Water Harvesting Strengthens Food Security in Central America

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Angélica María Posada, a teacher and school principal in the village of El Guarumal, in eastern El Salvador, poses with primary school students in front of the school where they use purified water collected from rainfall, as part of a project promoted by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. The initiative is being implemented in the countries of the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SENSEMBRA, El Salvador , Jun 23 2021 (IPS) – At the school in El Guarumal, a remote village in eastern El Salvador, the children no longer have to walk several kilometers along winding paths to fetch water from wells; they now “harvest” it from the rain that falls on the roofs of their classrooms.


“The water is not only for the children and us teachers, but for the whole community,” school principal Angelica Maria Posada told IPS, sitting with some of her young students at the foot of the tank that supplies them with purified water.

The village is located in the municipality of Sensembra, in the eastern department of Morazán, where it forms part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor, a semi-arid belt that covers 35 percent of Central America and is home to some 11 million people, mostly engaged in subsistence agriculture.

In the Corridor, 1,600 kilometers long, water is always scarce and food production is a challenge, with more than five million people at risk of food insecurity.

In El Guarumal, a dozen peasant families have dug ponds or small reservoirs and use the rainwater collected to irrigate their home gardens and raise tilapia fish as a way to combat drought and produce food.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a (rainwater harvesting) system like this.” — Angélica María Posada

This effort, called the Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS), has not only been made in El Salvador.

Similar initiatives have been promoted in five other Central American countries as part of the Mesoamerica Hunger Free programme, implemented since 2015 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and financed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

The aim of the RHS was to create the conditions for poor, rural communities in the Dry Corridor to strengthen food security by harvesting water to irrigate their crops and raise fish.

In Guatemala, work has been done to strengthen an ancestral agroforestry system inherited from the Chortí people, called Koxur Rum, which conserves more moisture in the soil and thus improves the production of corn and beans, staples of the Central American diet.

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador's eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school's roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

José Evelio Chicas, a teacher at the school in the village of El Guarumal, in El Salvador’s eastern department of Morazán, supervises the PVC pipes that carry rainwater collected from the school’s roof to an underground tank, from where it is pumped to a filtering and purification station. The initiative is part of a water harvesting project in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The best structure for conserving water is the soil, and that is where we have to work,” Baltazar Moscoso, national coordinator of Mesoamerica Hunger Free, told IPS by telephone from Guatemala City.

Healthy schools in El Salvador

The principal of the El Guarumal school, where 47 girls, 32 boys and several adolescents study, said that since the water collection and purification system has been in place, gastrointestinal ailments have been significantly reduced.

“The children no longer complain about stomachaches, like they used to,” said Posada, 47, a divorced mother of three children: two girls and one boy.

She added, “The water is 100 percent safe.”

Before it is purified, the rainwater that falls on the tin roof is collected by gutters and channeled into an underground tank with a capacity of 105,000 litres.

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Farmer Cristino Martínez feeds the tilapia he raises in the pond dug next to his house in the village of El Guarumal in eastern El Salvador. A dozen ponds like this one were created in the village to help poor rural families produce food in the Central American Dry Corridor. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

It is then pumped to a station where it is filtered and purified, before flowing into the tank which supplies students, teachers and the community.

The school reopened for in-person classes in March, following the shutdown declared by the government in 2020 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are all very proud of this initiative, because we are the only school in the country that has a system like this,” added the principal.

There are 40 families living in El Guarumal, but a total of 150 families benefit from the system installed in the town, because people from other communities also come to get water.

A similar system was installed in 2017 in Cerrito Colorado, a village in the municipality of San Isidro, Choluteca department in southern Honduras, which benefits 80 families, including those from the neighbouring communities of Jicarito and Obrajito.

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Rainwater is filtered and purified in a room adjacent to the classrooms of the school in the village of El Guarumal, in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. Gastrointestinal ailments were reduced with the implementation of this project executed by FAO and financed by Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Vegetable gardens and tilapias boost food security

About 20 minutes from the school in El Guarumal, following a narrow dirt road that winds along the mountainside, you reach the house of Cristino Martínez, who grows tomatoes and raises tilapia in the pond dug next to his home.

The ponds are pits dug in the ground and lined with a polyethylene geomembrane, a waterproof synthetic material. They hold up to 25,000 litres of rainwater.

“The pond has served me well, I have used it for both the tilapia and watering tomatoes, beans and chayote (Sechium edule),” Martínez told IPS, standing at the edge of the pond, while tossing food to the fish.

The cost of the school’s water harvesting system and the 12 ponds totaled 77,000 dollars.

Martínez has not bothered to keep a precise record of how many tilapias he raises, because he does not sell them, he said. The fish feed his large family of 13: he and his wife and their 11 children (seven girls and four boys).

And from time to time he receives guests in his adobe house.

“My sisters come from San Salvador and tell me: ‘Cristino, we want to eat some tilapia,’ and my daughters throw the nets and start catching fish,” said the 50-year-old farmer.

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Cristino Martínez and one of his daughters show the tilapia they have just caught in the family pond they have dug in the backyard of their home in the village of El Guarumal in the eastern department of Morazán, El Salvador. The large peasant family raises fish for their own consumption and not for sale. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to FAO estimates, the ponds can provide about 500 fishes two to three times a year.

The ponds are built on the highest part of each farm, and the drip irrigation system uses gravity to water the crops or orchards planted on the slopes.

Tomatoes are Martínez’s main crop. He has 100 seedlings planted, and manages to produce good harvests, marketing his produce in the local community.

“The pond helps me in the summer to water the vegetables I grow downhill,” another beneficiary of the programme, Santos Henríquez, also a native of El Guarumal, told IPS.

Henríquez’s 1.5-hectare plot is one of the most diversified: in addition to tilapias, corn and a type of bean locally called “ejote”, he grows cucumbers, chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and various types of fruit, such as mangoes, oranges and lemons.

“We grow a little bit of everything,” Henríquez, 48, said proudly. He sells the surplus produce in the village or at Sensembra.

However, some beneficiary families have underutilised the ponds. They were initially enthusiastic about the effort, but began to let things slide when the project ended in 2018.

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

A farmer proudly displays some of the tomatoes he has grown in the region known as Mancomunidad Copán Chortí in eastern Guatemala, which includes the municipalities of Camotán, Jocotán, Olopa and San Juan Ermita, in the department of Chiquimula. Water harvesting initiatives have been implemented in the area to improve agricultural production in this region, which is part of the so-called Central American Dry Corridor. The initiative is supported by FAO and Mexican cooperation funds. CREDIT: FAO Guatemala

An ageold Chorti technique in Guatemala

In Guatemala, meanwhile, some villages and communities are betting on an agroforestry technique from their ancestral culture: Koxur Rum, which means “wet land” in the language of the Chortí indigenous people, who also live in parts of El Salvador and Honduras.

The system allows corn and bean crops to retain more moisture with the rains by combining them with furrows of shrubs or trees such as madre de cacao or quickstick (Gliricidia sepium), a tree species that helps fix nitrogen in the soil.

By pruning the trees regularly, leaves and crop stubble cover and protect the soil, thereby better retaining moisture and nutrients.

“Quickstick sprouts quickly and gives abundant foliage to incorporate into the soil,” farmer Rigoberto Suchite told IPS in a telephone interview from the village of Minas Abajo, in the municipality of San Juan Ermita, Chiquimula department in eastern Guatemala, also located in the Central American Dry Corridor.

Suchite said the system was revived in his region in 2000, but with the FAO and Amexcid project, it has become more technical.

As part of the programme, some 150 families have received two 1,500-litre tanks and a drip irrigation system, he added.

“Now we are expanding it even more because it has given us good results, it has improved the soil and boosted production,” said Suchite, 55.

In the dry season, farmers collect water from nearby springs in tanks and, using gravity, irrigate their home gardens.

“Many families are managing to have a surplus of vegetables and with the sales, they buy other necessary food,” Suchite said.

The programme is scheduled to end in Guatemala in 2021, and local communities must assume the lessons learned in order to move forward.

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Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

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Environment

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.


“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”

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Semiarid Regions of Latin America Cooperate to Adapt to Climate

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, South-South, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Combating Desertification and Drought

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2020 (IPS) – After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.


In Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, the Gran Chaco Americano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC), successful local practices will be identified, evaluated and documented to support the design of policies that promote climate change-resilient agriculture in the three ecoregions.

This is the objective of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo, an initiative financed by the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), the Argentinean Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) and the National Development Foundation (Funde) of El Salvador.

DAKI stands for Dryland Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The project, launched on Aug. 18 in a special webinar where some of its creators were speakers, will last four years and involve 2,000 people, including public officials, rural extension agents, researchers and small farmers. Indirectly, 6,000 people will benefit from the training.

“The aim is to incorporate public officials from this field with the intention to influence the government’s actions,” said Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo and one of the leaders of the Brazilian organisation ASA.

The idea is to promote programmes that could benefit the three semiarid regions, which are home to at least 37 million people – more than the total populations of Chile, Ecuador and Peru combined.

The residents of semiarid regions, especially those who live in rural areas, face water scarcity aggravated by climate change, which affects their food security and quality of life.

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the webinar that launched the project, stressed that the initiative was aimed at “amplifying and strengthening” isolated efforts and a few longstanding collectives working on practices to improve life in semiarid areas.

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The practices that represent the best knowledge of living in the drylands will be selected not so much for their technical aspects, but for the results achieved in terms of economic, ecological and social development, Barbosa explained to IPS in a telephone interview from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, where the headquarters of ASA are located.

After the process of systematisation of the best practices in each region is completed, harnessing traditional knowledge through exchanges between technicians and farmers, the next step will be “to build a methodology and the pedagogical content to be used in the training,” he said.

One result will be a platform for distance learning. The Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, also in Recife, will help with this.

Decentralised family or community water supply infrastructure, developed and disseminated by ASA, a network of 3,000 social organisations scattered throughout the Brazilian Northeast, is a key experience in this process.

In the 1.03 million square kilometres of drylands where 22 million Brazilians live, 38 percent in rural areas according to the 2010 census, 1.1 million rainwater harvesting tanks have been built so far for human consumption.

An estimated 350,000 more are needed to bring water to the entire rural population in the semiarid Northeast, said Barbosa.

But the most important aspect for agricultural development involves eight “technologies” for obtaining and storing water for crops and livestock. ASA, created in 1999, has helped install this infrastructure on 205,000 farms for this purpose and estimates that another 800 peasant families still need it.

There are farms that are too small to install the infrastructure, or that have other limitations, said Barbosa, who coordinates ASA’s One Land and Two Waters and native seed programmes.

The “calçadão” technique, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into a tank that has a capacity to hold 52,000 litres, is the most widely used system for irrigating vegetables.

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil's semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil’s semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

And in Argentina’s Chaco region, 16,000-litre drinking water tanks are mushrooming.

But tanks for intensive and small farming irrigation are not suitable for the dry Chaco, where livestock is raised on large estates of hundreds of hectares, said Gabriel Seghezzo, executive director of Fundapaz, in an interview by phone with IPS from the city of Salta, capital of the province of the same name, one of those that make up Argentina’s Gran Chaco region.

“Here we need dams in the natural shallows and very deep wells; we have a serious water problem,” he said. “The groundwater is generally of poor quality, very salty or very deep.”

First, peasants and indigenous people face the problem of formalising ownership of their land, due to the lack of land titles. Then comes the challenge of access to water, both for household consumption and agricultural production.

“In some cases there is the possibility of diverting rivers. The Bermejo River overflows up to 60 km from its bed,” he said.

Currently there is an intense local drought, which seems to indicate a deterioration of the climate, urgently requiring adaptation and mitigation responses.

Reforestation and silvopastoral systems are good alternatives, in an area where deforestation is “the main conflict, due to the pressure of the advance of soy and corn monoculture and corporate cattle farming,” he said.

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

More forests would be beneficial for the water, reducing evaporation that is intense due to the heat and hot wind, he added.

Of the “technologies” developed in Brazil, one of the most useful for other semiarid regions is the “underground dam,” Claus Reiner, manager of IFAD programmes in Brazil, told IPS by phone from Brasilia.

The underground dam keeps the surrounding soil moist. It requires a certain amount of work to dig a long, deep trench along the drainage route of rainwater, where a plastic tarp is placed vertically, causing the water to pool during rainy periods. A location is chosen where the natural layer makes the dam impermeable from below.

This principle is important for the Central American Dry Corridor, where “the great challenge is how to infiltrate rainwater into the soil, in addition to collecting it for irrigation and human consumption,” said Ismael Merlos of El Salvador, founder of Funde and director of its Territorial Development Area.

The CADC, which cuts north to south through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is defined not as semiarid, but as a sub-humid region, because it rains slightly more there, although in an increasingly irregular manner.

Some solutions are not viable because “75 percent of the farming areas in the Corridor are sloping land, unprotected by organic material, which makes the water run off more quickly into the rivers,” Merlos told IPS by phone from San Salvador.

“In addition, the large irrigation systems that we’re familiar with are not accessible for the poor because of their high cost and the expensive energy for the extraction and pumping of water, from declining sources,” he said.

The most viable alternative, he added, is making better use of rainwater, by building tanks, or through techniques to retain moisture in the soil, such as reforestation and leaving straw and other harvest waste on the ground rather than burning it as peasant farmers continue to do.

“Harmful weather events, which four decades ago occurred one to three times a year, now happen 10 or more times a year, and their effects are more severe in the Dry Zone,” Merlos pointed out.

Funde is a Salvadoran centre for development research and policy formulation that together with Fundapaz, four Brazilian organisations forming part of the ASA network and seven other Latin American groups had been cooperating since 2013, when they created the Latin American Semiarid Platform.

The Platform paved the way for the DAKI-Semiárido Vivo which, using 78 percent of its two million dollar budget, opened up new horizons for synergy among Latin America’s semiarid ecoregions. To this end, said Burneo, it should create a virtuous alliance of “good practices and public policies.”

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Central America – Fertile Ground for Human Trafficking

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, Regional Categories, Special Report

Crime & Justice

This is part of a series of features from across the globe on human trafficking. IPS coverage is supported by the Riana Group.

An older woman panhandles on a street in San Salvador. Criminal trafficking groups take advantage of vulnerable people, such as the destitute, to force them to beg. But in Central America, 80 percent of the victims of trafficking are women and girls, for purposes of sexual exploitation. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

An older woman panhandles on a street in San Salvador. Criminal trafficking groups take advantage of vulnerable people, such as the destitute, to force them to beg. But in Central America, 80 percent of the victims of trafficking are women and girls, for purposes of sexual exploitation. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

SAN SALVADOR, Nov 8 2019 (IPS) – Central America is an impoverished region rife with gang violence and human trafficking – the third largest crime industry in the world – as a major source of migrants heading towards the United States.


Human trafficking has had deep roots in Central America, especially in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, for decades, and increasingly requires a concerted law enforcement effort by the region’s governments to dismantle trafficking networks, and to offer support programmes for the victims.

The phenomenon “has become more visible in recent years, but not much progress has been made in the area of more direct attention to victims,” Carmela Jibaja, a Catholic nun with the Ramá Network against Trafficking in Persons, told IPS.

“We know that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are countries with a heavy flow of undocumented migrants, which puts them at risk of becoming victims of trafficking.” — Carlos Morán

This Central American civil society organisation forms part of the Talita Kum International Network against Trafficking in Persons, based in Rome, which brings together 58 anti-trafficking organisations around the world.

Jibaja pointed out that “the biggest trafficking problem is at the borders, because El Salvador is a country that expels migrants,” as well as in tourism areas. The most recognised form of trafficking in the region is sexual exploitation, whose victims are women.

Carlos Morán, Interpol security officer and a member of the Honduran police Cybercrime Unit, concurs .

“We know that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are countries with a heavy flow of undocumented migrants, which puts them at risk of becoming victims of trafficking,” Morán told IPS while participating in a regional forum on the issue, hosted Nov. 4-8 by San Salvador.

The “Regional Seminar on Investigation Techniques and Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Persons” brought together officials from the office of the public prosecutor, police officers, legal experts and other key actors and experts from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the countries that make up the so-called Northern Central American Triangle.

The objective is to strengthen capacities and good practices in the investigation of trafficking, especially when the crime is transnational in nature.

Morán and other participants in the meeting declined to talk about figures on the extent of trafficking in the region, due to the lack of reliable data.

Prosecutors, police officers, government officials, experts and representatives of social organisations from Central America are participating in a special seminar on human trafficking Nov. 4-8 to identify and coordinate joint efforts. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Prosecutors, police officers, government officials, experts and representatives of social organisations from Central America are participating in a special seminar on human trafficking Nov. 4-8 to identify and coordinate joint efforts. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Civil society supports victims

In the countries of the Northern Triangle there are government efforts to develop victim care programmes, but they are insufficient and civil society organisations have had to take up the challenge.

Mirna Argueta, executive director of the Association for the Self-Determination of Salvadoran Women (AS Mujeres), told IPS that “the problem is serious, because we are facing networks with great economic and political influence, and victims are not being protected,” and there are very few programmes to help with their reinsertion in society.

Her organisation has been working since 1996 with victims of trafficking, offering psychological and medical support, and is also an important ally of the Attorney-General’s Office in victim protection work.

AS Mujeres collaborates with the police and prosecutors when victims have to be moved from one place to another, in the most secretive way possible, especially when judicial cases against organised crime networks are underway.

In the past it has also offered shelter to women victims of trafficking, but now the prosecutor’s office does, said Argueta, who is also coordinator in El Salvador of the Latin American Observatory on Trafficking in Persons, which brings together 15 countries.

AS Mujeres’ victim care programme includes, in addition to psychological support, medical assistance which incorporates non-traditional techniques such as biomagnetism, performed by a physician specialising in this area, as well as massage and aromatherapy.

“Experience has shown us that with the combination of these three techniques, recovery is more effective, and care is more integral,” said Argueta.

She added that since the programme’s inception in 1996, it has served some 600 trafficking victims.

They currently offer support to five women, who IPS could not speak to because they are under legal protection, and providing their names or a telephone number for them has criminal consequences.

For the same reason, the public prosecutor’s office also vetoed conducting interviews with victims under its protection.

AS Mujeres also promotes a self-care network.

“When the victim has gone through different stages, we integrate her with other women and they can share their experiences, making it less painful, and helping them with their reinsertion in society,” Argueta added.

She said many victims feel they are “damaged,” or worthless, and they turn to prostitution.

Victims can spend anywhere from six months to two and a half years in the programme, depending on the complexity of each case. For example, there are women with acute problems of depression, suicidal thoughts and persecutory delusions.

According to figures from the United Nations office in Honduras, released in July, 80 percent of the victims of human trafficking in Central America are women and girls.

In El Salvador, 90 percent of cases involve sexual exploitation, according to official figures provided by the public prosecutor’s office during the regional forum in San Salvador.

However, other types of trafficking have been detected, such as labour exploitation, forced panhandling and others.

So far this year, the prosecution has reported 800 victims, cases that are still open.

Mirna Argueta (L), executive director of the Association for the Self-Determination of Salvadoran Women, and Catholic nun Carmela Jibaja, of the Central American Network against Trafficking in Persons, are two activists working to provide care for victims of trafficking, who are mostly women. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Mirna Argueta (L), executive director of the Association for the Self-Determination of Salvadoran Women, and Catholic nun Carmela Jibaja, of the Central American Network against Trafficking in Persons, are two activists working to provide care for victims of trafficking, who are mostly women. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

In Guatemala, in 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office detected 478 possible victims of human trafficking, four percent more than the previous year. There were 276 reported cases, also an increase of four percent.

Children and adolescents continue to be vulnerable to trafficking, as 132 children and adolescents were detected as possible victims of human trafficking, 28 percent of the total, 111 of whom were rescued.

They were victims of illegal adoptions, labour exploitation, forced marriage, forced panhandling, sexual exploitation and forced labour or services. But the most invisible form of trafficking, according to the prosecutor’s office, is the recruitment of minors into organised crime.

Gangs involved in people trafficking

Experts consulted by IPS point out that many trafficking cases are the product of a relatively new phenomenon: involvement in trafficking by the gangs that are responsible for the crime wave in the three Northern Triangle countries.

The gangs have mutated into bona fide organised crime groups, with tentacles in the illicit drug trade, extortion rackets, “sicariato” or murder for hire and now human trafficking, among other criminal activities.

In El Salvador, it is common to hear stories in neighborhoods and towns controlled by gangs about young girls who gang leaders “ask for”, to be used as sex toys by the leaders and other members of the gang, and the families hand them over because they know that they could be killed if they don’t.

But the gangs go farther than that, forcing their victims to provide sexual services for profit, another aspect of trafficking.

Official figures from the National Council against Trafficking in Persons, which brings together government agencies to combat the phenomenon, indicate that in 2018 there were 46 confirmed victims, 43 police investigations and 38 judicial proceedings.

The trials led to four convictions and two acquittals. The rest are still winding their way through court, according to the Council’s Work Report 2018.

The document also reported that the attention to victims included programmes to help them launch small enterprises, as well as measures of integral reparations for families of children and adolescents in the shelters.

Emergency response teams were also coordinated to provide assistance to victims, whether the women are foreigners or nationals.

El Salvador is part of the Regional Coalition against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, along with Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Honduras has also provided support for economic reinsertion, offering seed capital to set up small jewelry businesses, among others, said Interpol’s Morán.

At least 337 people from Honduras have been rescued since 2018, including 13 in Belize and Guatemala, according to a report by the Inter-Institutional Commission Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons in Honduras.

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