Case Study Background
Siembra Tres Vidas is a farm on the southern side of the central mountains of Puerto Rico in the town of Aibonito where Daniella Rodriguez grows a variety of vegetables and lettuce, edible flowers, and aromátic herbs. The farm is situated at 2000 asl on the leeward side of the mountain range where the rainshadow effect causes a relatively dry climate. Daniella Rodriguez reported the need to adapt the farm land to rainfall extremes after experiencing periods of extreme drought followed by heavy rainfall events.
The overall goal of Siembra Tres Vidas Farm was to create stability in increasingly unstable rainfall conditions. They managed the land, crops, and water resources to maintain a sustainable operation in the face of climate change. The farm did not have a reliable year-round water supply and they wanted to reduce the risk associated with drought, implement soil health management principles, and protect the soil resource for sustainable agricultural production.
Climate Change Impacts in the Caribbean
The Caribbean region is becoming hotter and drier due to climate change. Climatic projections indicate that temperatures in the region will continue to rise, with some studies projecting a 1.5°F to 4°F increase in average annual temperatures for the U.S. Caribbean by 2050 (Henareh et al. 2016). Rainfall patterns will change, making more extreme rain events occur in the rainy season and the dry season more extensive. Shifting rainfall patterns, precipitation extremes, increasing temperatures, more frequent dry days, increased drought risk, more frequent extreme rainfall events and more intense tropical storms and hurricanes are expected in the Caribbean region (Hayhoe 2013).
- Possible impacts to these changes include:
- Difficulty planning farm calendar;
- Not having enough water to sustain crops;
- Crop losses during drought; and
- Extreme rainfall events causing soil erosion and nutrient loss.
Opportunities and Challenges
Siembra Tres Vidas Farm noted several challenges on their farm to adapt to conditions relating to climate change. The major challenge on the farm was that the land lacked water bodies to use as storage for irrigation in periods of drought. To increase water access and improve drought adaptation, Siembra Tres Vidas worked with a civil engineer from NRCS to create a water retention pond. The pond was designed to capture runoff in extreme rainfall events, and to store water for irrigation during dry periods. Along the drainage area that leads to the water retention pond, Daniella planted vetiver, a grass with very long roots (up to 11 feet) to control erosion during intense rainfall. To avoid erosion of soil and nutrients in the crop areas during heavy rainfall events, Daniella is developing terraces and applying compost and mulch. Terracing is the process of building level surfaces on steep terrain by accumulating compost behind a row of strong-rooted plants over a period of several years. The terraces help to slow runoff in extreme rainfall and allow for infiltration of rainwater while replenishing soil nutrients with the applied compost. The mulch helps to retain soil moisture, regular soil temperature, and avoid the growth of weeds.
Planned on-farm adaptation actions include:
- Construct retention pond to maintain water on the landscape to match water demand and supply.
- Diversify crops to accommodate expected future conditions by planting drought-tolerant pigeon peas
- Increase soil cover with mulch and cover crops to cope with warmer and drier conditions.
As the climate changes in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, Finca Siembra Tres Vidas will continually monitor their management decisions and how this impacts challenges and opportunities in production agriculture and farm health. They are continuing their process of slow-terracing and composting to accumulate nutrients in the soil.
More about climate adaptation and Siembra Tres Vidas Farm
To learn more about the adaptation practices applied by Siembra Tres Vidas Farm, check out the video Permaculture, Soil & Water Conservation for Climate Change Adaptation on the Caribbean Climate Hub YouTube channel. The video is also available for Spanish speakers.