Lizz Harrison reports from Nicaragua where young people are being supported to learn sustainable farming techniques to increase food security and reduce the impacts of future natural disasters and climate change.

The last time I visited Nicaragua a tarantula dropped from the thatched roof of the community meeting hut – where I was meeting community members of some hard to reach rural communities – onto the table next to me! However, it didn’t lessen my excitement about going back to see how the rural livelihoods project managed by Nicaragua YMCA was getting on…

Me (third left) with the Nicaragua YMCA project team.  Photo: Lizz Harrison/YMCA

Me (third left) with the Nicaragua YMCA project team.

Young people in remote rural communities in Boaco, Muy Muy and Santa Lucia in Nicaragua rely on their land to produce enough food for themselves and their families. But changes in weather patterns, a sign of climate change, have affected their ability to grow enough crops. Beans and corn were the staple crops in this region but by training in farming techniques with the support of Nicaragua YMCA, young people have learnt how to grow a variety of other crops including carrots, onions, peppers and melons. By diversifying the crops they grow, they are not only improving their diets but also providing a kind of insurance against poor harvests of any one crop. This reduces food insecurity and lessens the chance that they will go hungry.

The meteorological station which has been installed in Boaco which collects information on rainfall, temperature, wind and humidity.  Photo: Lizz Harrison/YCI

The meteorological station which has been installed in Boaco which collects information on rainfall, temperature, wind and humidity.

Understanding the changing patterns of rainfall and temperature is important to understand how the climate might be changing and the implications of this for growing crops in this area. Nicaragua YMCA, who manages the project in-country which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, has already installed a meteorological station in one of the rural communities. This station collects information about rainfall, temperatures, wind and humidity.

Alejandro, the Project Coordinator at the YMCA, said, “the information we collect from this meteorological station will be really useful for being able to see when the best times for planting and harvesting crops are.

Monitoring weather information will also reduce the risk of natural hazards such as floods and droughts becoming disasters. As part of this project, young people living in these rural communities have been learning about natural hazards and how they might pose a risk to them, their communities and their livelihoods. Community disaster management committees have been established in communities the YMCA supports and young people have led on assessing the vulnerabilities and risks in their communities related to disasters.

Maria, 18, is the coordinator of Yula Sacal community disaster management committee and said “I enjoy being part of the disaster management committee and the training was really good. I would like to be in this committee for a long time as I want to help my community.

Maria, 18 and another young community disaster management committee member hold up the risk map of their community, Yula Sacal.  Photo: Lizz Harrison/YCI

Maria, 18 and another young community disaster management committee member hold up the risk map of their community, Yula Sacal.

Maria, who has also received training on agro-processing as part of the project to support her to earn an income, showed me the community risk map which her and the other members of the community disaster management committee drew. It was very detailed and showed not only the few roads in and out of the community but also areas that flood, places which are at risk from landslides, and emergency shelters.

Even in disaster prone regions the impacts of natural hazards can be hard to predict but that’s not to say that nothing can be done to reduce the risk of them becoming disasters. So it’s great to see young leaders recognising their role in this and working with their communities in remote rural areas to reduce the vulnerability of young people and their families to disasters. Some of the people I’ve met this time will almost certainly be affected by flooding, droughts, hurricanes and/or landslides in the future, but I’ve come back feeling reassured that communities there are becoming better prepared to reduce the risk of disasters.