Katalysis: helping Andean farmers survive climate change
Climate change is an issue affecting farmers and families across the globe, most notably in the Andes, where World Neighbors works. In fact, predictions for the northern Andean glacial disappearance are estimated to occur 50 percent faster than originally forecasted, from 30 years to 15 years. This significant loss of glacial water, which is the primary source of fresh water in the region, will become a major obstacle for highland farmers.
But not for don Ramón Alcívar. He lives in a semi-arid region in northern Ecuador and he has increasingly felt the impact of climate change with decreased and erratic rainfall. This problem has brought many challenges to Ramon’s mango grove and small farm. However, he and other farmers in his area are learning how to respond to this challenge through cost-effective solutions from World Neighbors and the Network for Community-Based Natural Resource Management (MACRENA), a partner organization.
Using methods such as water harvesting and cover crops, Ramon has transformed his farm and his soil so that it can produce more food for his family. Two years ago, don Ramón started experimenting with cover crops. He sowed six different kinds of beans between his mango trees. After two growing seasons he has seen the change.
"Cover crops are marvelous. I only needed to sow them once. The first thing you notice is that weeds stop coming up, so I don’t have to spend money or time in weeding. Then I found out that these beans produce a lot of seeds. I harvested many beans which I shared with my neighbors and also with other members. The most incredible thing is that the ground stays humid for longer, so the watering frequencies have also changed. Now, I don’t need to water my field every week, but every three to four weeks!”
Using cover crops and green manures for two years, the changes taking place in don Ramón’s soil are visible to the naked eye - there is a new layer, formed by decomposing organic material. The topsoil in don Ramón’s farm now has a different color and there is a clear difference in the soil’s nutrient content. Because he has learned about cover crops, water harvesting and natural pesticide management, don Ramón now has more income from his farm than ever before.
Over the last three years, World Neighbors and MACRENA have been working with groups of farmers in Ecuador and Bolivia, such as don Ramón, to test a new approach called Katalysis.
The Katalysis approach has addressed the problem of water scarcity as a response to climate change. The research found that much of the water surrounding many farmers went unnoticed and unused. For example, the few but heavy rainfalls common to the Andes generated huge amounts of water that ran off fields and the mountainsides into the lowlands, where they commonly caused severe flooding.
World Neighbors sought ideas directly from the farmers and their communities, and after studying the pending threats of climate change, communities prioritized an initiative that would help them gain new control over existing water and biological resources.
Through experimental exercises, farmers discovered hidden sources of water and learned to creatively utilize plants in ways that could bring new wealth to their farms and communities. One exercise measured the amount of water that ran by the house during a typical storm. Participants determined the holding capacity of the soil organic matter and by increasing the soil by 1% across a hectare (almost 2.5 acres), they could harvest over 26,000 gallons of water each rainfall. This experience inspired participants to want to experiment with creative forms of water harvesting through soil conservation and cover crops and to improve the efficiency of water use through drip irrigation systems.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a bleak picture for the future of 28 million farmers struggling to earn a living in highly vulnerable and degraded Andean mountainsides. Additionally, the IPCC report and other studies point to increased droughts and flooding, increased wind and cyclone events, outbreaks of disease and pests, and accelerating soil erosion and consumption of soil organic matter. All of these occurrences will lead to the areas experiencing increased water stress and crop failure and rural farmers, who are already hard-pressed to endure severe and unpredictable conditions, will not weather the mounting climate crisis.
The good news is that the Katalysis approach has the potential to spread from farmer to farmer and from community to community across the Andes. Self-financing methods, such as water innovation funds and community-supported agriculture, not only ensure that Katalysis continues in communities where it has been introduced, but they are helping it spread to new locations. World Neighbors has helped communities establish several dozen innovation funds – 90 percent of which continue and several of which have grown significantly. Through your support, we hope to help more communities learn to bring water and plants to bear on the pressing challenges posed by climate change.
World Neighbors grant proposal selected as a World Bank finalist
World Neighbors and Network for Community-Based Natural Resource Management (MACRENA), a partner organization in Ecuador, submitted an $184,000 joint grant proposal on water harvesting to the World Bank. The proposal has been selected as one of 100 finalists out of the 1,768 proposals submitted. As finalists, World Neighbors and MACRENA have been invited to attend the World Bank Development Marketplace event in Washington D.C., September 24-26. At the Marketplace event, the finalists from 42 different countries will share their innovative ideas with the general public and the jury, which will then select the grantees.
The Development Marketplace is a partnership of various donor groups and investors in the development community and local entrepreneurs to find creative solutions to poverty reduction and development. The winners of the competitions are then linked with partners who have the resources to help them implement their proposals. Since 1998, the Development Marketplace has invested more than $34 million in over 800 projects from around the globe.
International AIDS Conference Blog
The 17th annual International AIDS Conference was held in Mexico City August 3-8. Over 25,000 people from around the world attended the conference, including Chris Price, a member of World Neighbors international program team. Visit the Work of Women (WOW!) MySpace site to read his daily impressions of the International AIDS Conference and the activities.