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Caribbean Clmate Hub video: Permaculture, Soil & Water Conservation for Climate Change Adaptation

To celebrate World Soil Day, the Caribbean Climate Hub launches video on how to conserve agricultural soils and water to deal with climate change in tropical areas.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The historic November rains that caused floods, landslides, and millions of agricultural losses throughout Puerto Rico are evidence of the agricultural sector’s high vulnerability to climatic events. The Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately 4,000 acres of pastures for livestock were lost because of floods. Heavy rains also affected the sowing of papayas, onions, peppers and tomatoes in the center and south of the island. These agricultural losses endanger the country’s food security and the survival of farmers.

To deal with the effects of a changing climate, farmers must implement water and soil conservation measures, but need technical and financial support to prepare their farms. In a new video entitled “Permaculture and Conservation of Water and Soils” developed by the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub, farmers can learn about efficient water storage and management and various permaculture techniques to improve soil health, avoid erosion and improve water retention and infiltration. Permaculture is an ecologically-based agricultural system that seeks a healthy and harmonious integration of nature and people. The objective of the video is to educate the public about climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies by providing scientific information to aid decision-making in the management of agricultural and forestry lands.

The video takes place at the Siembra Tres Vidas farm in Aibonito, where Daniella Rodríguez Besosa and a group of ecological farmers grow vegetables, herbs and edible flowers using permaculture techniques and without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Permaculture is a system of agricultural design based on the principles of ecology that seeks the healthy and harmonious integration of nature and people.

“Among the permaculture techniques I use on my farm is the use of terraces to prevent soil erosion and improve water infiltration in the terrain. I also use mulch and cover crops to fertilize and regulate soil temperature,” explained Daniella from her organic farm. Cover plants are fast growing plants that provide nutrients and organic matter to the soil to increase productivity and crop yields.

In recent years, Daniella, like many Puerto Rican farmers, has faced periods of extreme drought and intense rains that have reduced her production. In the video, Daniella explains how she was able to build a water storage pond on her farm with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to combat drought and to control excess water in the rainy season. Water management is one of the biggest challenges facing farmers, and the NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to help farmers to make and maintain improvements in their land, including conservation practices related to organic production. All these techniques allow farmers to increase the production and conservation of the natural resources at the same time that they help to increase the resilience of the farm to climatic changes.

“It is important that farmers implement conservation techniques on their farms because agriculture also contributes to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases, which are the cause of global warming,” said NRCS engineer, Luis Rosado, in the video.

Global climate change and its effects on the Caribbean

To date, 2016 has been the hottest year in history, with global temperatures averaging 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In Puerto Rico, the effects of these climatic changes are evident, including sea level rise and beach loss. The drought of 2014-2015 that caused more than $50 million in economic losses, particularly in the agricultural sector, is another example of how global climate change is affecting the island. Each year the dry season becomes longer and in the rainy season extreme events occur that cause flooding and overflowing rivers.

The video, released on December 5 to celebrate World Soil Day, includes a map of how rain patterns are projected to change in Puerto Rico from the present to 2100. The map is a result of climate studies being carried out at the USDA Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, where the Caribbean Climate Hub is located. The video is the third in the ADAPTA series, an educational project of the Hub that promotes sustainable practices that help increase the resilience of the agricultural and forestry sector to climate change. In ecology, resilience refers to the ability of an ecosystem to resist and recover from a disturbance. When we speak of resilience in agriculture, it refers to the ability to recover and adapt after a climatic event. Beginning in 2017, the Caribbean climate hub will offer training workshops for farmers and agronomists on agricultural techniques and technologies to increase resilience to climate change.