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Archive for December, 2009

While global leaders negotiate new treaties in Copenhagen, small-scale farmers are already living the impacts of climate change. Groundswell is helping rural communities adapt to climate change and overcome poverty at the same time.  By expanding the use of agroecological approaches and strengthening local markets, small-scale farmers are helping to cool the planet.  Soil rich in organic matter is one of the best ways to sequester carbon; agroecological approaches don’t require as much oil to produce fertilizer and other inputs; and local markets reduce carbon outputs from transportation. A case in point is Groundswell’s work with Ekorural, our local partner in Ecuador.

Alonso Juma demonstrating a water harvesting technique.

Alonso Juma demonstrating a rainwater harvesting technique. Alonso lives in Ecuador's Chota Valley.

Over the centuries, Andean farmers have adapted their farming practices and domesticated robust plant and animal species (potato, quinoa, llamas) to meet the challenges of their harsh mountain environment. However, even these expert farmer-innovators are increasingly suffering crop failure as their time-tested adaptations prove inadequate to climate change’s severity and swift onset. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as other climate research, paints a bleak picture for Andean agriculture. Most glaciers are predicted to disappear in as little as 15 years, posing major challenges for those who rely on this water for food production and livelihood, rainfall is expected to be more severe and less frequent (producing droughts and flooding), and soil erosion and outbreaks of disease and pests are predicted to rise. In sum, climate change will substantially increase the uncertainty for rural communities in the Andes.

Many externally proposed solutions to climate change, such as weather forecasting models and drought-tolerant crops, are of limited use in highly variable mountain environments.  This is why it is critical to go directly to farmers and their communities for ideas on how to best address climate change. Farmers told us that water represented the greatest barrier and opportunity for weathering climate change, and, after studying pending threats, they prioritized an initiative, called Katalysis, that would allow them to capture and use rainwater and rehabilitate biological and natural resources, while increasing their production and food security.

Rather than bringing water from distant sources which can be prohibitively expensive and difficult to replicate, Katalysis focuses on helping farmers to maximize the use of the water that surrounds them, and to creatively use plants and animals to generate new wealth for their families and farms.  Katalysis builds on the ‘discovery learning’ tradition of Farmer Field Schools, in which farmers share their experience, strengthen their ecological literacy through learning experiments, and identify ways of improving agriculture through group problem-solving. The focus gradually shifts from solutions for individual farmers to community-level and watershed level change.

While there will be no silver bullet in rural people’s struggle to adapt to climate change, this sort of people-centered approach holds great potential. So far it has proven to be highly effective in the Bolivian and Ecuadorian highlands, successes which have earned Katalysis finalist positions at the World Bank’s 2008 Global Development Marketplace as well as the 5th World Water Forum (2008). This work was also featured in the International Institute for Environment and Development’s recent publication “Community-based adaptation to climate change”.

Learn more about Katalysis.

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