The government is blaming it on the warming of the Pacific Ocean known as El Niño, while scientists are disputing how much warming has actually occurred. But whatever the cause the drought that has hit Central America and extends south into Colombia is very real. The rainy season should have begun in May, but three months later there has been only a fraction of the normal rainfall. Crops have failed, cattle have little to eat or drink and subsidised grains are being made available to poor communities – even while government budgets are cut back because nearly one-fifth of the economy is based in farming.
This week I saw some of the effects at first hand. A group from the US is on a visit to Nicaragua looking at the effects of climate change and the government’s success in switching to renewable energy for electricity generation (last year they passed the 50% mark for the first time). We took the group to El Timal to see the latest phase of the solar energy project, and while there we also visited Cuadrante 84 where we have not only installed electricity but plan to carry out a solar-driven irrigation project.
There will be eight families taking part in the new project, and the main photo shows several of those involved. They are standing, sadly, in a maize field where the crops have already started to shrivel and will certainly not produce any corn. The irony is that the field is alongside the community’s well (one of the US visitors is looking into it in the smaller photo), but the only way to draw water at present is with a small bucket.
We hope that this will all change in the next few months. We have a grant of £9,000 from the British embassy to install solar panels, an electric pump, a water storage tank and the pipes to irrigate the surrounding fields (the eight families each own just over three hectares, allocated through the country’s land reform programmes). The well has an ample supply of water, which can be drawn up by the solar-driven pump and held in the tank for use both for irrigation and by the families themselves. The irrigation will use a drip system to minimise wastage. The families are already talking about growing vegetables and fruit, and the project will include training from one of ADIC’s farming experts in how to make best use of the improved water supply.
This is a very small project, but an exciting one. It brings together the ‘alternative technology’ aspect of ADIC’s work, which we’ve been developing over the last eight years, with the longer-established sustainable farming work with which ADIC began as an organisation more than 20 years ago. There are several challenges. It’s a lot of money to invest in one small community and we have to decide how best to recover some of the investment so as to pay maintenance costs. We have to train people both to use the equipment and in farming methods they may not have used before. The community is isolated and very poor – and distance itself is a problem (it’s more then an hour’s drive from Masaya because of its location well away from main roads). Above all, we’re going to be reliant on their ability to work together and share a communal resource.
Please look at this page for future updates on the project, which should be finished early in the New Year.