Permaculture, Soil & Water Conservation for Climate Change Adaptation is the third video of the ADAPTA series developed by the Caribbean Climate Hub, which presents soil and water conservation techniques utilized by an ecological farmer to deal with climate-related issues in the mountains of Puerto Rico.
Climate models are predicting more of these boom-bust rainfall cycles, with more extreme droughts expected in the Caribbean. The good news is that there are measures that farmers can take to reduce the impacts of changing rainfall patterns and increased temperatures!
The aim of ADAPTA is to educate about climate change effects in the US Caribbean and to provide information of sustainable land management practices that farmers, ranchers, and landowners in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could adopt to build climate change resilience.
Agriculture contributes to the greenhouse effect. About 25 % of carbon, 50% of methane and more tan 75% of nitrogen oxide that travel up to the atmosphere is generated by agricultural activity. This causes great impact on the greenhouse effect that is reflected with changes in rain temperature patterns, which affect agricultural activity.
Permaculture, Soil and Water Conservation facing Climate Change
My name is Daniela Rodríguez Besosa. We are here in “Siembra Tres Vidas” in the “Pastos” neighborhood in Aibonito. This neighborhood is approximately 2,000 feet above sea level. We are on the border between the north and south of Puerto Rico. We are in the south of Aibonito, which means it’s the dry part of the area. Although this is a cool, mountain region; during the dry season we are affected by the drought because we are in the south. We are dedicated to ecologically cultivating minor vegetables.
We concentrate mostly on different types of aromatic plants, edible flowers, and different types of lettuce: arugula, mesclun lettuce, and mustard lettuce. One of the biggest obstacles we’ve faced has been dealing with climate change.
I’ve only been working in agriculture for 5 years, and I feel like everything I learned in the beginning, I’ve had to forget and relearn because everything has changed. It’s affected the way we cultivate, the plants we decide to grow, how we manage nutrients, the work schedule, and how you plan your entire year. Everything is unstable.
We are living such uncertain times: we don’t know when it will rain, don’t know when there’s going to be a drought, don’t know what the temperatures will be. How do I prepare myself for so much uncertainty? I need to program resiliency in this space. And how do I program for that? Well there are certain practices I can accomplish.
Permaculture has helped me identify those practices and implement them where it’s applicable and necessary in the farm. These past two years we’ve witnessed two droughts, and right after, heavy rains like the ones we’re experiencing right now. This is a problem because it makes it hard to find the balance or that stability between those two extremes.
One of the practices we recommend to face these climate changes is to build ponds to store water for irrigation. If we don’t have water to irrigate our soil because rain patterns have changed, that forces us to prepare ourselves to have the necessary water available to maintain our crops.
I decided to work with NRCS because in the process of designing the process of permaculture on this farm, I identified that I had a problem with accessing water. I don’t have a river nearby, a pond, a brook, or a well; anything that one would like to have in a farm. So I had to find a way to supply myself with water so that we can continue to work our soil.
The pond that we designed has the capacity to store 55,000 gallons of water, which gives her enough water to continuously maintain 2 ½ acres of soil for an entire week, until she waits for the next bout of rain to fill the pond.
We are integrating different practices from different agricultural schools. Some of them are: contour farming, polyculture that is using multiple crops in the same space because they help each other in some way. I have various crops living simultaneously on the top. For example all long this border we have Betty bells, which is a very important plant to control erosion because the roots can grow down to 11ft deep and they can support the terrain well so it doesn’t collapse.
We also have a pigeon pea crop. I chose pigeon peas for various reasons: what I’m doing here is slow terracing, which is a practice of making slow-forming terraces. It’s a process that takes several years. It’s adapted from practices that occur in Africa. The way it works is that you grow strong and durable plants to create hedgerows and behind those plants you slowly build up compost and level it to create a terrace.
I also chose pigeon peas because they can withstand a drought. Pidgeon peas, only need 1 inch of water to grow and produce. Right now it’s rained a lot so my pigeon pea crop is overhydrated but during the last drought that we had, all the crops were dry except the pigeon peas. They were beautiful. Pigeon peas are also a national crop of Puerto Rico as well as food. I’m looking for crops that will serve various purposes at the same time.
This is our compost. It is one of the key components to any agro ecological system. It’s one of our primary source of nutrients along with certain plants that we call green fertilizers like: canavalia, crotalaria, etc. The compost also provides airflow to the soil.
This is a good example of the integration of different practices of conservation. Here we have lemongrass, which is an aromatic herb that we sell, use to make tea, food, etc. The herb is also used as a natural pesticide. It’s good against nematodes. This is why we have it around all the crops.
This is mulch. We apply a layer to the surface of the soil. Sometimes it’s made of shredded leaves, we’ve also used straw. Right now we are using bark mulch because it was available to us.
I also have a small plant that many think is undergrowth but we use it because it is resilient. It is called “Flor Escondida”. Many people dispose of it but it is very nutritious, medicinal, and it cleans the kidneys. It is one of the plant varieties that we are trying to inform the public of its uses so it can be used again and regain its status as a “super food”.
Right now we have a situation in Puerto Rico where we would like to increase agricultural production. But how do you inspire a new generation of people to dedicate their lives to something that is so hard to maintain. It’s possible that what they plant will not grow because of these climate changes. That’s why there’s a lot of anxiety over the subject.
Recognizing the changes that are occurring, the Federal Department of Agriculture has taken on the task of educating and offering technical and financial assistance to our farmers so that they can prepare themselves for these climate changes and this way their activity has less effect on greenhouse gases. We have a series of conservation programs and practices that are directed at conserving the environment.
We live on an island where we have a resource that many people take for granted, because it is something that we’ve grown accustomed to but looking at other countries from Latin America where they don’t have this resource; we notice the value of the internet. You don’t really think about it, but it’s huge. All the answers to my questions are at the palm of my hand. Go online, search, the information is there. Don’t wait for someone to come with the answer to all your problems. Search because the information is there.
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