Senior biology major, Kyle Fletcher, spent the summer with other students in Nicaragua as a part of a course on environmental sustainability. During his time in Nicaragua he was able to see the everyday economic and social impact that a changing environment has on Nicaraguans whose lives revolve around agriculture. Read on to see what he learned.
Our first night in El Sauce, it rained. It wasn’t a measly drizzle; this was a thunderous applause of water that fell down from the sky, hammering the roof like rocks. Sandra, our Mamá Nicaragüense, and her family live in a modestly constructed house at the end of a cobble stone-turned dirt road in El Sauce, Leòn, Nicaragua. The house provides warm protection from the elements. Its metal roof shields the home from the damp of rain and its walls from wind. With the collection of family photos, a TV, chairs and a desk in the living room, and a small, but welcoming dining room, one feels at home. But, I have never heard the rain like I did lying in my bed that first night in El Sauce.
Even though I wasn’t, I felt exposed. I come from the United States. I grew up in an above-average-sized house with good insulation, electric, Wi-Fi and air conditioning in Geneseo, New York. In New York, it rains pretty frequently. During the winter it snows. But, the weather has always been and felt outside. I have always been able to choose to ignore it. In New York, if it rains, and one goes inside, one is insulated from it. One may choose to stay inside, where, in my experience, the rain may not be heard, felt, or even be seen. Of course, the roof held up and we, and our possessions, all stayed dry. But, in Sandra’s house that night, there was no ignoring the rain.
I was fortunate to travel to Nicaragua for two weeks in early June with a group of nine other classmates and our professor from SUNY Geneseo. We were guided on our tour through Managua, Matagalpa and Leòn by Enlace Project director, Conrad Wright, and the ceaselessly comedic translator, Cesar Marin. During our travels, we learned about the intimate relationship Nicaraguans have with their environment. In Nicaragua, people are closely dependent on the environment for agricultural production, tourism and other amenities of life. However, unlike many of the same industries in the United States, due to socioeconomic constraints, many people that work in these industries cannot choose to ignore environmental conditions. It rained our first night in El Sauce. But, if it doesn’t rain for long periods of time, people suffer.
During our travels, we visited many people who use environmental resources to sustain themselves. In La Concha, a small community on the outskirts of Managua, we met with a farmer who cultivates a supple, sweet, soft strain of pineapple that does not travel well. Compared to its sturdier cousin the Golden Pineapple, which is sold to U.S. consumers at a high price, the pineapple that this farmer affords to produce is marginally lucrative and is sold at local market. This farmer does not have a profound financial safety net on which to depend if it doesn’t rain and harvest is low.
In Ocotal, we visited with a farmer who cultivates coffee on the side of a mountain overlooking El Sauce. The cultivation and processing of coffee are also highly dependent on access to water. During the drought, he reported significant declines in the coffee harvests. He lost more than 500 plants as a result of insufficient water supplies and soil disease. Thankfully, he and his family were able to stay afloat because Enlace Project organizes tour groups, like the one we participated in, that visit the farms in Ocotal. Imagine a poor family that farms and is not connected to groups like Enlace Project. What happens to them when it doesn’t rain and their crops don’t grow? Do their kids stay in school? Can they afford something to eat for every meal?
During our travels, we learned that, very often, the answer to that question is no. Often, families indeed suffer when the water from precipitation isn’t enough for their growing crops. Speaking with the pineapple farmer in La Concha and the coffee farmer in Ocotal, I gained a deeper appreciation for the intimacy between the livelihoods of many people, and the environment. Farmers in Nicaragua, and in many other places around the world, often do not have the privilege to irrigate their land with massive volumes of water like many can in the United States.
We also learned however, that, in Nicaragua, the same people whose lives are so intimately dependent on unforgiving weather conditions are the ones that smile when you greet them and laugh with you over a funny joke. Even amidst the harsh realities of life of these people in Nicaragua, in my experience, they are proud of what they do. They are eager to share their stories; the beautiful pieces of their lives.