Good Food for Cities

Covid-19 has put a lot on hold… but not this lake in Nicaragua

September 3, 2020
Selene Casanova
International communications

According to a May report by a market research and economic studies company, three out of 10 people in Managua have lost their main source of income due to Covid-19. There is much speculation that "the situation is rapidly worsening" but there are no official figures yet. Even less information is available about the impact on rural areas.

"The population near Lake Apanás in Jinotega says it is the people of the city who bring the disease," says Norvin Palma, project coordinator for La Cuculmeca, a non-governmental organisation that advocates for human rights and the environment. This is according to a survey conducted in 18 communities around the lake.

"The families told us that they are already distant because their houses are at least 500 to 600 meters apart. 'If someone comes to visit us, they always wear masks', they told one of our colleagues during the interviews," says Norvin, who is also coordinator of the MASLAGO multi-stakeholder group and representative of La Cuculmeca, Rikolto's partner in this platform.

Learn the story behind the group of organisations that fight for the conservation and sustainability of Apanás in this video.

The multi-stakeholder platform for the sustainability of Lake Apanás, MASLAGO, was created by Rikolto in 2017 and to date has managed to bring together around 20 organisations including horticultural cooperatives, universities, NGOs, private companies, as well as the indigenous community that inhabits most of the territories bordering Apanás.

The space was created to respond to the imminent threat of the disappearance of the lake in the next decade due to sedimentation, uncontrolled deforestation, and harmful agricultural practices in the surrounding area.

The artificial reservoir was declared a RAMSAR site because of its biodiversity and currently 60% of the country's most consumed vegetables are cultivated here. Water shortages are expected to cause unemployment and compromise the availability of vegetables. This will result in a less sustainable and diverse diet for urban and rural consumers.

Communities getting ready

MASLAGO has remained active and adjustments have been made within the group to meet the needs of the population during the Covid-19 crisis.

"To overcome the isolation, we are working on our plot, now we are in the period of cleaning the land, while we wait for the rain in May" are the words of the small-scale farmers who keep their cabbage or lettuce crops along the shore of Apanás, personifying the phrase "farmers do not stop".

"To respond to a potential food crisis, we want to support crop diversification for vegetable farming families. Together with the cooperatives Coosempoda and Coosmprojin, members of MASLAGO, we will be collaborating with technical assistance and funds to grow beans" explains Guillermo Gutierrez, project coordinator of Rikolto.

Guillermo explains that "About 400 farmers are expected to participate and the goal is to cultivate 600 hectares of land, which would also provide them with more economic income in a context where vegetable consumption has decreased.".

For Norvin, the work of organisations such as La Cuculmeca, the Tuktan Sirpi Children's Association, the same cooperatives, and more members of the MASLAGO group, has all contributed to an empirical model of community response to Covid-19 in the communities.

"We need children to be informed so that they can take preventive measures towards Covid 19 from their homes and at school, which is why we visit schools, take information to them and create educational murals with the children.

Some of them were taken to promote them in their neighbourhood," says Ana Herrera of the Tuktan Sirpi Children's Association.

"They already have mapped out the vehicles and people who would make the transfers from the rural areas to the health centres in case someone gets sick. In addition, they have located the families in extreme vulnerability who would need support such as food packages," he says.

Let's reforest Apanás!

This year MASLAGO will start implementing the farm management plans designed last year. The National Agrarian University (UNA) is part of the group and has been leading this activity, which includes reforestation and soil conservation activities in the plots of 8 farming families.

The idea is to exchange good practices among the members of the cooperatives and slowly promote a change in attitude and practices.

"Those who visit my farm always tell me how beautiful this landscape is," says José María Torres, trying to hide his pride. José María's farm is located in the water recharge area of the San Antonio de Sisle and Sisle rivers and is part of the piloting of MASLAGO's model farms.

In addition to making use of various soil conservation practices and conserving the forest, he is adamant that if Apanás disappears, the small water sources on the farms will disappear and that could mean they have to stop producing. "If we stop producing, what will they eat in Managua? And equally, if they don't buy from us, we can't produce. Everything is connected," he says.

The rains will start soon in Nicaragua and although many activities are on hold, the vegetable cooperatives’ work goes on. The Coosempoda cooperative will lead a reforestation campaign of 1,000 plants of the black guava, piskin, and walnut species among its members, to contribute to the protection of water sources on the cooperative's farms, and thus the rivers that feed the Apanás water mirror.

Another action that MASLAGO participates in, is the communication campaign. The campaign is entitled "Through hygiene, we prevent COVID-19" and is aimed at rural communities. The initiative is led by the Water and Sanitation Network (RASNIC) and several partner organisations of MASLAGO, which are now joining efforts to promote the use of safe water and prevent the spread of the disease.

A large campaign to collect agrochemical containers for their recycling has been carried out to avoid the contamination of the lake. In 2018 over 120,000 agrochemical containers and packages of “waste” for recycling were collected.
Evaluation and planning workshop of the maslago action plan. january 2020
In order to provide a better weather forecast, meteorological stations are installed in the cooperatives of farmers around the lake.

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