In October, Heather Putnam, CAN’s Associate Director, visited CAN’s partner organization the UCA San Ramón.
The first thing I noticed upon arriving to the northern department of Matagalpa was how hot and dry it was – typically, October is the height of the rainy season and can be quite cool up in the mountains. I met with Yadira Montenegro, who has managed CAN and the UCA San Ramón‘s joint food security project for the last five years. She confirmed that the rains had not yet arrived in the region of San Ramón. This means the second year of drought for the communities of coffee farmers we work with there.
When I visited two rural cooperatives the next day, I heard from farmers that the corn they had planted in the first growing season was stunted due to the lack of water and they were not expecting a good first corn harvest. Furthermore, they still had not planted the second planting of beans–normally planted in late September or early October–because of the absence of rain to start seed germination in the ground. The situation looks dire: farmers can already see that the corn harvest will be small, and if there is a bad bean harvest on top of that, it means very little staple foods stored in family homes to last through the year.
The women told me that they had been able to keep their vegetable gardens going by informally recycling kitchen greywater. The vegetables would help families have something to supplement their diet, but that they were afraid of running out of staple foods next year right when the prices of food skyrocket due to scarcity. This would leave entire communities in crisis.
There is good news, however. UCA San Ramón and the eight cooperatives working with CAN’s Food Security & Sovereignty project are implementing a plan to reduce the severity of the crisis-to-come, and to serve as a long-term resiliency strategy in the future as changes in weather patterns continue to result in undependable harvests and high prices.
The plan is to use Food Storage and Distribution Centers, or CADAs, and seed banks to help weather scarce seasons. The CADA is modeled after CADAs established in CAN’s Food Security & Sovereignty project in Las Segovias, Nicaragua, where seven CADAs are currently running. Staple crops, such as beans, are purchased from cooperative members, stored, then sold at below-market prices or lent back to cooperative members during the season of scarcity when prices are high. Similarly, cooperatives collect and store seed corn in seed banks. The seed corn will be available to be sold or lent to the families in the community in the next scarce season. CADAs and seed banks are critical strategies to mitigating severe climate shocks like the current drought, and can also be important tools for relocalizing control over the local food system to communities themselves.