« Never in our lifetime farmers have been more under pressure than now to answer on the what, the how and the when we produce in the framework of the global climate challenge. Agriculture was not even mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol and now all at sudden farming is mainstreamed everywhere. From the side of the World Farmers’ Organisation, we launched THE CLIMAKERS to put a farmer-driven agenda on this table. We are asking farmers on the ground-level in every corner of the globe « what can you do to mitigate and adapt to climate change? » and secondly « what does it take to get it done? ». Today is this day for Latin America. It’s wonderful to engage with you, the farmer leaders of this region. We cannot imagine sustainable and climate-resilient food systems without your voices. » With these words, the WFO President Theo de Jager welcomed the farmers’ leaders from Latin America who convened digitally on September 30th to join THE CLIMAKERS special online event « Farmers’ Solutions to Climate Crisis: Latin American Stories in the era of COVID19.

The one-day event, organised by WFO in technical partnership with the International Cooperation and Development Fund of Taiwan (Taiwan ICDF), aimed at raising the voice of Latin American farmers and promoting the solutions they are putting in place to respond to the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.

During the first part of the event farmers’ representatives from Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Belize, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Brazil shared their practices in addressing climate change in times of COVID-19.

The second session of the meeting offered an excellent venue for farmers to discuss with high-level representatives of international organisations, governments, private sector entities and academia on needs and potential opportunities for scaling up these regional best practices.

Speakers joining the debate during this second session were Hernan Danery Alvarado, Chief Financial Officer, Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI); Efraín Medina Guerra, Executive Director, Organismo Internacional Regional de Sanidad Agropecuaria (OIRSA); Tomas Y. C. Peng, Specialist, Taiwan Technical Mission in Nicaragua; Deissy Martínez Barón, Regional Program Leader for Latin America, CCAFS; Martien van Nieuwkoop, Global Director, Agriculture and Food Global Practice, World Bank; Diego Risso, Director, Seed Association of Americas (SAA); Alberto Broch, President, Confederación de Organizaciones de Productores Familiares del Mercosur Ampliado (COPROFAM); José Ángel Coto Hernández, Deputy Coordinator, Programa Diálogo Regional Rural (PDRR), El Salvador; Raul Roccatagliata, Technical Advisor, F.A.R.M.; Moises Osorto Caceres, Member of Committee for America, World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP); Agustina Diaz Valdez, WFO Gymnasium Alumni and Young Farmer, Sociedad Rural Argentina (SRA).

All the attendees provided key contributions, making the meeting the occasion for a forward-looking and constructive exchange.

To name but a few, Martien van Nieuwkoop emphasised farmers’ still untapped potential related to soil health enhancement. Deissy Martínez Barón, on her side, underlined how vital are strategic alliances between all the relevant actors in the agricultural sector to build a more sustainable and climate-resilient future, relying on farmers’ practical experience on the field. Agustina Diaz Valdez, as a representative of younger generations, focused on the role of young farmers, their talent and dedication to innovate agriculture.

By the end, it was clear that climate change is just one of the challenges in a wider holistic debate, the one on food systems transformation. All participants agreed on the relevance of working together to drive the transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems, also and above all at the times of COVID-19, giving voice to those who hold an essential part of the solution: the farmers.

Sharing farmers’ experience:

Josue Raxtu, President of ALIAR farmer’s cooperative in Guatemala, focused on strategies such as diversification of products and markets, use of sustainable infrastructure and application of traceability systems, as well as the implementation of new crops more adaptable to climate change and application of organic fertilizers for soil reduction and conservation. Due to COVID-19 outbreak, strict safety measures, especially in the packing area, were implemented and new strategies of selling for the local market were established.

Emanuel Hernández, Vice president of the Association of Producers of Intibucá (APRAIN) in Honduras, emphasized how the increase of rainfalls and changing in temperatures are affecting avocado, potato, and strawberry production, because of the increase of diseases and pests. The existing difficulties have been exacerbated by the pandemic outbreak impacts, such as access to inputs and market disruption. To support farmers in coping with these challenges, Taiwan has been providing producers with new plants varieties, fertilizers and new quality seeds produced under protected structures.

Yadira Nerexi Gonzalez, President of an Oyster Cooperative in Ecuador, focused on the contingency measures oyster farmers are implementing to face both the higher ocean temperatures and the presence of new animal species, and the lack of workforce because of pandemic outbreak legislative regulations. They are maintaining a lower production but better cleaning the cages to lower the chance of attack from “small predators”.

Julio Adolfo Lara Mendieta, President of Carazo Seed Bank in Nicaragua, emphasized how in recent years, climatic variations have significantly affected the national territory with drought between 2014-2016 and heavy rains in 2017, causing low yields of beans production and consequently deficiencies in food safety, for which producers have had to make changes in the sowing seasons. Today producing families have access to seeds suitable for climate change. Improved seeds resistant to drought and heat are now used, in addition to bio-inputs such as rhizobium, so respecting the environment, as well as reducing production costs, with the use of mulch. The banks also have funds for the creation of areas for seeds’ production and labour. It is worth mentioning that nowadays the banks of seeds are spread at municipal and departmental fairs.

Daniel Juan, President of Cayo District Sheep Farmers Organization in Belize, after describing the agriculture production, highlighted farmers’ challenges, including Drought, forest fires, lack of extension service for livestock farmers, lack of vets specialized in sheep and goats, lack of organization and high reliance on imported farm inputs. Furthermore, Covid-19 has reduced consumer purchasing power. To cope with them, farmers are downsizing production, diversifying production, implementing best practices, investing in cheaper solutions, developing marketing techniques, changing their animal genetics, investing in water harvesting, organizing.

Aldo David Cabrera Ayala, President of an orchids production, and marketing group in Paraguay, emphasized how the pandemic has affected orchids’ producers’ daily activity in terms of management and identification of markets, health care for workers, availability of inputs for production. About climate change, the production in a protected environment decreases and optimizes the resources for production but leads to a higher level of investment in technology and higher cost of production. New marketing channels were generated, digital platforms and delivery were used, safety measures were implemented for farmers’ health care. Proper crop management optimizes inputs such as water, plant protection products and others that can generate impacts on the environment.

Barbara Adalgiza Nogueira Lopes, Advisor at International Relations Office of CNA in Brazil, focused on how Brazilian agriculture is facing the pandemic scenario. Actions and measures guaranteed the flow in supply chains from the rural properties to the city, and from ports and input industries to the farmers. Fees and taxes for rural producers have been temporarily suspended. E-commerce for agricultural products has been created. An online booklet with guidelines for the protection and prevention of COVID-19 in rural properties, aiming to ensure safety in the work environment, was released. Furthermore, videos and virtual assistance guided rural producers on best sustainable production practices and management of the farm.