In Nicaragua, reducing the risks of disasters is paying off

Project completed
A man standing next to a stone wall less than one metre high built in a cultivated field.
Building simple stone walls helps to prevent land erosion. © SDC DEZA

An experimental project on minimising damage linked to climate change has been conducted over a period of a little more than three years in Nicaragua. It has enabled thousands of smallholder farmers to become aware of the problem and to try out new techniques. And it has increased their harvests.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Climate change and environment
Environmental policy
Disaster risk reduction DRR
01.10.2013 - 31.03.2017
CHF  4’000’000

Almost 300,000 m3 of water held in reservoirs and more than 22,000 hectares (220 km2) of managed forest... These very impressive numbers provide an idea of the seriousness with which thousands of Nicaraguan smallholder farmers and villagers have been considering techniques for preventing disasters between the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2017. 

During this space of time, the SDC supported a project of the Inter-American Development Bank which has enabled almost 5,000 farmers from two localities situated in the north of Nicaragua – Rio Viejo and Lake Apanás – to become fully aware of what climate change could mean for them. The consequences have been clearly visible for many years on the country’s mountain slopes, where it is not unusual that, at high altitudes, periods of intense drought are followed by torrential rainfalls that destroy crops and can cause deadly landslides. 

Cost of building work covered

The local farmers have not only understood the urgency of the situation. They have also taken active steps by getting involved in soil management work, planting resilient coffee bushes and trees, and taking part in projects to build water reservoirs. 

In exchange for their work and commitment to protecting the environment, the farmers received financial incentives from the Nicaraguan Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources of up to USD 800 which they use to buy plants for cultivation, tools or fertilisers. 

At the conclusion of the project, many of these farmers abandoned a number of farming practices that risk causing land erosion, and even learned that the new recommended farming techniques could help increase production. A survey carried out on a sample of more than a thousand smallholder farms revealed that on average each farm had increased its annual revenues by nearly USD 200 per hectare of cultivated land. Harvest losses caused by drought were reduced by 6%, while the number of households linked to a water collection system increased by a third. 

These encouraging results provide proof that a sustainable and precautionary approach to the management of natural resources is in most cases compatible with the economic interests of smallholder farms, and even helps them. 

50,000 residents better protected

The project, which was co-funded by the SDC, has also built some 50 anti-flood walls, ensuring the safety of almost 50,000 residents. Some 42 municipal authorities responsible for the prevention and management of disasters have also benefited from new training and updated equipment. 

It is a well known fact that the poorest levels of society suffer most from natural disasters. In this light, the work of the SDC for the safety and security of the mountain communities of Nicaragua is a concrete step in the direction of greater social justice.