When you live somewhere with the nickname “The city of eternal heat” you probably expect it to be hot. Hot is okay. People for thousands of years who live in cities, towns and villages along the equator have been dealing with hot temperatures and know how to survive and thrive in them.
However, over the past couple of decades, climate change has made it harder and harder for families to manage their response to heat. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, climate change refers to “any significant change in the measure of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer.”
If you want to see climate change in action, look at the Piura region of Peru. You’ll find chronic drought, barren landscapes, dead plants and trees, dying animals, salted soil, dried up wells and malnourished children. People walk for miles every day for meager amounts of potable water.
The climate in Piura is influenced by El Niño or La Niña every year for rejuvenation of the ecosystem. But because of climate change, all forms of life are at risk. Farming families must be creative and proactive in how they respond to the changing climate.
And, for the families that we serve, there isn’t much room for error.
Heifer has been working in Piura for 31 years. We have helped thousands of families adapt their farming practices to combat the effects of climate change—particularly drought. Some of the biggest impacts of climate change are that weather patterns are unpredictable and the frequency of events is extremely erratic—either too much rain or too little. And right now, there is too little.
The effect of drought is especially tough on breeders of goats, sheep and cows, and also for farmers growing produce. This impacts the whole economy. When local meats and food aren’t available, it has to be shipped in from other areas like Ecuador and other parts of Peru—which drives prices up. Because the rain is off-cycle, sporadic and often severe when it comes, crop quantity and quality is low. Since Piura is near the Pacific coast, the salt content of the soil is high and drought causes the salt to rise to the surface, making it nearly impossible to support life on the land.
Many animals die because there is little water and sometimes not enough healthy pasture land to support grazing. Most importantly, the local water aquifers diminish the groundwater levels, as there is no ability to retro-supply water flows. For some of the basic equipment in the irrigation systems, when the water is too low, the aquifers absorb sand, damaging the equipment.
Right now in Piura, 800 hectares of cacao are in danger of being lost, according to the deputy of Cepicafé (Central Piurana de Cafeteleros/Head Office of Piura Coffee Growers). The mayor of Huarmaca District in Huancabamba reports that more than 3,000 hectares of wheat and 400 hectares of corn will not be planted this year because there’s not enough water.
La Matanza District’s mayor shares that more than 1,000 cattle deaths have been registered due to a lack of pasture and water (La Republica newspaper, February 8, 2014.)
Help the communities in Piura access water in their communities.
Of course, the government of Peru is trying to help. But real progress often gets lost in bureaucracy. Local authorities and governments are rarely willing to invest in the technology that helps mitigate these situations. The Ministry of Agriculture of Peru has sent a high-level committee to evaluate the impact of the droughts and has even declared a state of emergency. But farmers need solutions now.
They want fodder to temporarily feed their animals while local governments develop newer infrastructure; some type of assistance to provide affordable and nutritious food when crops fail; and new water wells, including help with fuel to run them. The list could go on and on.
So how can Heifer help?
Heifer Peru currently has the Piura Umbrella Project, which serves the Piura regions through dozens of other small projects all linked together. While we can’t solve it all, we are working more closely than ever with the local and national governments to provide better support. Here is what we are doing to help these farmers out.
- Provide rural schools with water purifiers to prevent stomach diseases in children. This is a new problem due to the consumption of contaminated water.
- Provide animals to farmers that are useful in the climate—like donkey caravans that transport water for long miles for the farmers. In the desert, donkey manure is valuable for fertilizing desert soil. Goats are also distributed to provide milk and meat for families, and goats require little fodder or land to thrive. The farmers can also sell the animals for extra money if necessary.
- Conduct trainings for well-organized community animal health workers and provide resources to perform vaccination and deworming campaigns for animals in the rural communities.
- Allocate small funds for concentrated food productions for people and animals. For example, the reservoir of San Joaquin, sponsored by Heifer Peru, currently has 600 cubic meters of water stored in micro reservoirs, which could be used for the production of half to one full hectare of crops, such as vegetables and beans, to supply basic food needs for families of the community.
Of course, it will take more. To truly solve this problem, it will take the entire planet changing its tune about what climate change means, who it hurts, and how it can be stopped. For the farmers in Piura, it is a real, everyday, life or death issue.
What is it for you?