Farmers’ interviews

Picture of Raul Sarmiento

1. Please describe your situation prior to obtaining the MEbA loan. What were your main difficulties to grow crops and provide for your family?

When we did not have the irrigation system we experienced hardships during the dry season, our crops got damaged from lack of rain. Crops did not grow because they needed more water. When we first started growing avocados we had to carry containers with water from place to place to water the trees to avoid withering. This was hard work and we were always at risk of a failed harvest. We were missing an irrigation system that could provide water to our crops to reduce our work and effort and assure the harvest, and so that trees wouldn’t die in the dry season.

2. What changes have you noticed in the climate during the course of your life? (for example increased drought, more extreme events, changes in the seasons, etc)

In this area (Rionegro, Santander) most of climate-related problems have to do with lack of rain. Once there was a season with huge rains but since the land is calcareous it infiltrates water quickly so excess water is not a problem, but drought is a problem. Before we did not notice these changes in climate, most people here recall having very good harvests, plentiful. There was no climate change, the temperature was fresh and moderate, it did not vary that much. In the later times there have been significant changes: sometimes it rains a lot and other times the dry season is very harsh...lately, it has been four years now, what is most affecting us is drought.

Picture of fruits

3. What has been the impact of the MEbA credit in your production? (for example increased productivity, savings in inputs, etc.)

It has changed many things. If, as an example, before we used to lose around 50% or 60% of our crops, now we only lose about 20%, so it has improved a lot. With this measure we save effort and work, or at least we work the amount we are supposed to and not extra. Now we only open the valves and the system waters the crops and we don’t have to go around with containers to water the trees every day. It saves work and time. In half hour it waters practically all the lots whereas before weeks would go by and we did not manage to water everything so we would lose our crops.

Last year, for example, if it had not been for the MEbA system we would have lost all our tangerine harvest. In this harvest we got more than 1000 boxes of tangerine, which are sold in the market between $6 and $12 US dollars each, depending on the offer. There was a great drought but since we had our irrigation system and watered the trees each day for one hour in the morning and another in the afternoon, we were able to save our entire production.

4. Have your neighbors asked about this scheme of microloans to improve productive practices or have they been part of your success?

A neighbour installed the system before us, then it was us who wanted to try it out in our crops, and after us another neighbor installed a system too. We all realized that we had to invest to improve the technology in our farms because we can work but we must also be good managers for the land to produce. If we don’t know how to work the farm well we may die working without any progress.

Garden Hose Picture

5. What is the potential you see in this type of credits to improve the quality of life of farmers?

The government, entities and people should all think on how to help the rural sector (el campo). If we look at the economy, its base is agriculture. Without agriculture, you in the city won’t have anything to buy or eat. What good are machines and factories that you may have if you have nothing to eat, nothing to put in them? For example, there are things, such as shoes, clothing, that we buy because we like them and not necessarily because we need them. They may last a lifetime if you take good care of them but this is not the case of food. We have to eat three times a day or more if possible. But there needs to be support to agriculture and farmers, through specific credit lines, for example, loan interests should be lower. Governments should look closer at how to provide incentives to help us.

We say that it would be good for young people to stay in the fields and not to leave for the town or city. But how are they going to stay in the fields if they have no support, if there is no opportunity? So maybe we all need to leave for the city and in time what will we do? Go hungry is what I was told in a course I took. After we all leave people will start biting their cellular phones; that is how they will eat.

6. How to do you see the future? Are you confident that you may continue being self-sufficient despite increased climate change?

If for the future the government does not provide assistance and farmers don’t improve their practices and technology we will all go hungry. Because if, for example, droughts damage lots of crops and we are not prepared and we don’t look for a system to help us produce despite climate change, like these MEbA systems, harvests will continue to be lost, we will have less food as time goes by and we will go hungry if nothing is done. A good thing would be for farmers to try these solutions out and see results. If the results are good then it is good to invest and farmers will be able to stay in the fields. If not we will all say that in the fields there is only work and no money, not enough for expenses, or things or to support my family; so we would need to look for something else to do. But if we see results we will gladly stay in the fields, which is the life we know, the life we like and enjoy.

Picture of Family Sarmiento

7. Other important remarks

We are afraid to take a loan because we don’t have money and these measures are an investment. But we have to do it because we must face the changes and keep moving forward and climate changes are not something we can predict. It’s in God’s hands.

To care for the environment is also important. For example to dispose of containers with poison (pesticides) far away from water sources so that they don’t pollute creeks and don’t pollute water. We should be careful of the products we use and not dispose of them in places where they may harm animals or the environment. We use organic fertilizers, goat dung. We are also starting an aquaculture system. The idea is to improve the technology and put a filter so that the effluent with residues and nutrients may be treated.