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Climate Change

Rural Co-ops in Central America Speak Out on Climate Change

SAN SALVADOR, Dec 4 2012 (IPS) - Brenda Salazar has her sights set on two things: a good organic cacao harvest for the cooperative she belongs to in northern Nicaragua, and for the governments of Central America to heed the ideas of peasant farmers who have organised to fight climate change.

“We are feeling the effects of climate change, and it’s important for our proposals to be heard,” Salazar, a Nicaraguan small farmer, told IPS. She took part in a conference on “building a regional strategy for adaptation to the climate by the small-scale agroforestry sector”, held in San Salvador Nov. 28-30.

Delegations from farming and forestry cooperatives and associations from Central America and the Dominican Republic came together in the conference, where they discussed a regional agenda for dealing with the impacts of climate change, and for learning how to sustainably manage natural resources.

The idea is for the recommendations set forth by the cooperatives to influence policy-making at a regional and national level.

The participants called for the formulation of a regional law that would clearly outline the mechanisms to be implemented by the states for climate change adaptation and mitigation. They said the law should offer economic incentives and tax exemptions for activities focused on curbing the impacts of climate change.

The aim is also soft lines of credit for environmentally-friendly agricultural and forest management practices, incentives for technology transfer in environmental questions, and strengthening the technical know-how of people in rural communities.

In addition, the delegates called for the regional law to include the implementation of early warning systems to help rural communities prepare for extreme natural events, using telephone networks.

Furthermore, they recommended the creation of a climate observatory linked to other regional climate studies centres and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The participants in the meeting urged their respective governments to revive the regional strategic programme for the management of forestry ecosystems (PERFOR), involving social organisations from Central America and the Dominican Republic in its implementation.

“We want this agenda to be heard, and to get real support for local communities from the respective governments,” Fausto Hernández, the president of the Central American indigenous and peasant community agroforestry association, ACICAFOC, told IPS.

The meeting, which ACICAFOC helped organise, was also sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

It was the culmination of national meetings held in nearly every country of the region, as a result of the concern of members of rural cooperative about the effects of climate change in the world and in Central America in particular.

Laszlo Pancel, the chief adviser in GIZ for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+), said that in countries like El Salvador, vulnerability is high due to the high density of the population (295 people per square kilometre), and to the fact that extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent.

A study by Germanwatch, an environmental organisation that monitors the impact of climate change, reported on Nov. 27 that in 2011, El Salvador was one of the countries that suffered the most severe impacts from natural disasters in the world, after Thailand, Cambodia and Pakistan.

Pancel denied that the conference was aimed at validating REDD+, a United Nations collaborative programme designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which has drawn harsh criticism in the region and around the world.

Under the REDD+ scheme, financial rewards are given to countries for keeping their forests intact. The rewards, which mainly go to poor countries, come in the form of carbon credits or financial payments by carbon emitters in industrialised nations.

But critics of the programme say REDD+ is not a solution, because it creates incentives for rich countries to maintain their energy consumption levels and avoid complying with their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“The REDD question is highly politicised, and it would send out a bad signal to use this conference to get them to think it is useful,” Pancel told IPS.

Daisy Castillo, a Dominican farmer with the Federation of Dry Forest Producers, told IPS that governments in the region frequently allowed themselves to be influenced by international financial institutions, but almost never by community organisations working in favour of the environment.

“If the governments don’t listen to us, we shouldn’t just sit back with our arms crossed; the struggle is to get our proposals heard and taken into account,” Castillo said.

Her association has agricultural projects in communities located on the edge of the dry forest, an arid area that covers 25 percent of Dominican territory, in the southeast of the country. Honey, wood, and dairy products are produced there in a sustainable manner, and water tanks and aqueducts have been built.

“We are going beyond our kitchens and other traditional tasks to contribute to the struggle against climate change,” said Salazar, a member of the El Nuevo Sol Cooperative, in the district of Yaoya in Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast region. The cooperative grows organic cacao and is involved in the reforestation of timber species like mahogany and cedar.

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