Notes to broadcasters
Save and edit this resource as a Word document.
Natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes cause a lot of damage to farmland. The amount of damage can be reduced if farmers use soil conservation techniques. Farmers can build rock walls, establish grass barriers, add organic matter to the soil and grow cover crops. Some soil conservation techniques create physical barriers that stop soil from moving. Others use trees or cover crops that hold the soil in place. Many soil conservation techniques aim to hold moisture in the soil. Soil that holds moisture will stay in place while dry soil will be washed or blown away. These are important considerations when disaster strikes.
After Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998, a scientific study compared the damage on farms that used soil conservation with farms that did not. Farms that used soil conservation suffered much less damage. These farms had deeper topsoil and higher levels of soil moisture. See the information sources at the end of the script for how to get a copy of this study.
The following is a true story. It tells the story of Hurricane Mitch in the voices of two farmers who experienced it. We suggest that you use volunteers to play the characters in this story. They should rehearse before playing their parts in the studio, so that they can act their parts convincingly.
Suggestions for future radio programs on this theme:
Prepare programs (real life or fictional) that compare two farms after a disaster (drought, hurricane, typhoon). For example, visit one farm with lots of trees, and another that has been deforested. Or compare two farms where there are significant differences in the ways that soil and water are being managed.
You can hold soil on your land by adding organic matter. Include several examples of incorporating organic matter – crop residues, manure, compost, green manure crops. If possible, base these methods on local farm experiences.
Several years ago, a strong hurricane, called Hurricane Mitch, struck Central America. Strong winds hit the coast, followed by a week of rain. The storm dumped more than a metre of rain on the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Floods and mudslides destroyed homes, roads, crops, and animals, and left almost ten thousand people dead. Farmers living on hillsides suffered some of the worst damage. But after the hurricane, the farmers noticed something. Not every farm had suffered the same damage. Some farms were not so badly affected. Here’s Farmer José Antonio Briones.
: The storm finished on a Sunday. The next day, I came up to my fields. I was happy because the erosion on my land wasn’t bad. Some rocks had fallen down the mountain and landed in my fields. I didn’t lose much soil. But then I looked at my neighbour’s farm – the soil was gone! And it was full of rocks. It’s impossible to farm there now!
When Hurricane Mitch came, the Cruz family huddled inside their house for three days. Rocks came tumbling down the hillsides. They were afraid that their roof would be torn off by the winds. When they came outside, they saw that their land was covered with rocks and tree stumps. There was a deep crack down the middle of the farm, where water had run. Here’s Farmer Juan Cruz.
On my farm, we lost everything because of the hurricane. It was not just the beans that we lost. It was the land. The soil washed away! There’s a big gully in the middle of my field now. When we saw what had happened, we wept. Now we have just abandoned the field. We have no place to plant. Everything is dried up – it’s all stones and rocks.
MUSICAL BREAK (5 seconds).
These two farmers – Juan and José – had different experiences. And they were not the only ones. All across the region, there were similar stories. Some farmers lost their soil, while others didn’t. Why did this happen? We asked one of the researchers involved in studying these farms after the hurricane.
When it became clear that some farmers had coped much better than others, we wanted to know why. We compared farms that used soil conservation methods with farms that did not. We found that the farms that practised soil conservation techniques had deeper topsoil than the other farms. They didn’t lose so much soil. For example, these farmers built rock walls and established rows of trees to catch the soils that came down from the mountainside. Some farmers plowed their land along the contour of the slope rather than up and down. They kept the soil covered at all times with cover crops. All these things helped keep their soil in place – even when the hurricane struck.
After the storm, many farmers visited their neighbours’ farms. They saw the differences for themselves. Some of the farmers who lost their soil wanted to change their farming practices. Here’s farmer Carlos.
: We have seen the benefits of using soil conservation methods. Now we are thinking of reforestation. We are thinking about plowing our fields across the contour of the slope, rather than up and down. We are thinking about setting up windbreaks to give more protection to the soil. We are learning to cover the soil so it won’t wash away, or dry out. We were taught to burn corn stalks to make the soil fertile. But burning corn stalks makes the soil weak. A good rain falls, and it washes away.
: You think about what that farmer over there did – how he covered the soil. You see, you understand, you learn. You learn to reforest, to make some curved terraces and live barriers. You learn to protect the soil a little more, so the soil doesn’t go to the sea.
Many farmers also realized that they had to work together, with other farmers to protect the whole hillside – not just work on their own farms. They realized that they must take care of the land on the hillsides above their farms – by planting trees, and by taking care of the land. Tree roots tie down soil and rocks. When trees are taken away, the soil can be easily washed away in mud and rockslides. Yet it is difficult to try something new. There is a fear of being seen as ridiculous. Here, Farmer Juan Antonio Briones talks about a time when he first started farming differently.
People made fun of me, made jokes, and that hurt me a lot. One needs hope to try these new methods. Researcher: We must learn a lesson from Hurricane Mitch, or it will happen again. Farmers who don’t take care of their soil will be wiped out again. We will be living from emergency to emergency.
MUSIC TO END PROGRAM.
– END –
- This script is adapted from the publication “Reasons for Resiliency: Towards a sustainable recovery after Hurricane Mitch” and the video ‘Changing Course’, both published by World Neighbors (see further information below).
- Reasons for resiliency: Toward a sustainable recovery after Hurricane Mitch, 2000. World Neighbors Central America Office, Apartado 3385, Tegulcigalpa Honduras. Tel: 504-230-2006, Fax: 504-230-2004, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. World Neighbours headquarters, 4127 NW 122 Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73120, USA, Tel: 1-800-242-6387 & 405-752-9700, Fax: 405-752-9393, E-mail: email@example.com.
- Changing course: recovery & research after hurricane Mitch, 2000, Video (17 minutes). World Neighbours, 4127 NW 122nd Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73120-8869, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Hurricane Mitch reveals benefits of sustainable farming techniques, by Eric Holt-Giménez, Global Pesticide Campaigner, Volume 10, Number 3, December 2000. Pesticide Action Network North America, 49 Powell St., #500, San Francisco, CA 94102 USA. Website for December 2000 issue
- Holding their ground, by Kevin Krajick. Ford Foundation Report, Fall 2001.
- Measuring Farmers’ Agroecological Resistance to Hurricane Mitch in Central America, by Eric Holt-Gimenez, 2000. English synopsis | Full Spanish text.