Notes from the Field: Overcoming Challenges of Nicaragua’s Drought

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Drought, searing temperatures and significant reductions in water levels are on the top of the news cycle here in Nicaragua. April marks the peak of the summer season and the first week of the month still exhibits the full wrath of a still strong El Niño. Major issues have included news and events such as the following:

  • Lower lake levels have complicated ferry crossings and transport on Lake Nicaragua, particularly to and from the ever popular island of Ometepe.
  • A rash of howler monkey deaths in and around the Rivas area has been attributed to the ongoing drought, decreasing their food and water sources.
  • A famous tourist site and strategic water source, the Estanzuela waterfall outside of Estelí has completely dried up.
  • The Tisma lagoon, an internationally important migratory waterfowl and RAMSAR wetland, that links the two great lakes of Nicaragua has completely dried up for the first time in recent memory.
  • The Río Coco, which forms a significant portion of the border between Honduras and Nicaragua and supplies critical watersheds on both sides, is also completely for stretches in some places.

Despite the intense heat and the severe problems exacerbated by the extended drought, the work goes on. In February, board member Jeff Hargis came to Nicaragua and spent a few days with us in Managua. He was here as part of a personal trip for Spanish study in nearby Granada, but took advantage to see our programs, projects and places first hand. The obligatory visit to Proleña´s stove workshop was first on tap; at the moment they were bursting at the seams with a huge order of five different types of stoves for a key government entity and an important local foundation: The Ministry of Tourism and the Pellas Foundation. Following that visit, we headed out to La Paz Centro to tour the grounds of our flagship project: the Center for Forests, Energy and Climate (NICFEC).

Board member Jeff Hargis holds a jicaro fruit during his visit to arid Nicaragua

A system of tube containers, designed to create sturdier roots and easier mobility for the plants, was used in a previous Proleña project and those containers have been relocated to the NICFEC site. Within the next month they will be part of an effort to plant 5,000 – 10,000 trees as our on-site nursery will expand and provide access to woodfuel, fruit and ornamental trees for the wider region.

In March, Sebastian Africano, TWP´s International Director, arrived in Managua for a week of meetings with Proleña and to provide strategic guidance on NICFEC´s construction and business development. In addition to time spent perusing and reviewing the final NICFEC plans, we found time to visit our friends at the BioNica demonstration center just outside of Tipitapa. They have improved their drip irrigation systems considerably and also expanded the number of biointensive beds and continue to improve their seed and agroforestry programs. I look forward to attending a two-day workshop on good agroforestry practices for arid zones at their demonstration site next week.

TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano (right), examines Biotica’s thriving garden with the garden manager, Alexi (left), during Nicaragua’s three-year drought.

During Sebastian´s visit we also met with Henrik Haller, a Swedish eco-technology professional and permaculture expert, who we are looking to partner with on several initiatives at NICFEC. Henrik is a professor with Mid Sweden University in Sundsvall, and is also the founder and director of the Centro Integral para la Progación de la Permacultura (the Integral Center for the Propagation of Permaculture) and a bioremediation expert. Towards the end of March, Henrik and I were able to tour the NICFEC area. We also met up with one of Bionica´s graduates, who is now heading up a project for Vassar College, and Noel Sampson, a young architect who is from the area and has lots of information and contacts. As we continue to develop our strategies and approaches for NICFEC, these types of relationships and collaborations will become more critical.

As extreme weather conditions become the norm, climate adaptation will become more and more important for Central American farmers. TWP’s NICFEC will be a resource for these farmers and their communities, providing them with a suite of technologies, proven methods, tree seedlings, and curriculum that will support them in this transition.

Thank you for supporting these farmers as NICFEC gets closer to opening its doors!

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Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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