Model Farms to Save a Lake in Nicaragua

Model Farms to Save a Lake in Nicaragua

27/10/2019
in News
This news is part of the following focus area:
Selene Casanova
Selene Casanova
Communications | Latin America & International

“Those who visit my farm always tell me how beautiful this landscape is,” says José Maria Torres, trying to hide his pride. The farmer and president of the horticultural cooperative COOSMPROJIN doesn't lie. From his 3.5 hectare property located on a hill at 1,200 meters above sea level, you can see Lake Apanàs, the third-largest in Nicaragua, in a frame of over 50 shades of green.

In his “little farm”, as José calls it affectionately, fresh air is all around. His house is built with wooden planks and sits on the highest part of the land, surrounded by a small forest on one side and a plot of cabbage on the other.

When sitting on the plot you have a view of the lake, which is an artificial water reservoir built 55 years ago to generate electricity. In 2001, UNESCO declared the lake a RAMSAR site (a wetland of international importance) to preserve its biodiverse habitat. Unfortunately, this beautiful landscape is in danger of disappearing within the next 5 years due to the high levels of environmental deterioration to which it has been exposed.

Apanás: a productive landscape

Nicaragua counts approximately 350,000 farmers, 15,000 of which cultivate vegetables. 90% are small-scale producers (0.5 to 3.5 hectares), with 60% of these small-scale farmers located in Jinotega, the same department that is home to lake Apanás.

The organisations and associated farmers that work in the basin of this lake deliver their vegetables to the Walmart group Subway as well as other national and international food chains and SMEs. It is clear that the food supply of the population of Jinotega and the rest of the country is connected to the life of those in Apanàs.

MASLAGO: a landscape solution

In 2016, Rikolto was working with other horticultural cooperatives such as COOSMPROJIN, COOSEMPODA, SACACLÌ and TOMATOYA to sustainably transform their production, administration and marketing models. In that process, the relationship between practices such as deforestation, inefficient water use, poor soil management and the use of agrochemicals, and their negative impact on the lake and its landscape became apparent.

In Rikolto, we support farmer organisations to pilot new ways of collaborating with their member producers and with the market in an effort to create more favourable conditions for their members. Going further, we support them to become active and engaged actors in the food chain so that they can influence changes at the policy level, for example.

Guillermo Gutierrez Coordinator of the MASLAGO project from Rikolto.

In light of this, Rikolto proposed a new approach for “Sustainable Landscape Management”. That very year, Guillermo Gutierrez, project coordinator of Rikolto, launched a multi-stakeholder group called MASLAGO and supported its gatherings.

MASLAGO promotes an innovative approach to land management, focused on creating collaborative solutions that alleviate the increasing pressure on natural resources by uniting the different actors involved in agriculture, forestry, energy, fishing, livestock, tourism, and others.

Norvin Palma, project officer of La Cuculmeca, is part of the core committee that steers the multi-stakeholder platform. According to him, MASLAGO is as a group of local organisations that voluntarily work towards a common goal: the protection and conservation of Lake Apanàs.

A decisive step in shaping the platform came in the form of understanding the problems of the lake and determining which problems the group could realistically address. This prioritisation was the result of a series of meetings between community actors, a local forum and several information exchanges that generated a common understanding. It was clear to all actors that pollution and sedimentation were the most urgent issues to tackle as a group.

Currently, MASLAGO is comprised of 22 actors representing universities, research centres, cooperatives (horticultural, fishing and coffee), the indigenous community, agricultural supply companies and other organisations with projects in the area

Norving Palma project officer of La Cuculmeca

The first problem, pollution, is caused by mismanaged solid waste such as plastic containers and aluminum cans from agricultural and non-agricultural activities. On top of this, high amounts of agrochemicals and liquid waste from coffee processing reach the lake through runoff or groundwater infiltration, which can have very serious effects on biodiversity and the surrounding population’s health in the medium term.

The second threat is sedimentation. Deforestation (200 hectares per year) and intensive land-use practices in productive areas cause the Sisle, San Gabriel, Tomatoya and Jigüina rivers to annually deposit 4,000 tons of sediment into the lake.

“I am not going to lie. Deforestation and population growth are big problems,” says Don José Maria, who has planted some 300 trees since 2010, just when he began to grow vegetables.

In the communities that surround Apanás lake, it is common practice to cut down trees to expand their planting area, build houses and use for cooking. In this way, it also becomes a means to generate income.

Change begins with … examples ‘on the ground’

Reducing the erosion processes and pollution that threaten the lake are big challenges. However, MASLAGO members are well accustomed to the magnitude of these challenges and are now united in their efforts.

The Nicaraguan Association of Formulators and Distributors of Agrochemicals (ANIFODA) is a part of the platform.

Every year we organise a recycling campaign for empty agrochemical containers. With MASLAGO we have been able to extend our reach. Thanks to organisations such as La Cuculmeca, the indigenous community, the Tuktan Sirpi Children’s Association and other private companies who have participated last year and this year, we have integrated schools and other community actors to collect not only containers, but also paper, cardboard and other environmentally polluting materials

Flor de Maria Rivas Executive Director of ANIFODA

The educational campaign to collect and recycle containers and other solid waste, is but one of the joint interventions in which MASLAGO is involved.

Currently, the platform is in the process of conducting sedimentation and pollution studies to develop environmental plans, good agricultural practices, soil, and water conservation practices, etc. These studies take place on 7 farms located in the Sisle river micro basin, which is one of the 8 tributaries that feed into Apanás lake.

With these studies, they plan to learn how to sustainably manage their farms and document the process to interest other farmers in the area to replicate the models and practices that contribute to the conservation of the lake and the well-being of the population.

The Faculty of Natural Resources and Environment of the National Agrarian University (FARENA-UNA) is leading this initiative.

We are analysing the problems faced by producers and map the farms so that they know how much area they own and how to take advantage of it. Also, for coffee growers, we evaluate how much forest cover is needed and the amount of carbon sequestration.

Marcelo Villalobos Student of Natural Resources at FARENA.

“The students will recommend to me how I can better organise my farm and how much soil I am losing each year because I have not planted any natural barrier for the slope of the land", says Azucena Navarro, producer and vice president of COOSMPROJIN and a participant of the pilot project.

Additionally, eco-stoves were given out to reduce the use of firewood.

“With the eco-stove, I save time when cooking. I use 80% less wood and there is no smoke in the house. I couldn’t ask for more!” Azucena says enthusiastically.

The eco-stove uses materials such as pumice stone, a thermal insulator that helps to conserve the heat

On the outside, the eco-stove is made with zinc or a mixture of pumice stone and cement. This stove connects to a chimney as a natural smoke extractor, keeping the stove’s smoke out of the house. Meanwhile, the inside of the stove is made in such a way that the internal smoke is circulated through small oxygen inlets, thereby heating the iron plate on top.

Marcelo is from San Juan del Sur, a coastal city along the Pacific Ocean located about 6 hours from Jinotega. He is passionate about what he has learned by living with farmers on the mountainous side of the country.

“In Managua, there are many restaurants and fast food joints that need these vegetables and lettuce … Insufficient water would change what is grown in this area, shifting towards crops that use less water, such as beans and corn. This would significantly affect the consumption of vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage in the capital,” he says.

Don José Maria’s farm is located in the water recharge zone of the San Antonio de Sisle and Sisle rivers. He also participates in this pilot project, implementing various soil and forest conservation practices. He tells us that it is clear that when Apanás lake disappears, the water sources of the farm will disappear as well. That could mean that they have to stop producing. “If we stop producing, what will they eat in Managua? Likewise, if they don’t buy our crops, we can’t produce. Everything is connected,” he says.

For more information contact to:

Guillermo Gutierrez
Guillermo Gutierrez
Project coordinator | Nicaragua