event 04 Nov 2020

Nexus Blog // Outcomes of the Sixth Nexus Virtual Forum "Diagnosis and Proposal for irrigation development in Central America under the Nexus Approach"

The Sixth Nexus Virtual Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean, titled "Diagnosis and Proposal for irrigation development in Central America under the Nexus Approach", was held on October 7, 2020, in collaboration among the GIZ Nexus Regional Dialogues Programme and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The event focused on the results of the soon-to-be published study on irrigation under a Nexus approach in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Southern Mexico, the so-called "Northern Triangle of Central America".

category Nexus Blog tag Water tag Irrigation tag Food tag Food and agriculture globe Americas globe Latin America and the Caribbean
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The event was held through CEPAL's virtual platform and featured 96 participants (44% women) from 21 countries (mainly Chile, Guatemala and Argentina), representing over 36 organizations. In addition to the lead author of the studies, Ms. Marcela Aedo, the event featured comments from FAO in Guatemala, the Ministry of Agriculture of Honduras, the National Development Foundation of El Salvador (NGO), and consultants from the region.

The study reflects the need to coordinate the interrelationship of water, energy and food production in these countries. Irrigation integrates energy, water and agricultural production, and will allow greater availability and access to food in Family Agriculture (AF), where there are the largest laggards.

Inequality in land concentration persists in Central America, as well as vulnerability in the concentration of land use. AF is giving way to reconverting the slopes that used to be forestry, are now used for producing basic grains. Many of the territories where AF is based present serious water deficit problems that increase with the scarcity of rains and pollution of their water sources. The quality of this resource in Central American countries is increasingly alarming, threatening water security and food safety in micro-water. On the other hand, the concentration of water use in certain areas has generated and will continue to lead to conflicts over water use. It is important to consider that the infrastructure that can be implemented at the family level needs to have a dual use: human consumption and food production.

Energy is one of the main resources available in family farming territories. Solar or wind power are key to irrigation and human consumption as a source of minimal operating costs. The proposed lines of work consider different types and sources of water, energy and production modalities, the characteristics of which depend on each situation.

Cooperation should be clear about the importance of addressing the topics of the study with a holistic approach to micro-water, developing a set of territory-focused solutions, the conservation of natural resources and strengthening micro-water councils, to take actions that increase water security, as well as the food and nutritional security of the inhabitants.

Honduras had the initiative to strengthen public policies of Family Agriculture (AF) through measures such as the creation of the Family Agriculture Unit (UAF), the creation and implementation of the National Family Agriculture Strategy (ENAF) that has been in place for more than a year, and the Family Agriculture Act, currently in the process of legalization.

Honduras' diagnosis allowed the UAF to understand that the issue of irrigation was being set aside in the National Family Agriculture Strategy (ENAF), with which they seek to bring the producer from self-consumption to transition. In this case, precise questions were added to the AF Voluntary Registration survey in order to strengthen this issue. The UAF realized that it is impossible to know producers, know their needs and understand how to strengthen each technician in the 85 municipalities where they have a presence (so that they can strengthen the capacities of producers and grow productivity) if there is no prior recognition of the territory. The capacity building strategy designed by the consultant is already being implemented at the UAF and has provided positive results. A 24/7 remote technical support service is already available, so producers do not have to be waiting for the SAG or a ground team to reach each municipality. At the same time, mayors have established municipal units in support of AF. Similarly, local, national and international market are being researched to find ways to generate value-added products for all the producers involved.

FAO Guatemala, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG) of Honduras, as well as the National Development Foundation (FUNDE) in El Salvador, expressed interest in working together to implement ECLAC and GIZ's NEXUS initiatives.

Event participants indicated some recommendations for future studies, such as:

  • Including more information on the state of agriculture and food security in Central American countries.
  • Provide a more developed analysis of the production and productivity of agriculture under irrigation.
  • Delve into the effectiveness of irrigation production systems.
  • Food security has different connotations depending on the country.
  • Guatemala's situation is very critical. On the one hand, it is the main supplier of fresh food to the rest of the region, but also has serious food security problems.
  • Regarding El Salvador, further research should be given to its dependence on Honduras and Guatemala on the supply of fresh food, and a strategy should be defined for Salvadoran soils to be used to produce food.
  • Study in detail the effectiveness and impacts of investments in agriculture, to know how much they help in the development of the sector and whether smallholder farmers benefit from them. Today, investments in the sector are not seen.
  • Include soil management in the NEXUS concept, as it is a fundamental element, since healthy soil can become the largest reservoir of rainwater, and thus make for better basin management, avoiding erosion and enhancing food production.
  • Water governance. The seriousness of water use problems and the prospect of worsening situation over the next ten years require the analysis of water governance in agricultural territories in the Central American region, supporting competent institutionality. Dialogues with all actors must continue to be promoted, with an emphasis on decision-making and implementation in partnership with international organizations.
  • Rainwater catchment. An extraordinary effort must be made to implement the collection and storage of rainwater with strategic actions, to promote economic revival from better food production, as rainwater is of acceptable quality and is important for use in small irrigation systems. FAO recommends expanding household actions for grey water treatment and water reuse for irrigation.
  • Create strategies to take advantage of surface and groundwater flows, which, while scarce, could be helpful with not-too-large investments. In El Salvador, the potential irrigation use area is in an area where groundwater could be used at a reasonable cost.
  • A high level of articulation of institutions is required to implement NEXUS and soil conservation, otherwise implementation will be very difficult even with large investments. The public, private sector, NGGs and International Cooperation can be part of these initiatives, ensuring the participation of small producers.
  • We must learn from experiences both in the public and private sectors, as well as NGOs, international cooperation and have an open mind to innovate. The energy issue concerns its high cost. Producers do not have access to energy at a reasonable cost to develop irrigation systems. Although wind or photovoltaic power systems can be obtained, their access is limited due to their costs.

It is important to establish a work agenda, which could involve a complementary study that can be inserted into countries' public policies and aim for a medium-term action plan to implement the recommendations of this study.

The event participants expressed several questions that were covered by the consultancy during the conversation block, as listed below:

  • Municipalities play a very important role in the articulation between energy, environment, water and local producers
  • The watershed and micro-basin approach must be worked together with municipalities.
  • In general, municipalities look to towns and villages, but do not look to the rural sector.
  • In Guatemala, the political space to make an impact would start with basin committees immersed within the community development committees, within municipal development committees.
  • In El Salvador, municipalities are generally not linked in this area. However, the FOAG (Water and Agriculture Fund) is a good example of a program that is being implemented in Cerro Cacahuatique, where participating mayors promote the agroforestry management of coffee cultivation in the higher regions. Social construction could allow in some areas to quickly assimilate these concepts for the management of the territory.
  • In Honduras, municipalities play a key role in the implementation of the National Family Agriculture Strategy (ENAF). In order to strengthen the capacities of producers and make them more productive, they have strengthened the knowledge and capabilities of municipal technicians and local governments. Mayors have supported this strategy and established municipal units to support AF.
  • Work must start from the municipality with practical and concrete examples to increase integration, as it is difficult to enter from parliaments and central governments. If cheap financing is achieved, local energies with localized and low-cost irrigation systems at the municipal level will be the way to integrate upwards with policies at the country level.
  • The challenge for GIZ is to think at the macro level and try to implement at the local level, with more participation from municipalities. With the experience of COVID-19 in Chile, municipalities have managed to coordinate and act together, an example that could perhaps be replicated in Central America in the areas of the WEF Nexus.
  • Ordering and allocating water rights consistently in the territories is the great challenge of Central America, especially in the face of the discussion of the issue of water in cities.
  • In the case of Central America, no one's land still reigns, because there is no water law in Guatemala or El Salvador. In Honduras, institutionality is not yet consolidated, so rights are taken over by the most powerful. In Mexico, the institutionality is very old and the waters are public, which are mainly oriented to large hydroelectric plants.
  • It is very serious how these rights are ordered and allocated with human supply, agricultural production and energy generation in the face of human supply. There are three areas that are fighting hard for water rights.
  • It is very important to sit the agricultural sector at the water rights discussion tables, because its participation is currently very weak.

The implementation of NEXUS plans affects the existing deficits in the availability of water regulations in the countries of América Latina and The Caribbean as follows:

Regarding the impact of sediment deposits:

  • Sediment deposits in dams and the costs it incurs for hydroelectric plants to is indeed a problem, as it translates into losses in energy production capacity.
  • Generally, hydroelectric plants look toward cities (their demand), but not enough at where the source of water. They could make a significant synergy by paying for environmental services for the maintenance of the basin from where they are feeding.

Regarding future steps in the adoption of Nexus in the region, representatives of ECLAC indicated the following:

  • Training seminars will be organized at the sub regional level to discuss the challenges, lessons and benefits of implementing the NEXUS approach. For Mexico and Central America, further discussions can be made of the points discussed at the Virtual Forum. The seminars will be aimed at public officials working on water, energy, environment, agriculture and food issues.
  • In preparation for these seminars, a series of videos may be accessed that summarize the methodological steps for successful adoption and evaluation of NEXUS-focused initiatives.
  • Collaboration between GIZ and ECLAC will soon begin a new phase that will enable more direct support and technical assistance to countries in the region who express their interest in continuing to work with the NEXUS approach as cross-sectoral policies or specific programs. The theme of the northern triangle is important in ECLAC, so there may be greater synergies in this region.

GIZ also indicated that a sub-regional approach will be pursued in the second phase, so that each subregion and its challenges would be better represented.

In conclusion, the presentation made clear that much work remains to be done on the issue of Nexus and irrigation in the Northern Triangle of Central America to improve food and water safety, as well as access and better energy production and distribution as well as more efficient utilization in processes related to family agriculture in the Northern Triangle of Central America. Thanks to this study and this forum, we have a first approach to appreciate the reality on the ground, as well as getting to know some of the most relevant actors in the process.

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Tina Schmiers

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