Farmer Narinder Jagroe smiles as he contemplates the tomatoes and cucumbers growing on his small plot of land. It’s the dry season and it hasn’t rained for weeks - but Narinder isn’t worried. His new irrigation system means the young plants get all the water they need.
“It has made a huge difference for our families,” says Narinder. “Before we installed the sprinkler system it was fifty-fifty whether the plants would survive. Now we can grow right through the dry season and productivity has increased.”
Narinder’s irrigation system is just one part of a climate smart agriculture (CSA) project in the Weg naar Zee area of Suriname aimed at helping farmers to adapt and become more resilient to climate change. The project is funded by the EU’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+, and managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA).
As well as sprinkler systems, farmers have benefitted from greenhouses and drip irrigation equipment. “The whole project is about making farming more reliable in the face of increasingly disrupted weather patterns,” says Haidy Malone-Lepelblad, GCCA+ Project Manager for the UNDP in Suriname. “Farmers are used to seasons which are predictable for planting and for harvest. Now though, sometimes the dry season is too long and the rainy season too intense. Sometimes they lose their crops altogether.”
Narinder’s fellow farmer Chakawri Pardiepkoemar was one of those to benefit from the project.
“During the wet season we get a lot of rainfall in a short period of time. Some farms get flooded and farmers lose their entire harvest,” he says. Two greenhouses specially-designed using green intensive farming technology (GIFT) keep temperatures constant, protect from heavy rain and enable farmers to grow crops in controlled conditions all year round.
Chakawri has also built a pond to collect fresh rainwater for irrigation, as land near the coast also suffers from salt water intrusion. “We have a sprinkler system now, which enables us to harvest more vegetables such as pak choi, cabbage and peas. This system uses relatively much less water than the traditional way we used to do it.”
The project has had some unexpected benefits as well, explains Haidy. “People discovered they had been doing things the same way as their parents and grandparents without really questioning it. Now they’ve learned there are alternative techniques and they’ve become more tech-savvy.
The community is much more united. Before, farmers used to mainly work on their own - but now they help each other. It’s really opened their horizons, and now they want to go further, to stand up for themselves as a group and to fundraise for more projects.”
Narinder and Chakawri were among a group of farmers who travelled to Mexico for a nine days’ training at the Research Center for Protected Agriculture and Integral Services (CRESIAP) in Jalisco. The group also included Raffaella Ashruf, a member of the Suriname Agriculture Forum for Youth (SURAFY). “It’s very important to know what each plant needs in order to produce the maximum yield, as well as how to handle plant diseases, soil fertility and irrigation” she says. “This training was very useful, and I learned a lot!”
“When the training first started it was a small group, but more and more people joined each time,” says Haidy. “Farmers were learning new techniques, going back to their farms, adapting them, trying new methods and then coming back to the training group to show what they’d done and to check if it was working OK, sharing it with the others. They were incredibly motivated and happy about learning new techniques.”
Unlike the interior, women farmers are in the minority in the coastal region of Suriname, but some of them are among the pioneers of the new approach. Bianca Jagroe-Graanoogst was one of two women who trained in Mexico, and now she’s saving up to buy her own greenhouse. She’s looking at ways to fundraise so she and the other farmers can buy more greenhouses. “There were very few women involved to start with, as this is an area which tends to be dominated by male farmers. But now that they’ve seen the benefits more women want to get involved. Bianca is our star farmer!” laughs Haidy.
Climate smart agriculture has also made life easier. “I have more time available to spend on other projects,” says Narinder. “I used to have to water and apply fertilisers separately, but with my new sprinkler system I can mix them together. I only have to turn on the pump and everything happens!”
With the first phase complete, the next stage is already underway. “Now we are turning our attention to diversification’” says Haidy. “Some farmers are starting bee keeping - bees do really well near the coast because they get nectar from the mangrove forests. We’re aiming to increase the number of hives and introduce bee keeping into farming areas.”