Gauteng and NW Province

How rainwater harvesting is helping Nicaraguan farmers

By Alejandra Martins BBC Mundo
Mr Beltran lives in northern Nicaragua, one of the poorest and driest areas of the country, where a pilot project to harvest rainwater is beginning to transform local agriculture and local people’s lives.

“Farmers have come from other parts of the country to see what is happening here. I no longer depend on seasonal rainfall. I produce three times more maize and have a surplus to trade,” says Mr Beltran.

The project involves building earthen dams to form reservoirs or ponds that can collect surface water run-off from the hills during the rainy season.

The water is then used for irrigation during periods of drought.

“In Nicaragua’s case, you have a lot of rain for six months and then six months when there is practically none.”

The idea for the initiative stemmed from work in southern Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay by the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR) and supported by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

In these countries, more than 1m hectares (2.5m acres) of rice have been irrigated with water collected by the farmers themselves.

“With our partners in Nicaragua, the local rice farmers’ association, we thought it could be possible to use the same technology to help small farmers in the tropics,” said Mr Zorrilla.

A dam is built between two hillsides to catch the rainwater run-off and create a pool of water.

An outlet tube reinforced with steel bars lies underneath the dam, so all the farmer has to do to irrigate his crops is open the valve.

“If you go anywhere in northern Costa Rica, Panama or Nicaragua, there is massive unemployment during six months of the year. People have no income, no crops, and in severe cases their cattle are dying,” says Edward Pulver, agricultural scientist at FLAR.

Fourteen dams have been completed or are being built in Nicaragua, and similar projects are under way in Costa Rica and southern Mexico.

“We are getting the same yields of maize in Nicaragua that you get in the Midwest in the US,” says Mr Pulver.

“Fresh corn was not available in the dry season. Now, because of irrigation, some farmers sell their whole production as fresh corn for human consumption,” says Mr Zorrilla.

This means a potential income of several thousand dollars per hectare, an amount that was “completely unimaginable in the past”, according to Mr Zorrilla.

The project has also helped farmers to vary their diet, as some of them have introduced a small fish, tilapia, to the reservoirs.

“In Latin America we have excess water. Our problem is we have flooding, so if we can just capture this water, store it and plant crops during the dry season, we can feed ourselves very easily.

“This technology can work in the poorest of countries, and the CFC wants us to take the idea to Africa.”

A key aim of the pilot project, which ends in 2012, is to train local people and officials so they can build their own dams and reservoirs.

“Globally, despite the challenges of growing populations, water is really under used.

“The intelligent, sustainable use of water could give rise to a water revolution, a blue revolution,” he says.

One key factor seems already guaranteed: the conviction of the farmers themselves.

“If you expand access to this technology, you can help to lessen the impact drought has in Nicaragua,” says Mr Beltran.

Harvesting rainwater is changing some people’s views about life on the land
November 2011 BBC News

Harvesting rainwater for household use means you can basically do the same than these farmers. Harvesting rainwater during the rainy season lessens the extraction of water from our estuaries, dams and rivers. You can also do the same on a smaller scale than these farmers and harvest your rainwater, store it in water tanks and use it for irrigation at a later stage. Please conserve water.

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