Information revolution in Central American agriculture

© N. Palmer (CIAT)
These initiatives promote sustainable development and food security in rural communities in Central America.
Digital tools are allowing the generation of agro-climatic information during the pandemic for decision making at the local level.

Climate change and variability already posed great challenges to the agricultural sector, and now we must add to it the uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 induced health crisis. Managing and analyzing climate data, and generating relevant information for decision-making has become a priority for the agri-food sector in Latin America. 

Funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and partners, the project ''A Common Journey'' has made different efforts to create training spaces that strengthen the capacities of technicians and professionals of the ministries and local organizations in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

In Guatemala, in coordination with the university Centro Universitario de Oriente's (CUNORIdegree programme in Local Environmental Management, and the Local Technical Agroclimatic Committee (LTAC) of Chiquimula, a certificate course titled the "Analysis of Variables for Agroclimatic Decisions" was developed.

The training space was developed by specialists from the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (the Alliance) and CCAFS. The certificate consisted of five modules, which included theoretical and practical aspects on interpretation of climate data, crop simulation models, monitoring of agroclimatic information, geographic information systems and optimization of investments in resources.

I think this type of initiative is excellent, because it strengthens human capital in these areas, which are aimed at food and nutritional security, poverty reduction, capacity building, strategic alliances between institutions" said Victor Sandoval, coordinator of the environmental management degree and of the certificate course course in CUNORI.

This training space allows agricultural professionals in Central America to strengthen their climate change projects, especially in adaptation and mitigation, but also in improving technical assistance and cooperation between different institutions to work on projects that help achieve sustainable agricultural development. 

Scaling knowledge

Among the topics of the certificate course that had the greatest impact among the attendees were the monitoring systems of agroclimatic information. For these professionals, the use of digital tools such as applications, tablets and cell phones is allowing local institutions in the municipality of Chiquimula to report, store and analyze climate data remotely and more efficiently.

"We are working on a digital agricultural report, via cell phones, on a sample of producers to know their situation during the pandemic. Its formulation, structure and development, were done with the digital tool KoboCollect, learned in the course'', said Freddy Diaz, coordinator of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation of the Chiquimula Departmental Headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food of Guatemala (MAGA).

Now, Diaz is replicating the methodologies learned in the course in a pilot plan through MAGA's municipal extension agencies across three components: agricultural development, family farming, and rural households. The data collected is contributing to the generation of information for decision-making at the local level. The transition and appropriation by the technicians has been rapid and this has generated interest for its application at the national level.

Tools to combat climate change

Several initiatives have emerged from the certificate course that are generating comprehensive solutions, in a participatory manner, to continue promoting sustainable development and food security among the most vulnerable in Central America. For example, with the data collected in the MAGA plan described above, technical assistance can continue to be provided and climate information reported to producers.
The coordinated work that has emerged from this training space between cooperating partners, researchers, training centers, partners and local actors organized through the LTACs can generate results in the short and medium term to scale up climate-smart agriculture options.

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Arely Valdivia is a Communications Specialist for the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT in Nicaragua.