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Mayan Farmers in Southern Belize Hold Strong to Their Climate Change Experiment

by Zadie Neufville

The following was first published by IPS on Sep 5 2018
In one of Belize’s forest reserves in the Maya Golden Landscape, a group of farmers is working with non-governmental organisations to mitigate and build resilience to climate change with a unique agroforestry project.

Marcus Tut at his plot in the Ya’axché  agro-forestry concession

The Ya’axché Conservation Trust helps farmers to establish traditional tree crops, like the cacao, that would provide them with long-term income opportunities through restoring the forest, protecting the natural environment, while building their livelihoods and opportunities. Experts say the farmers are building resilience to climate change in the eight rural communities they represent.

The agroforestry concession is situated in the Maya Mountain Reserve and is one of two agroforestry projects undertaken by the 5Cs, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), in its efforts to implement adaptation and mitigation strategies in communities across the Caribbean.

Close to 6,000 people both directly and indirectly benefit from the project which Dr. Ulric Trotz, science advisor and deputy executive director of the 5Cs, noted was established with funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (UK DFID).

“It is easily one of our most successful and during my most recent visit this year, I’ve seen enough to believe that the concept can be successfully transferred to any community in Belize as well as to other parts of the Caribbean,” he told IPS.

The Trio Cacao Farmers Association and the Ya’axché Conservation Trust have been working together since 2015 to acquire and establish an agroforestry concession on 379 hectares of disturbed forest. The agroforestry project was given a much-need boost with USD250,000 in funding through the 5Cs.

According to Christina Garcia, Ya’axché’s executive director, the project provides extension services. It also provides training and public awareness to prepare the farmers on how to reduce deforestation, prevent degradation of their water supplies and reduce the occurrence of wildfires in the beneficiary communities and the concession area.

Since the start, more than 50,000 cacao trees have been planted on 67 hectares and many are already producing the white cacao, a traditional crop in this area. To supplement the farmers’ incomes approximately 41 hectares of ‘cash’ crops, including bananas, plantains, vegetable, corn and peppers, were also established along with grow-houses and composting heaps that would support the crops.

This unique project is on track to become one of the exemplary demonstrations of ecosystems-based adaptation in the region.

The 35 farming families here are native Maya. They live and work in an area that is part of what has been dubbed the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, which connects the forests of the Maya Mountains to that of the coastal lowlands and is managed by Ya’axché.

Farmers here believe they are reclaiming their traditional ways of life on the four hectares which they each have been allocated. Many say they’ve improved their incomes while restoring the disturbed forests, and are doing this through using techniques that are protecting and preserving the remaining forests, the wildlife and water.

On tour of the Ya’axché Agroforestry Concession in the Maya Golden Landscape. From right: Dr Ulric Trotz, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC); Dr Mark Bynoe, head of project development at the 5Cs; Isabel Rash, chair of the Trios Cacao Farmers Association; Magnus Tut, farmer and ranger and behind him Christina Garcia, executive director Ya’axché Conservation Trust. 

Other members of the communities, including school-age teenagers, were given the opportunity to start their own businesses through the provision of training and hives to start bee-keeping projects. Many of the women now involved in bee-keeping were given one box when they started their businesses.

The men and women who work the concession do not use chemicals and can, therefore, market their crops as chemical free, or organic products. They, however, say they need additional help to seek and establish those lucrative markets. In addition to the no-chemicals rule, the plots are cultivated by hand, using traditional tools. But farmer Marcus Tut said that this is used in conjunction with new techniques, adding that it has improved native farming methods.

“We are going back to the old ways, which my father told me about before chemicals were introduced to make things grow faster. The hardest part is maintaining the plot. It is challenging and hard work but it is good work, and there are health benefits,” Tut told IPS.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supports the farmers’ beliefs, reporting that up to 11 per cent of greenhouse gases are caused by deforestation and “between 24 and 30 per cent of total mitigation potential” can be provided by halting and reversing deforestation in the tropics.

“The hardest part of the work is getting some people to understand how/what they do impacts the climate, but each has their own story and they are experiencing the changes which make it easier for them to make the transition,” said Julio Chun, a farmer and the community liaison for the concession. He told IPS that in the past, the farmers frequently used fires to clear the land.

Chun explained that farmers are already seeing the return of wildlife, such as the jaguar, and are excited by the possibilities.

“We would like to develop eco-tourism and the value-added products that can support the industry. Some visitors are already coming for the organic products and the honey,” he said.

Ya’axché co-manages the Bladen Nature Reserve and the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve, a combined 311,607 hectares of public and privately owned forest. Its name, pronounced yash-cheh, is the Mopan Maya word for the Kapoc or Ceiba tree (scientific name: Ceiba pentandra), which is sacred to the Maya peoples.

Of the project’s future, Garcia said: “My wish is to see the project address the economic needs of the farmers, to get them to recognise the value of what they are doing in the concession and that the decision-makers can use the model as an example to make decisions on how forest reserves can be made available to communities across Belize and the region to balance nature and livelihoods.”

Scientists believe that well-managed ecosystems can help countries adapt to both current climate hazards and future climate change through the provision of ecosystem services, so the 5Cs has implemented a similar project in Saint Lucia under a 42-month project funded by the European Union Global Climate Change Alliance (EU-GCCA+) to promote sustainable farming practices.

The sweet taste of white cacao

The cacao-based agroforestry project in Saint Lucia uses a mix-plantation model where farmers are allowed to continue using chemicals but were taught to protect the environment. Like the Ya’axché project, Saint Lucia’s was designed to improve environmental conditions in the beneficiary areas; enhance livelihoods and build the community’s resilience to climate change.

In the next chapter, the Ya’axché farmers project is hoping that, among other things, a good Samaritan will help them to add facilities for value-added products; acquire eco-friendly all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to move produce to access points; and replace a wooden bridge that leads to the main access road.

Tut and Chun both support the views of the group’s chair Isabel Rash, that farmers are already living through climate change, but that the hard work in manually “clearing and maintaining their plots and in chemical-free food production, saves them money”, supports a healthy working and living environment and should protect them against the impacts of climate change.

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Climate Scientists Use Forecasting Tools to Protect Caribbean Ways of Life

by Zadie Neufville

The following was published by InterPress Service on Aug 7, 2017

KINGSTON, Jamaica: Since 2013, Jamaica’s Met Office has been using its Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) to forecast ‘below average’ rainfall or drought across the island. The tool has allowed this northern Caribbean island to accurately predict several dry periods and droughts, including its most destructive episode in 2014 when an estimated one billion dollars in agricultural losses were incurred due to crop failures and wild fires caused by the exceptionally dry conditions.

In neighbouring Cuba, the reputation of the Centre for Atmospheric Physics at the Institute for Meteorology (INSMET) is built on the development of tools that “provide reliable and timely climate and weather information” that enables the nation to prepare for extreme rainfall and drought conditions as well as for hurricanes.

Regional scientists believe the extended dry periods are one of several signs of climate change, now being experienced across the region. Dr. Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director and Science Adviser at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) – known regionally as the Five Cs – believes climate change is threatening the “Caribbean’s ways of life”.

The drought tools allow regional authorities to guide farmers so they avoid losses

Dr. Trotz noted, “Some countries in the Caribbean like Barbados and Antigua are inherently water scarce. It is expected that climate change will exacerbate this already critical situation. We have seen in recent times the occurrence of extended droughts across the Caribbean, a phenomenon that is expected to occur more frequently in the future.

“Droughts have serious implications across all sectors – the water, health, agriculture, tourism -and already we are seeing the disastrous effects of extended droughts throughout the Caribbean especially in the agriculture sector, on economies, livelihoods and the well-being of the Caribbean population,” he said.

With major industries like fisheries, tourism and agriculture already impacted, the region continues to look for options. Both the Cuban and Jamaican experiences with forecasting tools means their use should be replicated across the Caribbean, Central and South America as scientists look for ways to battle increasingly high temperatures and low rainfall which have ravaged the agricultural sector and killed corals across the region.

Charged with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s mandate to coordinate the region’s response to climate change, the ‘Five Cs’ has been seeking financial support investigating and pooling regional resources to help countries cope with the expected impacts since its birth in 2004. These days, they are introducing and training regional planners in the application and use of a suite of tools that will help leaders make their countries climate-ready.

The experts believe that preparing the region to deal with climate change must include data collection and the widespread use of variability, predictability and planning tools that will guide development that mitigate the impacts of extreme climatic conditions.

The recent Caribbean Marine Climate Report card reflects the findings of the latest Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, pointing to the need for countries to ramp up their adaptation strategies. Both highlight the many significant risks climate change is expected to bring to regional economies that depend heavily on eco-systems based industries; where major infrastructure are located along the coasts and where populations are mainly poor.The report points to the threats to biodiversity from coral bleaching; rising sea temperature and more intense storms which could destroy the region’s economy, and in some cases inundate entire communities.

The tools not only allow the users to generate country specific forecast information, they allow Met Officers, Disaster Managers and other critical personnel to assess likely impacts of climatic and extreme weather events on sectors such as health, agriculture and tourism; on critical infrastructure and installations as well as on vulnerable populations.

Jamaica has more than a million motor vehicles contributing to increased emissions and traffic jams like this one at the Highway 2000 off ramp at Marcus Garvey Drive.- Gleaner photo

Training is being rolled out under the Climate Change Adaptation Program (CCAP) in countries of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). CCAP was designed to build on both USAID’s Regional Development Cooperative Strategy which addresses development challenges in the countries in that part of the region, as well as the CCCCC’s Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to a Changing Climate and its associated Implementation Plan, which have been endorsed by the Heads of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

Regional experts and government officers working in agriculture, water resources, coastal zone management, health, physical planning and disaster risk reduction from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago are being taught to use a variety of tools.

The program aims to build resilience in the development initiatives of the countries as they tackle climate change-induced challenges, which are already being experienced by countries of the region.

At a recent workshop in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, trainees were confident that the tools could become critical to their developmental goals. St Lucian metrological forecaster Glen Antoinne, believes the tools could be “useful for St Lucia because they are directly related to our ability to forecast any changes in the climate”.

He looks forward to his government’s adoption of, in particular, the weather tools to  “support the climatology department in looking at trends, forecasting droughts and to help them to determine when to take action in policy planning and disaster management”.

The tools work by allowing researchers and other development specialists to use a range of climatic data to generate scientific information and carry out analysis on the likely impacts in the individual countries of the region. They are open source, to remove the need for similar expensive products being used in developed world, but effective, said INSMET’s Dr. Arnoldo Bezamilla Morlot.

“We saw the need to develop a drought tool that was not only easy to use, but free to the countries of the Caribbean so they would not have to spend large amounts of money for software,” he said.

“The more countries use the data, the more information that is available for countries and region to use,” Morlot continued, pointing out that the data is used to generate the information that then feeds into the decision making process.

Heavy rains and high waves from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 battered coastal towns, marooned the Kingston’s International Airport, destroyed several roads and bridges .- Jamaica Gleaner Photo.

CCAP also includes activities aimed at the expansion of the Coral Reef Early Warning System for the installation of data gathering buoys in five countries in the Eastern Caribbean providing data which, among other things will be used for ecological forecasts on coral bleaching and other marine events.

The project also provides for the strengthening of the hydro meteorological measurement systems in participating countries. This will allow for better monitoring of present day weather parameters and for generating data to feed into the climate models and other tools.

Among the tools being rolled out under the project are the Caribbean Assessment Regional DROught (CARiDRO) tool; the Caribbean Weather Generator, and the Tropical Storm Model which were designed to help experts to develop scenarios of future climate at any given location and to use these to more accurately forecast the impacts, and inform mitigating actions.

There are accompanying web portals and data sets that were developed and are being introduced to help countries to enhance their ability to reduce the risks of climate change to natural assets and populations in their development activities.

These online resources are designed to provide locally relevant and unbiased climate change information that is specific to the Caribbean and relevant to the region’s development. Their integration into national planning agendas across the region is being facilitated through regional and country workshops to ensure effective decision-making while improving climate knowledge and action.

“The resulting information will help leaders make informed decisions based on the projections and forecasting of likely levels of impact on their infrastructure and economies,” Lavina Alexander from St Lucia’s Department of Sustainable Development noted, pointing to that country’s recent experiences with hurricanes and extreme rainfall events.

As one of the tool designers, Morlot believes that by providing free access to the tools, the project is ensuring that “more countries will begin to collect and use the data, providing regional scientists with the ability to make more accurate forecasts of the region’s climate.”

Putting all the information and tools in one place where it is accessible by all will be good for the region, he said.