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Dossier Tackling Climate and Disaster Risks in Development Cooperation

Agricultural Project in Honduras : Food Security and Adaptation to Climatic Changes

, par Pain pour le prochain , BHEND Jonas

Climate change affects poor people in particular. They often rely heavily on natural resources and have very limited capacities to adapt. The rapidly changing climatic conditions hence put years of development efforts at peril. Development projects, on the other hand, strengthen the adaptive capacities of local communities and contribute to reduce or increase greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, climate change is often not considered explicitly in planning and managing development projects. Thus, in early 2009, Bread for all and HEKS decided to more formally take climate change into account. In a pilot assessment, two community-level projects in southern Honduras were analyzed and a workshop on climate change for partners of HEKS and Bread for all in Honduras was organized.

Climate risks in Honduras

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Central America. About one-third of the population lives of less than two dollars a day and population growth is high with1.9% per year. After years of civil war, the political situation stabilized in recent years, however, massive organized and chaotic violence destabilize the country at present.

Honduras lies within the tropics with an all-year round warm and humid climate in the Caribbean lowlands and a tropical climate with a distinct dry season in boreal winter in the Pacific lowlands. Apart from the general warming, the observed climate change and conceived climate risks include :

  • The total amount of precipitation decreases, leading to water shortages and droughts particularly in eastern and southern Honduras.
  • Increases in the occurrence of tropical cyclones and increases in heavy rainfall events lead to landslides and floods threatening human lives, infrastructure and agricultural production.
  • The rise in sea level due to global warming affects ecosystems, settlements and the water supply in coastal areas.
  • The decrease in nebulosity and fog occurrence in higher altitudes threatens the cloud forest ecosystems.

Honduras has been hit very hard by extreme weather events in the last decades. Apart from the above listed climatic factors, cultivation practices, population growth, and the pressure on natural resources play an important role in the vulnerability of Honduras to climate risks. The traditional slash-and-burn agriculture for example leaves the soils uncovered. Thus, heavy rains cannot be retained by vegetation and the soils are quickly eroded. Floods, land slides, and the loss of arable land are the consequences. This emphasizes, that vulnerability to climate risks is always multifaceted as are the potential strategies to reduce the vulnerability.

Analysis of two community-level development projects in southern Honduras

Two community-level development projects in southern Honduras have been analyzed with the first version of the Climate Proofing Tool (later renamed to Participatory Tool on Climate and Disaster Risks). Improving food security is the central goal of both projects. The project in the community of Pespire focusses on the improvement of agricultural yields and the commercialization of surpluses, the management of natural resources, and the strengthening of local associations such as water councils. The project in Lepaterique aims at fighting deforestation, conserving the soils, providing basic sanitation, and promoting organic fertilizers.

The evaluation with the Climate Proofing Tool reveals that the population in the project areas mainly suffers from tropical storms, heavy rains, and droughts. The vulnerability to climatic risks is high, as the people in the area rely heavily to subsistence agriculture on natural resources. There are traditional coping strategies to deal with those climate risks, however, for most substantial measures, people rely on external aid.

The projects’ activities already support and strengthen the capacity to adapt to changing climatic conditions. But these positive effects could be greatly enhanced : The analysis reveals that especially forests, soils, and water need more protection, as they form the very basis of people’s livelihood. In addition to these rather obvious improvements, protection of infrastructure helps to cope with disasters when they occur. The roads to and from the project area, for example, allow the local population to access markets to sell their products and compensate lost yields. Undamaged roads also allow for external help and health care to reach the project area. Strengthening the organizational structures and additional alternatives to generate and stabilize incomes are measures that help to increase the adaptive capacity of the local population and should be expanded.

In addition, the projects’ activities also contribute to climate change mitigation. Most of Honduran greenhouse gas emissions stem from deforestation and soil degradation. The project’s soil conservation and reforestation activities help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in biomass and soils. The aspect of mitigation is clearly peripheral in the climate proofing assessment. However, the synergies between adaptation and mitigation measures (e.g. reforestation) could be used to finance adaptation measures through funding for mitigation.

Project in Lepaterique

Workshop in Tegucigalpa

The results of the climate proofing analysis have been presented at the climate change workshop for partners in Tegucigalpa, April 2009. The workshop has been organized in close collaboration with Intercooperation, a Swiss development agency with experience in climate proofing of development projects. Presentations of the facilitators and local experts provide the basics on climate change, its global causes and local impacts, strategies to deal with, and international and national climate politics. In addition, the participants learn to use the Climate Proofing Tool in a series of exercises. During a field trip, the participants were given the possibility to visit a nearby development project and to apply what they have learned during the workshop.

The workshop has been very successful. The participants consider the tool a helpful alternative to analyze their projects under the aspect of climate change in a structured and comprehensive way. The introduction to climate change and climate politics also allows the participants to take part in discussions on the topic and claim their rights.

Lessons Learned

Initially, the analysis of the two development projects was intended to be conducted using the climate proofing tool CRiSTAL1. This tool, however, was found to be too complicated to use in the field and lacked the aspect of mitigation. These reasons motivated the development of a new tool, the Climate Proofing Tool of Bread for all and HEKS.

The information needed in the analysis is mainly assessed through stakeholder meetings with beneficiaries and coordinators of the respective projects. The application in the pilot analyses revealed the following challenges in these consultations. Some of the rather complicated topics such as the differences between climate risks and their impacts have to be communicated carefully. As a consultant, it is important to follow the discussions critically, as the beneficiaries tend to identify desirable rather than doable coping strategies, and the project coordinators are often not inclined to see negative impacts of their projects. Furthermore, it proved helpful to focus the analysis on a subregion of the project area. Doing so ensures that the realities of the beneficiaries and their perception of climate risks and coping strategies are similar.

Furthermore, it remains to be discussed at which level the tool should be promoted and who should conduct the analysis. The Climate Proofing Tool, though rather easy to use, requires some level of formation. Therefore, the project coordinators have to attend a workshop or formation before being able to conduct an analysis. The additional costs of a climate proofing assessment, carried out either by local project coordinators or a consultant of Bread for all, have to be taken into account.

For further information : Marion Künzler / Bread for all, In charge of the « Climate » workshops : kuenzler@bfa-ppp.ch

Commentaires

« With proudness and shining eyes presented participants their proposals. This workshop is a good example for how much energy can be mobilized if opportunities are made visible. » Marius Keller, Bread for all.

This article is available in french Projet-pilote « intégration des questions climatiques » dans un projet de sécurité alimentaire au Honduras

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