo Nuevo (both in the Department of Estelí), and Totogalpa (Department of Madriz). CIPRES has been working for more than seven years in these areas. CIPRES is advising and accompanying small farmers in the application of sustainable agricultural practices that include the improvement of their crops. The three municipalities cover an area of . km2 and have a population of approximately , people. The project area is located in the North Region of Nicaragua. The Central North Macro Region has been classified as a Dry Zone because of its low rainfall. Due to the presence of cordilleras, massifs, and valleys, the local climate, has spatial and temporal distribution of precipitation. Nicaragua has a tropical savannah climate with variations according to elevation (semiwet in the highlands and dry in the lowlands).
Climatic risks and local vulnerability

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin-America, with a GDP per capita of US, compared to , in its neighbouring country Costa Rica. A poor welfare system, unequal distribution of wealth and resources, and decades of conflict are other reasons that have led to extreme poverty. Many families have lost their livelihood assets; they have low levels of education and limited access to healthcare. The lack of information about sustainable agriculture has resulted in unsustainable practices and monoculture designed and oriented to an external market. All this has put strain on and deteriorated the natural resource base. The break up and eventual disintegration of many families of migrants along with a high proportion of households run by single women (temporally or permanently) are also expressions of the vulnerability that the communities have to deal with daily. The climate is unpredictable and extreme weather has become more common. During the course of a year, there can be both drought and hurricanes. Drought alternated with excessive rainfall, making farmers vulnerable since they are not able to be prepared or respond to such extreme weather patterns. Furthermore, the effects of climate changes come in addition to the degradation of the natural resource base because of agro-chemicals, overcultivation of soils, deforestation, slash-and-burn agriculture and deterioration of water sources. People in the countryside are no longer able to predict the weather patterns. Before they could plan agricultural activities following signs from nature but now, local predictions are no longer effective. Both the occurrence of drought as well as late rainy seasons, have changed the best time for planting basic grains.
Climate change in Nicaragua

Social dimension and people’s perception of climate change

Global warming has created many new challenges and problems all around the world. Climate change is predominantly noticed through changes in weather patterns, temperatures, amount of precipitation etc. For many poor farmers this has a direct impact on their livelihoods, forcing them to change their agricultural practices. This change is neither easy nor cheap, creating more insecurity for the already marginalized farmers. In this analysis we consider past and current climate stress by looking at subjective experiences of climatic events. The experienced climatic variability and change is crucial in an adaptation analysis, because the outcomes depend not only on the meteorological qualities of a weather pattern or extreme event, but also on contextual factors that influence people’s vulnerability and their capacity to adapt. Thus, a minor drought might have serious consequences for some, while others may experience relatively small consequences of a serious drought. Such understanding makes it possible to design measures that support poor people in their own efforts and make use of existing strengths and opportunities. The analysis therefore argue that adaptation measures needs to move beyond climate risks and physical adaptation measures, to include the social context and people’s perception of climate change, in order to build their capacity and resilience to cope with barriers and thresholds.



The most frequent and damaging expression of climate change in this area is the irregularity of the rainy season. In Nicaragua, the rainy season runs from May to October, and when rainfall is less than normal in volume and frequency, a drought occurs. Because these changes are associated with El Niño, droughts show no predictable pattern and their effects are devastating, especially in the dry zone. One of the main effects of drought is degradation of water sources. Water sources are often unprotected because of the deforestation and degradation. The soil has little infiltration capacity, hence the rain carries away the soil surface layer. Rivers have lower flows and many creeks easily dry up when there is drought or overflow in the rainy season. Sources of water become gradually scarcer and the pollution is more concentrated because of low flows or stagnation. Only in areas with dense forest cover some water sources has been preserved. The soil also loses fertility by being carried off by the winds after it is converted into dust under direct solar radiation. The erosive processes become worse and there is a greater propensity for landslides and landslips. These impoverished and compacted soils limit possibilities for growing crops, especially if there is only a minimum of water available. Cattle require stable temperatures for adequate development. During droughts, temperatures rise, pastures do not grow well, and there is a general shortage of food for them. Due to lack of water, the cattle do not develop properly and milk production falls. In addition, cattle and pigs suffer miscarriages and some die. Farmers have to sell their animals in order to cover their losses. Droughts occur irregularly, either with the rainy season coming late (not until July) or with dry spells (of up to one month) during the rainy season, or rainfall is low and dispersed over the period.

El Niño - the Southern Oscilation El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a general term used to describe both warm (El Niño) and cool (La Niña) ocean-atmosphere events in the tropical Pacific. El Niño and La Niña are officially defined as sustained sea surface temperature anomalies of magnitude greater than 0.5°C across the central tropical Pacific Ocean. Historically, it has occurred at irregular intervals of 2-7 years and has usually lasted one or two years. ENSO is associated with floods, droughts, and other disturbances in a range of locations around the world. These effects, and the irregularity of the ENSO phenomenon, make predicting it very difficult. The IPCC claims that ENSO is the dominant mode of climate variability in Latin America and is the natural phenomenon with the largest socioeconomic impacts. 2007 was a year when typical effects from La Niña were experienced in Nicaragua: dry at the start, wet and cold at the end. Because of the rainfall deficit at the beginning of the rainy season in May, June, and July, the planting of basic grains did not begin until late June. Hence the first bean crop could not be harvested as it should be during the canícula (the warmest period of the year); but only in August and harvesting coincided with the work of the second planting. The crops were then affected by the low temperatures in October and there were major losses of the basic grains harvest. The next cycle also had low yields and low quality grains because of these alterations. Due to these harvest losses, many farmers were left indebted.


Climatic Change Vulnerability Factors For Small Scale Farmers in Nicaragua Adaptation to climatic changes and vulnerability

For centuries farmers have been domesticating and improving varieties of basic grains by means of ancestral practices, generating the biological diversity that characterised the region. This diversity has been their principal tool for dealing with the unpredictable nature of the climate, and the heterogeneity of environments in order to guarantee farmers food security. The Participatory plant breeding MesoAmerica (PPB-MA) rescues and improves these ancestral practices by combining farmers traditional knowledge with scientific development. Researchers and farmers work together in developing stronger and better food plants that are better suited to variable climate conditions. CIPRES has been accompanying and advising groups of farmers in Pueblo Nuevo and Condega for more than seven years and in Totogalpa more recently, with the purpose of increasing and improving the production of quality seed with methods controlled by farmers. Unlike with conventional plant breeding, in participatory plant breeding the farmer is a key actor in the decision-making process, especially in selecting the plants with the characteristics that are of interest to them. They select those that will develop better in the conditions of their farms – at the level of micro-zones - that are resistant to drought, pests, and diseases, with good plant size, greater yield, and better quality of the final product in terms of taste, nutritional qualities and forage for animals. Farmers apply their criteria in selecting the material and evaluating it. PPB is particularly relevant in the context of these communities, where the most fundamental resources for guaranteeing their basic livelihood have been lost. In PPB, the trials were made in the parcels of the farmers – under natural conditions. Thus the plants were being improved and developed in different settings and exposed to environmental changes such as drought, high relative humidity, high temperatures, flooding, etc. Work has been done with local varieties of maize, beans, sorghum and millón that were gathered and introduced into different agro-ecological conditions at different elevations. Advanced lines and families have also been introduced, after crossing with the local varieties; have created a broad genetic diversity.
The local approach

Participatory plant breeding (PPB)

The Collaborative Programme for Particpatory Plant Breeding in Meso-America The Collaborative Programme for Participatory Plant Breeding in Meso-America (PPBMA) was initiated in 2001. Groups and agencies from the region and CIPRES joined the program, in particular to access good quality seeds that would enable them to improve yields and begin to improve their quality of life. In contrast to modern development of plants, that often take place in seed companies’ laboratories. Participatory plant breeding takes place in the farmers’ field. Farmers receive knowledge and training before carrying out cross breeding and research to develop suitable seeds for their climate, soil and taste. The farmers have the lead and control over the whole process in the programme, and decide on the attributes he or she wants to improve. In Totogalpa, the work of plant breeding begun by the CIAT-CIRAD, and CIPRES continued with the process, moving it ahead. The link with CIAT (International Centre for Tropical Agriculture) is maintained and it still provides genetic material for sorghum as well as technical assistance. The plant breeding project being executed in Nicaragua is part of the Collaborative Programme for Participatory Plant Breeding in Meso-America, with particular emphasis on the participation of the farmers in decision-making and their access to knowledge for improving the varieties of basic grains they cultivate. This programme has facilitated alliances between different actors, with farmers and their organisations playing an important role in the process, as well as governmental institutions, NGOs, universities, cooperation agencies, and national and international research centres. The linking of experiences developed in the countries through the PPB-MA as regional liaison allows for exchanging experiences, having references, making comparisons, and sharing what is learned at the regional level with an expanded horizon for all the actors. Human resources are key to the success of any plant breeding activity. Farmers are intrinsic breeders because they possess knowledge about the behaviour of their materials and about local productive conditions. Such knowledge is complementary to the experiences and capacities for scientific analysis that the professional breeder may have. Plant breeding must also be considered in terms of empowerment. The capacity to acquire or develop decision-making power, is necessary to achieve long-term development objectives. This means that farmers and the community must develop the capacity to make decisions, from both technical and organizational points of view.


Adaptation through strengthening of farmers organisations and networking

In order to work with participatory plant breeding, the Nicaraguan farmers have required their own autonomous organisation to represent them. In late  the farmers from Pueblo Nuevo created the COSENUP RL (New Union of Producers Multiple Services Cooperative, Limited Responsibility) whereby the members have proposed the goal of producing and commercialising improved seeds. For this, they are forming a commercialisation committee, another one for seeds, and others for credit, education, and research. As indications of their level of growth and self-managed undertakings, the COSENUP is strengthening ties and establishing alliances with other farmers’ organisations - including three youth organisations. COSENUP also provides temporary coverage to groups of farmers from Totogalpa and Somoto. Farmers’ decision of organising

themselves into cooperatives such as COSENUP RL, has been successful. In these communities, more and more families exchange information, knowledge, strategies, and agricultural products. They give each other mutual support, search for solutions to common problems affecting them, and combine their efforts. In just a few years, these cooperatives have been making themselves into solid organisations. They have matured and developed. The collaboration with NGOs, academia and government organisations has enabled them to scale up their actions and goals. They are acquiring capital goods under collective ownership: a wet coffee processing plant in Condega, a chicken farm in Pueblo Nuevo, and a collection and storage centre. They are increasingly making greater commitments and their decisions are responding to economic, social and environmental analysis among others. They aim to create jobs that will contribute to improving the socioeconomic situation of their communities.

Collective action is making it possible for the families to make changes and undertake initiatives that would not be possible otherwise. For example in Pueblo Nuevo, groups of women have been organised in the communities to work with family gardens, using organic and agroecological practices, with better results and without endangering their health or polluting the surroundings. Strengthening farmers’ organisations and networks, with a special focus on the inclusion of women in these activities, enhance peoples’ ability to adapt to climate changes.
Adaptation through Diversifying Production Practices

Women groups

More and more farmers are making relevant changes in their production practices adopting agro-ecological methods that are environmentally-friendly. Farmers are: • Planting branches of trees that will take root along their fence lines, and ploughing back weeds into the soil; • Planting and incorporating cover crops and applying compost in order to recover fertility; • Undertaking soil conservation work in order to have more infiltration of water and to retain the soil; • Practicing natural regeneration. They do not cut down young trees and only use dead branches. Crop rotation and diversification on the farms is a strategy that the farmers are practicing primarily to have food all year round, but also to generate income when there is a surplus. Farmers combine crops in the parcel or yard, such as squashes, onions, sweet peppers, yucca/cassava and cooking bananas. In addition to being a sound practice for the soil, diversification has contributed to improved food security of the families, and to a certain degree helping them to overcome the dependency on basic grains, diversifying and improving the family diet, producing feed for animals, and earning income. They reduce their risks by diversifying and building their farm assets. If conditions become adverse, at least one of these crops will produce. By planting some crops during the first cropping season, and others in the second, they become less vulnerable to the erratic rains, pests and low market prices.


Climatic Change Vulnerability Factors For Small Scale Farmers in Nicaragua Strategies for Economic Growth

In order to get beyond production for survival and generate income, some families are beginning to experiment on a small scale with product value adding. Individually or collectively, for example, some women are making sweets and marmalades. They package dry flowers, marmalades and make wine that they sell in the local markets. As cooperatives, they are producing poultry and organic coffee, among other products, on a greater scale. The more processed the food crops are, the more economic value is added to the products.
The value of local cultural practices

Yields per manzana* without PPB (averages) Pueblo Nuevo and Condega 15 cw 12 cw 12 cw

Crop Maize Beans Sorghum

Somoto 8 cw 17 cw 12 cw

Yields per manzana with PPB (cw = hundredweight) 22.5 cw 22 cw 18 cw

% increase 50 - 180% 30 - 83% 50%

*Manzana is a measure for land area, 0,7 ha. Source: Regional coordination, PPBMA, 2007. land, animals, seeds and the work capacity of women, men, youth and children. People have little access to technologies which could strengthen their food security and incomes. There has been limited cooperation, little exchange of products or services, little organization of activities, and few community initiatives. However, people demonstrate through these projects that they have the capacity to enter into valuable cooperation for the community as a whole. As a result of the activities, less people choose to migrate, and engage themselves in the improvements of agricultural techniques. Vulnerability and poverty is still present in the project area, but the project activities have increased the capacity of households and communities to respond to the threats they are facing.
What does this mean for reducing local vulnerability?

Ancestral survival strategies are reintroduced, such as exchanging agricultural products. A mediería, which means a farmer who owns land work half-and-half with a landless farmer. Modalities for this vary, but generally, the one with more resources contributes with seed. This practice especially benefits those farmers who lost their arable land due to Hurricane Mitch.
People’s capacity to adapt

Many small farmers in these communities have suffered a total loss of their crops on repeated occasions, due to factors such as pest outbreaks and lack of rain. Climate variability now constitutes an additional threat factor. This is affecting the food security of their families, as food is in short supply for both people and livestock. The capacity to adapt to climate change varies between individuals and groups. The majority of the population in the region has knowledge and skills of growing maize, beans and sorghum, some vegetables and fruits, as well as in traditional animal husbandry. They also have traditional knowledge on how to interpret and predict weather and seasons, but since the patterns have changed, this knowledge is less accurate today than before. In the Northern zone of Nicaragua important livelihood assets are

The effects of changes in climate are one of the main causes of alterations in the cultivation of basic grains in the last few decades, either because of the occurrence of drought, hurricanes, and/or excessive rainfall or because of the ecological alterations caused by those phenomena such as depletion of soils and water sources, alterations in the populations of insects that sometimes become pests, and the occurrence of illnesses. Farmers are achieving greater yields and better quality in their production

under different agro-ecological conditions, at the same time as having improved food security and meeting the dietary needs of their families and livestock. They are broadening the possibilities for income generation since they themselves produce the seeds they need, and as their crops require less and less chemical inputs since the new varieties developed through PPB are less input demanding. The new locally adapted varieties and improved lines of crops are giving better results than other seeds in terms of yield (see table below), resistance to drought, resistance to the pest Mosaico Dorado, and better quality sorghum and beans in terms of taste, cooking time, and yield of sorghum flour (more tortillas from less flour). Farmers are restoring their livelihoods, reducing their vulnerability, and making better use of their resources. The farmers have also had the possibility to take advantage of the contribution of scientists and validate the behaviour of the crosses in the research centres. Participatory plant breeding has therefore enabled farmers to reduce their vulnerability and the risks that are run with the frequent changes in climate by having seeds that are resistant to different factors. This also results in important savings that allows them to lower their production costs, thanks to the production of their own seed. The table above shows how yields of maize, beans and sorghum have increased significantly after introducing PPB.


Santos Luis Merlo Olivera, Community of El Rosario, Pueblo Nuevo. Santos Luis Merlo Olivera was seriously affected by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. He has three parcels in an area of six manzanas (measurement of land area). He grows basic grains and when he can, vegetables. He also has one or two cows for household consumption. He has access to water on his farm for irrigation, and he has taken advantage of this for doing trials with participatory plant breeding during the dry season. With Mitch, he lost a good part of his land. The soil was washed away by the water, leaving a rock-strewn field in its wake. “You can’t do anything with that land now. It’s not even good as a paddock.” So even after such a long time the impact of hurricane Mitch is felt by Nicaraguan farmers. Luis Merlo, however, is now a proud participant in the PPB-MA project. “The participatory plant breeding project is just what the doctor ordered. Improving the seeds is very important. We are looking for varieties that can withstand drought in order to deal with the [climatic] changes.” A change from using maize as a staple crop towards the more drought resistant crop, sorghum, has been made by many PPB farmers. “Sorghum is a substitute for maize and work is being done on varieties that would be productive, good for feed, resistant, and with a short growing cycle. They help us through the effects of the drought and bring increased yields.” Luis Merlo says that through the PPB-MA programme, farmers have acquired more information and knowledge on how to adapt and change their agricultural production in order to overcome the changing weather conditions. ”What we have gone through has made us understand better what the new practices to take should be.”


Climate change and variability have, and will in the future, have great impact on the lives of small scale farmers in Nicaragua. The unpredictable rainy seasons have severe effects for farmers as they lose important crops and hence income and food. Destructive hurricanes leave families without houses, devastate roads cutting people off from markets, school and other services, as well as destroying crops and endangering the lives of people and livestock. The consequences of climate change therefore increase peoples’ vulnerability. However, methods for improving farmers’ adaptive capacity, such as practising participatory plant breeding and conserving local biodiversity of plants and crops, have proved successful. Through participatory plant breeding, the farmers have had the opportunity to improve their seeds. The improved food security also reduces vulnerability to non-climatic shocks and changes, since food security is not so vulnerable to outside stresses due to these new ways of working. Also nutrition, health and income levels can improve through securing sufficient production of foods. Thus the quality of life of the involved households can be improved despite lack of other jobs, lack of social security systems, low and irrelevant education or weak health care. These vulnerability factors also need to be changed, but it depends to a large extent on national governments and international agencies and organisations. The Project activities increase the number of livelihood options which are viable under current socioeconomic conditions and current climate variability and change, and people’s capacity to make use of those opportunities. Thus, such project activities can be seen as a kind of first aid measure to reduce poor families’ vulnerability.

Lucia Umanzor, Tresurer of the New Dawn Cooperative, Cofradía, Pueblo Nuevo Lucila Umanzor has seen the direct effects of joining the PPB programme. Her economic situation has improved and she does not have to leave the country in order to earn enough money to take care of her family. By raising greater awareness on natural resource management as well as providing farmers with knowledge on how to do agriculture in a sustainable manner, CIPRES strengthens farmers’ capacity to adapt to the climate changes as well as other stresses. “I used to migrate to Costa Rica where I could earn a living. When I found out about the PPB programme, I decided to stay in Nicaragua and work the land. I have a small piece of land but me and my husband get a lot from that little piece. Two years ago there was almost no water in the wells, but now it is returning.”


More than Rain

This publication is part of the report “More than Rain - Identifying sustainable pathways for climate adaptation and poverty reduction”. The first objective of this study is to look at how climate change impacts farmers and poor people in the respective countries. Then it is important to understand and discuss the links between climate change adaptation, development, and poverty reduction and present the notion of sustainable adaptation measures. The second objective is to identify how sustainable adaptation measures can look like in specific, on-the-ground development projects. Finally, it is our aim to present some guiding principles for identifying activities and strategies

means for local populations and their that both reduce poverty and livelihoods. increase the capacity of households The full report and case studies can be and communities to respond to downloaded from: climatic variability and change. In order to attain these objectives, it has been fundamental to get the farmers’ The information in this presentation feedback on the experienced climate is based on Cabal, S.A.’s report risks, causes of vulnerability and their “Documentation of climate change ability to adapt. for the Development Fund” done in Nicaragua, and on an analysis of More than rain has been a cooperation various climate studies presented in between the Development Fund in the report “More than Rain - identifying Norway, CIPRES in Nicaragua, REST sustainable pathways for climate in Ethiopia, LI-BIRD in Nepal and the adaptation and poverty reduction” Global Environmental Change and made by Global Environmental Human Security project at the University Change and Human Security Project of Oslo (GECHS). GECHS has provided a (GECHS) at the University of Oslo. solid analysis of the work we are doing which increases our understanding of what climate change and vulnerability

CIPRES El Centro para la Promoción, la Investigación y el Desarrollo Rural y Social (CIPRES) is a Nicaraguan NGO established by people dedicated to a welfare based economic approach in the Nicaraguan rural areas. CIPRES works as a socio-economic support center aiming to raise the living standards of local producers, cooperatives and agricultural labourers. The organisation cooperates and networks with several other local, national and international NGOs, national institutions and farmer unions devoted to agriculture, farmers’ and rural issues. They work directly with more than 10000 families in 10 departments on the pacific coast of Nicaragua. CIPRES supports rural families and rural workers in general, defending their land rights, improving agricultural production, commercialization through encouraging small scale farming, diversification of production, inclusion of women working outside home and development of artisan work, amongst other things. CIPRES also conducts related studies and experiments, soil analysis, produce seeds, organise fairs and training sessions, facilitate the exchange of farmers’ experiences and produce educational material such as videos and written publications. The Development Fund (Utviklingsfondet) has worked together with CIPRES for 8 years. The Development Fund and CIPRES collaborate closely on the implementation of the Participatory Plant Breeding Programme in Mesoamerica (PPB-MA), as well as other project activities related to the organisation of rural cooperatives and small-scale farming innovations and linkages to markets.

The Development Fund is a Norwegian independent non-government organisation (NGO). We support environment- and development projects through local partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We believe that the fight against poverty must be based on sustainable management of natural resources in local communities. Utviklingsfondet / The Development Fund


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