By Horacio Rodríguez Vázquez and Mauro Accurso.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that humanity is facing. It threatens our capacity to feed the 9 billion that will inhabit the planet by 2050, to eradicate poverty, and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), climate change is the principal cause of increasing global hunger and the grave food security crisis.

Central America is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Given its geographic location and socioeconomic vulnerabilities, the region is greatly impacted by extreme weather events. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has observed changes in the flow and availability of water in Central America. Climate events, like hurricanes, El Niño and La Niña, and severe droughts have affected the inhabitants of Central America, especially in rural regions. Consequently, the prevailing food insecurity has grown in the region, increasing from 10.2% of the population in 2015 to 12.5% in 2018 (FAO,2018). Now, there are 11 million under-nourished people in Central America.

In this context, creating health and productive ecosystems is the principal objective of Resilient Central America (ResCA), the four-year regional program led by The Nature Conservancy and supported by the United States Department of State (DoS) and Multi-Donor Finance Platform AgroLAC 2025. ResCA has a three-pillar approach to sustainable agriculture to confront climate change:

  1. Trade and market access: to help producers and fishers satisfy the regional and global demand for sustainable food products.
  2. Improved sustainable production and climate resilience: to guarantee a productive future that avoids natural habitat degradation and conversion and conserves important populations in fishing zones.
  3. Agricultural and environmental management: promote planning by producers and governments to adopt the development of sustainable agricultural landscapes and fishery seascapes.

With these goals in mind, from the beginning of ResCA in 2016, we have worked with key actors to pilot sustainable practices in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additionally, we have promoted the adoption of climate smart agriculture policy and practices at the regional, subnational, and national level with the support of producer associations, NGOs, municipal authorities, national governments, and the Central American Integration System (SICA).

Sustainability begins with what farmers have in their pockets.

Since October 2018, in collaboration with our network of local partners, we have trained more than 1,600 people in climate change adaptation and eight institutions have improved their capacity to evaluate and address the threats of climate change. At the same time, we have trained more than 800 people and improved three institutions in sustainable landscape management.

In Guatemala, for example, we established the Agro-Environmental School in Totonicapán with the support of the Western Cooperative Association for Rural Development (CDRO). This school has trained 56 people including producers, community leaders, local government officials, and agricultural professionals in sustainable and resilient production.

In addition, ten rural communities in Honduras completed the training cycle in sustainable agricultural practices for coffee and bean production using the methodology of the Farmer Field School (FFS). This project, implemented by the International Center of Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), was recognized by the Momentum for Change Prize, awarded by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

We support the Fishing and Aquaculture Organization of the Central American Isthmus (OSPESCA) and their multi-lingual campaign. The campaign includes indigenous communication materials for the management of the Caribbean lobster mating season (March-June 2019). The goal is to allow the specie to reproduce in order to guarantee the sustainability of this value chain in the future.

These actions to build capacity and improve policy are necessary, but not enough on their own. The implementation of healthy and productive ecosystems requires big investment both economically and socially, in order to ensure the adoption of productive technology and sustainable practices that will minimize the negative impacts to natural resources. Further, ensuring responsible producers is a common obligation between all of the actors of the agricultural value chain, including the consumers in urban areas.

If we, as consumers, as well as the markets, exporters, and retailors do not recognize the effort of the farmers to change the way in which they produce our food in order to protect water sources, forests, and biodiversity; the field interventions like those promoted by ResCA will not go beyond the program.

For healthy and productive ecosystems to be economically viable, it is necessary that the markets recognize the value of agricultural land managed for sustainable production that utilize instruments and mechanisms that surpass conventional agriculture. It is also necessary to ensure that the benefits of this type of production are distributed evenly and provide better livelihoods for rural producers and their families. Like one producer said at a field demonstration day, “Sustainability begins with what farmers have in their pockets.”

The good news is that the efforts of ResCA have been effective. In El Salvador, through the alliance with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) we have supported San Carlos Dos, a coffee cooperative in Osicala, Morazán implement healthy agricultural systems, harvest management, and contract negotiation with national and international buyers. During the 2017-2018 harvest, the cooperative signed contracts with six buyers, five of which were facilitated by ResCA. Three of these international buyers paid a price premium per quintal (a coffee sack~57 kg) of between 14 and 32 US dollars for the use of good soil and water conservation practices.