In Latin America, farmers use microfinance to fight climate change – world
Sonia Gómez has spent all her life around agriculture. She grew up on her parents’ plantation in the fertile mountains of Costa Rica before opening her own organic farm several years ago. But the experience didn’t really prepare her for what has become a serious threat to her business: climate change.
Increasingly severe cycles of drought and flooding – which are due to global warming – have wreaked havoc on her harvests of chillies, tomatoes and carrots.
“We don’t know when it’s going to rain or when the weather is nice,” says Gómez, whose farm sits at the foot of Costa Rica’s highest volcano, Irazú. “It’s hard for us as farmers to work like this.”
Globally, more than 1.5 billion people live or work on small farms, like the one in Gomez. Often they cannot afford the cutting edge technology that could help them cope with the fallout from climate change.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and Gomez hope to change that. At the end of November, Gomez’s farm became an official test bed for inexpensive, environmentally friendly technology designed to help farmers adapt to climate change. It now includes everything from a seed bank to a high-tech irrigation system.
Effort is part of the Microfinance for ecosystem-based adaptation (MEbA), led by UNEP and implemented in Costa Rica with Fundecooperación, a non-profit group and a microfinance bank. In addition to supporting the creation of 11 trial farms, the initiative worked with micro-lenders across Latin America to provide 17,000 loans to small farmers looking to invest in green solutions.
Seeds of change
“Helping smallholder farmers adapt to climate change is key to alleviating poverty, ensuring food security and preserving the biodiversity that provides us with vital resources,” says Leo Heileman, UNEP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “This move towards more sustainable and resilient agriculture requires the full support of financial institutions. “
While producing relatively little carbon dioxide itself, Latin America and the Caribbean are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions induced by climate change. This is especially true in what is known as the Central American Dry Corridor, which includes El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. More than 2 million people depend on subsistence agriculture there and by the end of the century, temperatures could rise to as high as 7 ° C, according to some projections. This, experts say, would dramatically change weather conditions.
Since 2012, MEbA has provided technical assistance to financial institutions, helping them disburse over US $ 29 million in loans to smallholder farmers in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru and the Dominican Republic.
The project has helped farmers finance more than 30 climate change adaptation strategies, from beekeeping to agroforestry. At the end of November, Fundecooperación also launched two new types of loans that promote climate-smart agriculture and livestock farming.
This funding allowed farmers to reinvest in their land. Gomez’s farm, which she calls La Sanita, in Spanish for “healthy”, presents several novelties designed to protect against extreme weather conditions. These include a rainwater collection system built on top of a Gomez greenhouse previously erected with a microcredit from Fundecooperación. It channels water directly to the roots of its plants by drip irrigation, reducing water loss through evaporation.
The farm, located in the province of Cartago, also has an organic fertilizer laboratory to improve soil productivity and a bank to save seeds of organic quality. Additionally, Gomez planted fruit trees and perennial grasses in the steeper areas of his farm to reduce soil erosion.
After months of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm was officially opened on November 25 at an online event. This was not the only “demonstration ground” – another, the Xoloitzcuintle farm, which grows vegetables for the country’s famous hot sauces, joined La Sanita to prove the success of the MEbA project in the province of Cartago.
The Xoloitzcuintle farm, managed by María Fernanda Masís, recovers the quality of its soil to cope with extreme weather events. Years of mechanical plowing and agrochemicals have resulted in compacted soil, with little organic matter, which easily erodes when heavy rains arrive.
With the support of the project, the farm finds solutions for water management. Some are simple, like digging trenches to infiltrate the water outlet, others more complex, like drip irrigation systems. Masís also turned to organic fertilizers and set up a sylvo-agricultural system that exploits the wood and fruit trees of the farm.
“Teaching by example is our best option,” said Marianella Feoli, Executive Director of Fundecooperación. “Demonstration farms [like La Sanita and Xoloitzcuintle] facilitate exchanges between producers and help them learn from each other’s experiences and invest in similar solutions through specialized credit products. “
MEbA is a project implemented by the UNEP regional office in Latin America and the Caribbean, funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.