Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Addressing the Agricultural Impact of Climate Change: Partners' Work in the Dominican Republic

This article is a contribution to a four-week blog series celebrating 30 years of USAID’s John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program.

Yaque del Norte watershed 
The Dominican Republic (DR) is one of the only countries in the Caribbean where bananas continue to be a major export. Banana production is of particular importance in Yaque del Norte, an area vital in the country's food production. However, unpredictable weather patterns such as more frequent droughts, floods, and extreme weather have caused concern over the reduced quantity of available water. Poor agricultural practices including land-clearing, over-fertilization, and poor waste management also threaten the quality of water in the Yaque del Norte watershed - which is also the main source of potable water for several communities. Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in the DR is working to protect the Yaque del Norte watershed through climate-smart agricultural technologies. It is targeting the areas of soil nutrient management, crop production disease management, soil conservation, water conservation, agroforestry, and solid waste management.

Within the banana sector, F2F is working with three banana associations (Grupo Banamiel, Banelino, and the Association of Small Producers in Santa Cruz) invested in improving their wastewater treatment, irrigation technology, and water use efficiency. Together, these three associations represent more than 700 small and medium-sized banana producers in the Yaque del Norte region. F2F volunteers have worked with banana producers to improve their water use efficiency and assist them in adopting climate-smart agricultural practices that allow them to conserve soil and water.
Ilan Bar trains farmers in 
how to use soil and water test kits
Plant pathologist and agronomist Ilan Bar traveled to the DR to train producers on flood and mini-sprinkler irrigation management. Mr. Bar led trainings on collecting water and soil samples to address technical issues related to soil –such as rising pH levels and loss of organic matter - and its correlation with decreased production. The following week, Dr. Kyung Yoo, a professor of biosystems engineering at Auburn University, also traveled to the DR to work with banana producers specifically interested in adopting mini-sprinkler systems, an appropriate and practical method that has the potential to increase water use efficiency by 90 percent.

Unripe bananas in the Dominican Republic
Many smallholder banana producers, however, do not have the resources to purchase mini-sprinkler systems and the majority of producers currently use flood irrigation to irrigate their crops. This led F2F to send Dr. Terry Podmore, a professor emeritus at Colorado State University, to conduct an assessment of flood irrigation systems in banana production areas. Dr. Podmore provided recommendations on ways to improve flood irrigation techniques. As a result of these assignments, banana association members of Banelino, one of the F2F host organizations, are now interested in developing a demonstration farm for improved irrigation practices.

Vetiver, a perennial grass that may be used
to prevent erosion during flooding
Climate change and disaster risk management specialists have also worked with banana producers and banana associations to develop mitigation strategies to natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods on their banana plantations and at the household level. One possible mitigation strategy is to plant vetiver for erosion control. Vetiver is a very deep rooted plant considered to be symbiotic with bananas. This suggests that vetiver could anchor the crop during periods of flooding. There might also be additional benefits, as vetiver could offer better year-round soil-moisture management and could help control nematodes, which farmers have stated are a constant problem. 

As the banana associations and producers adopt climate-smart agricultural technologies, they increase their resilience to the impacts of global climate change in the Yaque del Norte watershed. 

From November 16-December 11, F2F program partners are sharing their knowledge and experience providing technical assistance to farmers, farm groups, agribusinesses, service providers, and other agriculture sector institutions in developing and transitional countries. As aligned with Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, F2F works to support inclusive agriculture sector growth, facilitate private sector engagement in the agriculture sector, enhance development of local capacity, and promote climate-smart development. Volunteer assignments address host-led priorities to expand economic growth that increases incomes and improves access to nutritious food. This blog series aims to capture and share this program experience.

Read more articles celebrating 30 years of F2F on Agrilinks.

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