Adapting to climate change in Central America

IFAD President Nwanze calls for greener development

Adapting to climate change in Central AmericaGuatemala, 5 August 2010 – The lives and livelihoods of one out of every four Central Americans – that's around 10 million people – are being negatively impacted by climate change, according to reports from the Central American Integration System (SICA).

In order to help poor rural people adapt to these new environmental challenges – many studies indicate an increase in hurricanes, droughts, and even diseases like malaria linked to changing weather patterns over the past ten years in the region – the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is financing several projects throughout Central America designed to help locals change the way they plant crops, use forests and think about the environment.

"Adaptation to climate change – and mitigation of greenhouse gases – is fast becoming a national priority for Guatemala and the rest of Central America," said IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze. The President of the United Nation's rural poverty agency is currently touring Guatemala to assess regional needs and look for better ways to fund greener programs.

In Central America, one of the world's largest repositories of biodiversity, adapting to climate change is not just an environmental imperative, it's an economic one. Natural resources – such as tillable land, forests and water – are at a premium throughout the densely populated isthmus, and economists point to as much as a 10 per cent drop in GDP for some Central American nations as a result of climate change.

"Poor rural people are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Many live on ecologically fragile land and depend on agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forestry," said Josefina Stubbs, Director of IFAD's Latin America and the Caribbean Division. "We are working hard throughout Latin America to help smallholder farmers find ways to adapt to environmental challenges. In Mexico, together with the Global Environmental Facility, we are funding a project that will help create new systems for sustainable forestry and carbon sequestration, all the while introducing programs that will allow local farmers to increase their incomes."

Greener projects in Guatemala
The IFAD co-funded Rural Development Program for Las Verapaces (PRODEVER) in Guatemala has approached environmental challenges by strengthening soil conservation practices in local coffee, cacao, mandarin orange and cardamom plantations. They've also donated some 3700 energy-efficient stoves to local farmers and planted 50 hectares of fast-growing forests that will be used specifically as fuel.

"Around half of the wood felled each year is used for either cooking or heating," said Stubbs. "By planting trees specifically for fuel, PRODEVER hopes to mitigate the overall carbon footprint of their projects." 

Another IFAD-funded project, the National Rural Development Program Phase 1: The Western Region (FIDA Occidente), is also taking significant steps to adapt to climate change.

"Every investment project approved by the program takes into account the mitigation of environmental impacts," said José Antonio Fion Morales of FIDA Occidente. "Natural resource management projects, especially irrigation projects, include a training component designed to help beneficiaries learn about the conservation of water resources and reforestation."    

One such project is the AGRISEM producers association, which is now requiring its members to follow international rules regarding the use of pesticides. The association is also setting up projects to use worm-composts as fertilizers, distribute plants to smallholder farmers to reforest their lands, and planting forests to be used for fuelwood.

"While many developing countries like Guatemala contribute very little to the greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change, they are fast becoming part of the solution," said Stubbs. "Programs like PRODEVER and FIDA Occidente are proof positive that smallholder farmers will play an essential role in our effort to protect Mother Earth."  

Press release No.: IFAD/50/2010

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, IFAD has invested over US$12 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries, empowering more than 350 million people to break out of poverty. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the UN's food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 165 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).