Advent 3

Recycle Water, Give Life

In Nicaragua, small farmer Miguel is learning how to grow food in new ways.  He lives with his wife and mother in a small house on a few acres near Teustepe, about two hours bus drive from the capital, Managua.

Once he could depend on the rain to grow enough to feed his family.  Now the extremes of weather are making farming challenging.  Without careful care his crops would not survive.

“We had to ration food and only grew corn, beans, yuca (cassava) and malanga (a root crop related to taro),” he says.

Like many rural Nicaraguans, they were reduced to eating one meal a day and spending hours carrying water from the river when it flowed.  Life was grim and they could see no way out.  So when CEPAD the Council of Protestant Churches offered to help their community, Miguel was keen to be involved.

In the four years since CEPAD first set up their village development committee, he has made huge gains.  With their help, he has a small irrigation system, piping water from the nearby river through large barrels to get through the dry seasons.  Miguel captures more rain in a large hole lined with a tarpaulin.  With the hoses he got from CEPAD plus recycled plastic bottles, he drip feeds water to the roots of his plants.

CEPAD has given him seeds and plants.  Around the house, the family grows mostly squash, herbs and plantains.  Further away, they have planted guava, banana palms, pineapples, oranges, lemons and plums to grow alongside his staple crops.  Now the family eats fresh fruit and is so much happier.

Always a very kind man, Miguel is eager to share what he has learned.

“A thousand thank yous.  Our way of life has improved greatly,” he says.

This year is the final year of the CEPAD programme with his and six neighbouring communities.  CEPAD is talking with more communities as staff prepare for the next stage of their programme with food-stressed farmers.  CEPAD will support the development committee in Miguel’s village when needed, but they are confident the training programme has left them with skills and experience to meet new challenges together.

In the last ten years, crop losses due to drought and flooding are common in Nicaragua.  Across the country temperatures are rising and the rain when it comes can be torrential, washing everything away.  The shortage of food has pushed up prices in urban areas as well.  In its most recent report, Germanwatch ranks Nicaragua as sixth on its list of countries affected by climate change in the last 20 years.    

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CEPAD (Consejo de Inglesias Evangelicas Pro-Alianza Denominacional or the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua) is a source of hope for rural communities.  The organisation grew from local churches responding to people affected by the magnitude 6.3 Managua earthquake in 1972.  Now CEPAD focuses on development and peacemaking.

Their approach is to work with communities for five years.  The process begins in conversations with village people – currently 40 communities are in their final year of the cycle.  Under CEPAD’s guidance they devise their own community plan setting out the village’s priorities.  Once agreement is reached, the village chooses the development committee members who will have responsibility for making it work and ensuring no one misses out.

CEPAD’s agricultural staff train and support local farmers to manage the scarce water supply and improve crop production using eco-friendly techniques.  Staff provide plants, seeds, irrigation and tools to supplement what is available, improving the diet and health of families.  In addition women learn to grow new foods in their home gardens and some get help to establish small poultry units or breed pigs.

The needs of women are a priority in a country where gender relations are strained by poverty.  Women learn how to make crafts and some have set up small businesses to increase family income.

CEPAD pays attention to the needs of young people in these 40 communities.  The lack of work and hope, drugs, alcohol and family violence are common difficulties and there is no outside help available.  CEPAD trains three people in each community to run a psychosocial programme involving sports and activities as well as self-help groups.  When necessary the local leaders can refer people for extra help.

Last year there was widespread political unrest after the government announced changes to the pension scheme in April.  More than 300 people were killed and 55,000 fled to neighbouring countries as the government tightened control.  CEPAD’s staff were unable to visit the villages when roads were blocked for weeks at a time.  Thanks to the skills they had learned, the programmes continued, showing the sustainability of their work.

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