The Heat of the Moment

As the new year gets underway, it will face challenges immediately as the weather poses some difficult conditions for Nicaraguan growers to overcome.  Some of our partners are already facing food and water shortages that are making an already-difficult situation even worse.  The following article from El Nuevo Diario provides some insights about what people are having to face:

El Nuevo Diario, Thursday, Dec 31, 2009

Mitigating hunger with the coffee Harvest

Mayors feverishly negotiating food to respond to calamitous times of 2010;

In dry zones they are already rationing water from artesian wells.

-Leoncio Vanegas, Madriz and Nuevo Segovia

The wind is louder passing through the dried sorghum leaves in the village of El Jobo in the municipality of Totogalpa, and in mid morning the heat begins to make clothing uncomfortable.

“It is not going to produce anything,” lamented Juan Perez Gutierrez, 32 years of age, noting that sorghum or millet is one of the crops most resistant to drought, but the one of 2009 has been one of the worst in recent years, which wiped out the first and second harvests of beans and corn.

The dry or “dead” period, as the farmers from the dry areas of Madriz and Nueva Segovia call it, barely begin their path through the calendar and the anxiery also begins to awaken in the face of the difficult search for money to buy the food for the coming eight months, while the next harvest is collected, if the rainy season ends up acting generously.

One of the worst droughts.

A study by the Mayor´s office of Totogalpa to learn the impact of the drought on the crops of corn, beans and sorghum shows losses of 58, 63 and 45%, respectively.

The damages from the second planting were more severe. In corn 96%; beans 94% and sorghum 89%. Other food crops like tubers and bananas also suffered losses.

The study was finished the last week of October, and at that time they determined that the families of two villages only had food reserves for a month and a half; two for 2 months, and one village for three months.

Now the reserves have been used up, and the people are beginning to face hunger or the challenges to survive until governmental assistance or that from international organizations would arrive. In total there are 2,500 families affected just in this municipality.

To deal with the food crisis, the mayor, Melvin Lopez said that Spanish municipalities approved $15,000 to mitigate the needs immediately, and are negotiating more resources in Spain as well as before the central government to respond to the possible calamity.

He added that the mayor´s office is promoting the raising of chickens and goats in the village of Terrero Grande, one of those most affected by the climate phenomenon and helping with jobs in the construction of the infrastructure which the municipality is promoting.

They are praying that the prices of grains do not rise

The municipalities of Madriz, San Jose de Cusmapa, San Lucas, Somotoe, Yalaguina, Palacaguina and Telpaneca are all facing the same situation. In Nueva Segovia so are the territories of Santa Maria, Macuelizo and Mozonte. All are located in the area of the dry tropics, where the irregular rainy seasons sows uncertainty among the population.

Norma Elena Gomez, from the village of San Jose in Totogalpa said that the first thing was to trust in Godso that the sources of water do not fail, “hoping also that the prices of grains do not continue rising, because look here, we don´t have anything, everything was lost,” she added, pointing to a field where not even weeds had sprouted for lack of rain.

For now those consulted by El Nuevo Diario indicated that the price of a pound of beans they are buying for between 8 and 9 cordobas a pound, and corn at 3.50 cordobas.

In almost all the villages of Totogalpa the water from the artesian wells is beginning to be rationed, like the village of El Frayle, where 11 families get water for three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon to take to their homes some four buckets of water of 20 liters each bucket. To wash clothes and to bathe they have to go to a neighboring hill, where they make use of a spring that has not yet dried up.

Some families conserve as a vital treasure a little bit of the vital liquid gotten from the few drizzles that have fallen on the roves during the frustrated rainy season, and they store them in underground tanks. “I want this to water the plants and give to the chicken and pigs,” said Carmen Gomez.

“It did not rain. It was a failure for us, because we are not going to have food, not even did we get seed to plant for next year. Not even the sorghum is going to provide a harvest. The land was left in zero,” is how she calculated the damages the crops suffered.

Salvation for the moment, harvesting coffee

It is a harsh crisis which is only beginning. They recognize the search for life on the coffee estates. “Our children have gone to the mountains to harvest coffee on some estates where it has already ripened, “ Gomez said.

Groups of women and men go out to the crossroads of their places of origin where vehicles pull up of estate owners to take them to estates in Dipilto, San Fernando, Jalapa and San Juan del Rio Coco. Coffee provides jobs and mitigates the social and economic effects of the drought.

Some 200 harvesters have been employed by the La Cascada Farm in Dipilto, owned by Luis Alberto Peralta, half are from Totogalpa and Yalaguina. According to the workers they are earning a lot of money, 21.50 [per can or 20 lbs] and food.

A young woman, Asunción del Carmen Blandón, 21 years of age and from San Antonio, Somoto where the drought left them without food, smiling she said that the first day, last Monday, she picked some 15 cans with her husband, which was an income of more than 300 cordobas.

“We will be here until the harvest ends and with the money that we earn we are going to buy corn and beans, because back there (in the community) we lost everything. It is a deal to harvest coffee because my husband barely earns 50 cordobas a day, and that is taking his own food if he is abl to find work,” she stated. Yadira Muñoz Rizo from Rio Arriba, Yalaguina said the same thing, who is on the estate with her husband and two sons. “Today we harvested 10 cans, which is 200 cordobas, when would we earn that back there?…Look, here we are earning money and getting food. There are some three months that we will spend here, harvesting coffee,” she said.


Winds of Peace staff will be in Nicaragua soon and have the opportunity to experience these conditions first-hand and prior to the forthcoming funding cycle.  We’d be interested to hear other stories of climatic coping in the Central American region.

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