Part 5 Climate Change Comes to Piedras Gordas

This is part 5 of an 8-part story sequence featuring Joaquín Reyes and his family. For two years, Sustainable Harvest International Field Trainer Mariano Navarro has worked with the Reyes, who are just about to enter the third phase of our program. To learn more about our phases and methodology, click here. Otherwise, read on!

The challenge for us is that we have to care for the planet. This affects all of us—children, teenagers, adults, and older people like me…we’re all in trouble.
— Joaquín Reyes

Joaquín Reyes has a point--we have to care for the planet. - photo by Michele Christle

Piedras Gordas, Panama — We’re not into fear mongering, but we do believe that Joaquín Reyes has a point.

WHY ARE SMALL FARMERS LIKE THE REYES IN TROUBLE?

A drought has been plaguing Piedras Gordas, Panama since March. It should have been raining for months. The steady weather patterns that farmers like Joaquín once relied on no longer exist. This means a number of things for their family and farm—for one thing, it means that their vegetable garden and plots are struggling.

The Reyes depend almost entirely on what they grow in order to provide food for their family, and for their income. For small farmers like the Reyes, climate change has major repercussions.

bollos de maíz, prepared by Urita - photo by Michele Christle

bollos de maíz, prepared by Urita - photo by Michele Christle

Typically, the Reyes love providing bountiful meals for their guests—sourced entirely from the food they produce on their own land. When we were visiting, however, Joaquín apologized several times for them having to bring in food from an outside source. Being able to sustain their family with food they grown on their land is not only a source of pride for the Reyes, it’s part of the core values that define their family. Sustainability is part of their very identity.

Resilience is an important concept here. Diversified plots such as the ones the Reyes have planted tend to be better protected against the external shocks brought about by climate change in Central America. Scientists have proven that on average, Central America still receives the same rainfall each year, consistent with historical records. The change is that the rain doesn’t fall during expected seasons.

Furthermore, there are less rainy days and on days when it does rain, it tends to rain more intensely than it did before. In order to be resilient in the face of climate change, farmers like the Reyes have to choose more farming systems that use water as efficiently as possible. They have to adapt their farming systems in order to preserve their livelihoods…in order to survive.

The Reyes are off to a good start protecting themselves from the effects of climate change, but to combat climate change itself, we all need to work together.

We all need to work together to survive. - photo by Bailey McWilliams

We all need to work together to survive. - photo by Bailey McWilliams

WHAT DOES CLIMATE CHANGE LOOK LIKE IN PIEDRAS GORDAS?

It looks like...

  • water levels in the river reduced to extremely low levels (lack of access to water).
  • vegetable gardens and newly planted crops shriveling up without any rain to speak of (threats to food security and food sovereignty)
  • periods of intense drought, followed by periods of intense and heavy rains (unpredictability).

Eliaquim, Joaquín’s oldest son, stands by a river that was once much more abundant and full of life--the drought is taking its toll everywhere. - photo by Michele Christle

In areas that have been clear-cut for conventional farming or grazing livestock it looks like topsoil being lost along with valuable nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous as heavy rain washes it away from the farms where it should be (land degradation).

In addition, the rain often catches bits of plastic bags and other manmade debris, which wind themselves around the roots of trees by the river.

As we walked along the river, Joaquín’s eldest son, Eliaquim noted, “When we were younger, we used to bathe here.” On that particular day, however, there was hardly enough water to make a splash.

BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT

Watch this short video we made of Joaquín discussing the effects of climate change in the tropics.

“As a farmer, one of the effects of global warming I’ve noticed is how this once abundant brook has lost so much of its volume. It used to have many different species like shrimp, bream, and sardines. You can see how low it is now. The life it had is gone.

Years ago, if you tried to cross here, the water would come all the way up to your knees. The water used to flow by. This whole area where I’m standing was under water. Meanwhile now? It’s disappearing.

So, what do I want to say about this? We’re worried. The challenge for us is that we have to care for the planet. This affects all of us—children, teenagers, adults, and older people like me…we’re all in trouble.

Some people think that global warming is only about icebergs melting. But that’s not how we feel it here. Here in the tropics, we have our own way of understanding the effects of global warming.”

In order to avoid further trouble, Joaquín says, we must care for the planet NOW.

TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD

Remember how we said we’re not into fear mongering? Well, the good news is that the 2,543 farmers that have partnered with us—like the Reyes—are caring for the planet now. How? Through adopting practices that help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Agriculture and deforestation are two major sources of atmospheric carbon on a global scale. Our emphasis on reforestation and agroforestry contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the atmosphere. The farming techniques we use sequester carbon in the soil and the biomass (via trees and animals).

Projects and tools like wood-conserving stoves help to reduce co2 emissions and stop deforestation. Trees that have been incorporated into farms are more likely to survive extreme weather.

The diversified farming systems we work with are more resilient against climate shocks than systems that just include annual crops or monocultures. Cover crops and root systems help to avoid land degradation in general and soil erosion in particular. These techniques are part of climate change mitigation—helping farmers to reduce the root causes of climate change.

Many of these techniques are also part of climate change adaption—helping farmers to be better equipped to deal with the effects of climate change that are already here. Techniques such as diversified plots, soil improvement and conservation, and erosion control, though not immune to the shocks of climate change, are more resilient than conventional farming methods.

During a drought or period of extreme rain, sustainable farming methods can still produce enough of a harvest to allow a family to avoid a famine. (Though Joaquín expressed disappointment that he couldn’t feed us with food that his family had grown, he assured us that his family was still eating from their own food supply despite the drought. And, he promised that the next time we came back they’d be sure to serve us a meal sourced entirely from their farm and garden.)

Mariano Navarro, a Sustainable Harvest International Field Trainer, has been working with the Reyes for several years now. - photo by Michele Christle

In addition, we advocate for alternatives to reliance on external inputs such as synthetic agrochemicals. We not only encourage the use of organic pesticides and insecticides, we ensure that the farmers that partner with us are comfortable making them with ingredients they can find on their own—natural ingredients that cost far less than synthetic agrochemicals. This saves them money, keeps them out of debt, and allows them to enjoy greater economic resilience.

Though we can’t say that the Reyes are not suffering from the consequences of the drought and climate change, we can say that due to the sustainable practices they are perfecting with assistance from their field trainer, Mariano, they are much better off than farmers who use conventional farming practices or slash-and-burn.

It’s also important to note that the Reyes are just going into the third phase of our 5-phase program. By the time they graduate, they will have received further innovative, in-depth training in environmental stewardship and commercialization and small business development and microfinance. Through their hard work and commitment, they'll become even better equipped to handle both economic and environmental struggles.

WE HAVE TO CARE FOR THE PLANET

Joaquín has challenged us to care for the planet. The challenge is that for our efforts to work, we must all care for the planet in tandem.

Similar to what was agreed to in the COP21 (the treaty recently signed during the climate talks in Paris), each nation must do its part to reduce climate change emissions and help those most at risk to adapt to the manifestations of climate change that are already here.

On a more personal level, Joaquín has challenged each of us to do something. Joaquín is worried. Everyone in Piedras Gordas is worried. Across the globe, we’re worried. Let’s turn that worry into something good.

Feeling moved to do something? Here are some things you can do!

Stay tuned for the next installment--we'll be celebrating Joaquín and Urita's wedding anniversary (December 31!) or click here to catch up on other stories in the series that you may have missed.


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