Farmers take one step forward in adaptation - stories from Olopa's Climate-Smart Village

Farmers from CSV Olopa in Guatemala work in their cliamte-smart home garden implemented on their farm as part of the CSV approach.

The Climate-Smart Villages of Olopa, Guatemala, have been showing significant transformations in farmers' adaptation to climate change.

The latest monitoring conducted in this territory showed that farmers have increased their agricultural production, generated additional income, and improved food access and diversity thanks to the implementation of climate-smart agricultural practices.

To show the changes in the way farmers cultivate and understand the climate in Olopa, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in Latin America invited Martín Leal, coordinator of the Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food of Guatemala (MAGA), to visit this rural community.

Jesús David Martínez, the Coordinator of the Climate Smart Villages (CSVs) in Latin America, talked to Martin about his impressions, opinions, and vision of the CSVs Olopa in the interview below:

Jesús David Martínez (JDM): How did you view the process of the training workshop that was held with the farmers in the framework of the trial that we are implementing with bean varieties?

Martín Leal (ML): Regarding the bean training, I think they used a good methodology in which, by showing photos of the diseases, they were able to identify which ones were present in the crop and this facilitated the participation of the farmers who were present at the training.

I also liked how the information on how Carlos wanted the crop to be planted was given and emphasized, that it should be spaced 7 centimeters apart because of the way the plants duplicate and spread. It was important to be able to see and know firsthand what problems they have had because of climate variability, due to the rain.

And what is very clear to me is the trust that both CCAFS and the partners have gained in being able to have this close contact with them, given that most of the time only women participate, and, on this occasion, men also participated. The empowerment that the women have had, the fact of being able to express themselves in front of their husbands is also very positive. Martín Leal, Coordinator of the Climate Change Unit, MAGA Guatemala.

JDM: How did you view the agroclimatic information that is shared? For example, I know that when you were at the training you saw this information being distributed.

ML: I am pleased to know that climate information has reached these points of the territory. I noticed that they had no telephone signal, and so written media is the solution here. By putting it up in the community hall and in the grocery store, which was the two places I could identify it, part of the information generated in the agroclimatic bulletin is now available to everyone.

It has also caught my attention that a QR code has been thought of so that young people can already access the agroclimatic information on their cell phones. I think it is very good that the information is at these strategic points, it is at hand, they can look at it without having to hold a meeting. In the community hall, which is practically the collection center for all the people, having the information at hand seemed to me to be good - I even took a photo because I was impressed to see that the information in the agroclimatic bulletin was there.

What is a CSV?

The CSVs are living laboratories that show how different actors in a territory co-develop, test, adapt and evaluate portfolios of integrated and innovative options in search of sustainable agriculture and improved livelihoods for the rural community.

It is in the CSVs that the most important interactions, synergies, and trade-offs between climate change and agriculture are studied to fulfill the three pillars of climate-smart agriculture in rural communities: adaptation to climate change, reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, and increased productivity.

JDM: Following up on what we did in the field, what were your impressions of the CSA practices that are being implemented in the CSV Olopa? What did you think? What caught your attention?

ML: The water harvesting practices, I believe, are the most important, because that is the basis for having crops in the home gardens or on the ridges where they have been planted, and that is also the basis for having fish, chickens, and vegetable gardens as well. It is important to realize that we do not need large extensions of land to build water crops. In a space of about 3 square meters, they can be built with our own inputs or from the region; even with resources from the community, so the investment could be considerably reduced. The CSA practices we saw are already highly sustainable, are accepted, have cultural relevance, and have already permeated the farmers' knowledge.

JDM: You touched on something earlier that caught my attention as well. I would like you to go more in-depth about the farmers mentioning their gender empowerment.

ML: The women began saying that before they were embarrassed to participate and make a comment. But the women we visited were already speaking, telling how their process had been, the effort they had made. One farmer told us that she had made some ditches in her farm to divert the water so that there would be no flooding in the lower part, but she was already empowered, she was already talking about how this brought her benefits. This reflects the degree of empowerment, the openness they now have in receiving the information that has been given, and using it to contribute to the family's source of income. We met a woman with a husband and a woman without, but both saw that they could generate income through the practices that have been promoted at the CSV.

JDM: I also want to ask you your thoughts on what we're doing in terms of the monitoring and trials. We saw the bean trial and I think you also saw something that we are doing with cameras to determine water requirements.

ML: Yes, well, the bean crop is extremely important, because if we compare the value of a pound of beans with a pound of corn, well, a pound of beans is much more expensive, apart from the fact that it is a much more nutrient-rich diet than corn. I also learned in the bean training that they are trying to evaluate more drought-resistant seeds; and our farmers need to see with their own eyes these yields, these results, and these evaluations that you are proposing.

What is being proposed to have a better yield (sowing at a specific distance between plants) is extremely important because we are mixing technology, innovation, and genetic improvement. It is an easy way to connect it together for the farmer. It is an innovative technology, but from what you told us, it does not represent a major investment and we can take advantage of this information when making comparisons and evaluations.

Martín Leal

Martín Leal, Coordinator of the Climate Change Unit of MAGA Guatemala, during his visit to CSV Olopa. Photo: Jesús David Martínez

JDM: We've thought a lot about the process of the climate information that comes from the climate forum, goes through National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH), and then comes the technical component through the Local Technical Agroclimatic Committees (MTA). For Olopa, that is the MTA of Chiquimula and after the MTA, the CSV approach would be the next step to reach a level of adaptation in the farmers. What is your opinion about this process and what do you think about it?

ML: I have always thought that the bulletin is the first step and it is necessary to make it so popular that this information reaches the farmers. The purpose of an agroclimatic bulletin is to provide recommendations, although it is up to the farmer to decide whether to do it or not.

CSV for me is the next step of an agroclimatic bulletin, it is to put into practice the recommendations or information provided by the climate service, in this case, INSIVUMEH, and that is where credibility is gained. We understand that this also has a degree of uncertainty, but it is beneficial to implement these practices because you demonstrate that this information that the MTA is providing you through a bulletin can be perfectly translated into a CSV, and this results in more productivity, food availability, helps with malnutrition, which is very high in these regions. In a certain way it improves the technology and capabilities of the product and this can also improve farmers livelihoods.

It is nice to go and see the farmer when they have the whole crop, but it is better to go and see when the effort has just been implemented in the field, because that is where they express themselves. The CSV is where to put into practice the recommendations of the agroclimatic bulletin and to get feedback that improves the practices. Martín Leal, Coordinator of the Climate Change Unit, MAGA Guatemala.

JDM: What expectations do you have regarding what you are going to see in the territory on your next visit, thinking that the crops will be a little more developed, we will be in the rainy season and probably even the landscape and the ecosystem you will find will be different?

ML: What I hope to see is to see the farmers' efforts already reflected. For example, we saw low water harvests where suddenly the reservoir had little water, but now we are going to see the whole cycle of this system in motion. It rains, the water is collected, the reservoir is filled, the fish are fed by the excrement from the sprinklers, the water is again used for irrigation, etc.

So, that is what I hope: to see this system in circulation, that it generates more demand from producers, to see the interest of cooperation agencies; and  to see where we can get more resources to implement CSVs in other parts of Guatemala.

Learn about the INNOVA-AF project

CCAFS, MAGA, our partner Asociación Regional Campesina Ch'orti (ASORECH), work together in the INNOVA - Family Agriculture project in CSV Olopa. This project is led by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), with funds from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

This project seeks to strengthen knowledge of agrometeorology for agricultural production systems while promoting the implementation of integrated sustainable agricultural production systems based on adaptation, mitigation, and production practices, with a gender perspective.

Jesus David Martinez is the CSV Coordinator for CCAFS Latin America. This interview was edited for length and clarity by Lauren Sarruf Romero, Communications Officer for CCAFS Latin America.