How One Small Community Fights Climate Change
The last three years were the hottest on record worldwide. Climate change is real and it is here. I see the terrible impacts on families and the earth every time I visit the coffee lands. Here is the story of one small community in Nicaragua and how it is coping with the very real carnage caused directly by the changing climate.
El Apante was one of the first coffee villages I ever visited in Nicaragua over twenty years ago. The coffee fields are held in common as the land was given to the villagers after the General fled when the dictator Somoza’s government fell in 1979. I remember so vividly how the farmers sang as they harvested together while I walked through the fields. The village was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1999, and we supplied the funds to repair the destroyed mountain road that cut off the village for weeks and for food aid to support the families during that hard time.
In El Apante, climate change means very little rain and a two month longer dry season than before. Without the rains the coffee flowers and subsequently the beans don’t develop. The weakened plants are also more susceptible to diseases that have become more powerful in the changed climate. La Roya (Rust) has always been in the soil and spread by the winds, but usually it only did minor damage and was overcome by the healthy plants. Not anymore. In the last several years, Roya has utterly decimated the landscape throughout Central America, with overall national coffee crop losses averaging over thirty percent. But in the village of El Apante, the losses were almost total. And since it takes three to five years for a coffee plant to produce, the families of El Apante are basically without any income for several years.
Fortunately for the small community, their cooperative, Prodecoop, provides a financial safety net through fair trade premiums. Families without income (almost all of them) receive monthly food supplies, access to health care, financial and educational support. With our direct assistance, the farmers have been replanting the coffee trees with a hybrid that resists La Roya. To date, the beans are too underdeveloped to brew, but they are picked and used to grow even more resistant plants. So far, 80% of the trees have been replanted.
Due to the instability of income and crop damage from climate change, the farmers no longer want or can rely solely on coffee for income. Dean’s Beans is working with the farmers on alternative income crops that are not impacted by La Roya. As always in our direct development work, it is the farmers who are deciding what to plant based on what can provide nutrition and income for their families.
This was also the first field trip for Alison, our new Manager of International Development, who was able to observe the community building style that Dean’s Beans presents with farmers and coffee communities. She saw firsthand the cornerstone of People Centered Development in action remarking: “Deep and reflective listening to the realities of the farmers cannot be emphasized enough. When barriers were presented to crop diversification, ideas were shared with Dean’s Beans in an open-hearted and egalitarian manner. As ideas began to flow around diversification of crops, excitement, energy and hope also flourished amongst the farmers. They offered to show us, with great pride, the experimental plots. And a tasty show it was!”
The experimental plots of El Apante are already bursting with the bounty of bananas, oranges, mangos, and papayas. During our visit, we talked about increasing the value added to the fruits by processing them on the farm into jams and other products for local sale or export (Trust me, when you taste that Mango Jam you will want a jar or two!). We also looked at other plantings, such as Teak and Cyprus trees that could add a new income source as well as combat climate change by sequestering CO2. The farmers were enthusiastic about all of this, and we have committed to working side by side with them to get back to being able to support their families from their lands once more.
Climate change feels overwhelming, yet it can be confronted on the world stage and on the village level. The good people of El Apante are showing us the way.