SANTA ANA DEL YACUMA, Bolivia, Jan 5, 2012 - Small-scale dairy farmers in this remote area of Bolivia's northeastern Amazon region of Beni have a new hope for protecting their livestock from the fierce annual floods that start in December.
The answer: artificial hills complete with grass and a feed storage shed, where the cattle can wait out the floods.
Dora Domínguez is president of the Association of Movima Milk Producers, which groups 36 families who own a combined total of 1,200 head of cattle. The Association is taking part in a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) initiative to build novel elevated livestock shelters, which also serve as areas for growing forage.
The project involves the creation of artificial hills up to three metres above ground level on the vast plains of Beni. The mounds are being built under the direction of the head of risk management in the FAO office in Bolivia, Óscar Mendoza.
The hills become islands when the rainy season starts in December and water begins to run down to the Amazon floodplains in torrents from the Andes mountains to the west.
The livestock, the economic mainstay of poor local cattle farmers, many of whom are Movima Indians, depends, can survive on the islands.
Ranchers who own 2,000 head of cattle or more per family can afford to transport their animals to higher- lying areas. But until now, small farmers have been left at the mercy of the floods, which within a few hours of the rivers overflowing their banks transform the plains into lakes up to one-metre deep.
The FAO initiative is covering 65 percent of the small dairy and beef farmers in the municipality of Santa Ana del Yacuma, some 900 km northeast of La Paz, who own between one and 500 head of cattle and account for 22 percent of the livestock in the area.
"People used to just adapt, trying to come up with their own contingency methods," Mendoza told IPS. "That's why we decided to take measures geared to dealing with climate swings, to mitigate the risks to agricultural production."
The solution came nearly three decades after the biggest flood that Domínguez and other local farmers remember.
In 1982, the floodwaters rose up to four metres above ground level, and the main square of the town of Santa Ana del Yacuma, the capital of the municipality and province of Yacuma in the region of Beni, looked like a kind of Noah's ark, because it was packed full of people, cows, goats, pigs and barnyard fowl.
"People set out from their farms on canoes at night, shouting, when the floodwaters took them by surprise," Domínguez recalls.
With that memory engraved on her mind, Domínguez did not hesitate to join the FAO project, giving it the support of her association and even her physical labour to move several tons of earth to make the artificial island – a model that the U.N. agency wants to expand to the entire region.
"I carried dirt on my shoulders," she says, sitting on the hill and gazing at the new grass growing there, which will feed the livestock during floods.
Early flood warnings
Another step in climate change adaptation was the implementation of an early warning system with FAO support, to back up the national weather service and provide radio alerts for people living in the country's eastern lowlands.
The project involved the installation of networks of sensors near rivers to monitor water levels. When an early warning is issued, municipal emergency units are mobilised to order the evacuation of people and animals.
In addition, strategies are being applied that combine best practices and technologies to confront climate change and adapt production to the annual flooding and the drought that follows the rainy season, Mendoza said.
An alliance between the municipal government of Santa Ana del Yacuma, small farmers, and FAO made this possible, said Mayor Gustavo Antelo.
To build the artificial hill, the municipal government provided a 2,000-square-metre lot, FAO supplied technical support and financing, and the beneficiaries gave freely of their time and labour to haul in soil and build the feed storage shed as well as a facility where a veterinarian can treat animals.
For the complete article, please see IPS.