Farmers in El Salvador adapt livelihoods to the new realities of COVID-19

Juan Carlos Rivera lives in the Dry Corridor of El Salvador, an area where high temperatures, low rainfall and regular droughts pose constant regular problems to his way of life. He is a farmer who sells rabbits and quail, but with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and his partners in “Las Casitas”, a network of small producers, have had problems marketing their products.  Instead of giving up, they have adapted to this new reality and are now also selling vegetables, such as tomatoes, green chili, green beans, mustard, spinach, radish and cucumber. “We used to sell most of the rabbit and quail meat to restaurants in the area. They have now been closed due to government measures to prevent the spread of the virus, but we have seen in vegetable production an opportunity to go ahead. This pandemic will not stop us. We will continue to produce food,” Juan Carlos explained.

Juan Carlos’ town of Las Casitas, in the Alegría municipality, is 142 kilometers from the capital, San Salvador. His father was a farmer and Juan Carlos grew up on a farm, but he was not interested in that life and left for college in the capital. He worked for several years as a warehouse manager, but then came back to Alegría and that is when the farming bug bit him. He met a woman who raised rabbits and decided to buy a breeding pair from her. His first rabbits didn’t survive. “‘But you have to persist,’ I said in my mind. I kept working, I built some cages. I bought five rabbits and the first litters were born,” he remembers. By 2018, he had teamed up with several local producers to form the Las Casitas network, but then the pandemic hit, restaurants closed, and he could no longer rely only on his rabbits. Luckily, last year, Juan Carlos had received technical assistance and supplies from FAO to produce vegetables. Now he is putting that knowledge to work to diversify his production in the face of the pandemic. 

With the help of his partners in Las Casitas, he continues to farm rabbits, quails and chickens, but now they also help each other produce vegetables: “We each have our own plot, but we all help each other in preparing the land, extracting seeds and sowing as FAO has taught us. We also coordinate the sale of the products,” says Juan Carlos. They market the vegetables within their community, receiving orders by phone every day and organizing to drop off the products at the homes of their neighbors. When they do the deliveries, they comply with protection requirements using masks, gloves and sanitizing their hands with gel alcohol. FAO has continued to provide support to Juan Carlos and other farmers in El Salvador’s Dry Corridor in the midst of the pandemic, providing them with technical assistance to increase their food production and be able to meet the product demands of their community.

Now that winter is approaching, Juan Carlos is making preparations to produce tomatoes in an improvised greenhouse, with the materials that FAO has provided such as building materials, seeds and other farming inputs. Additionally, FAO, in coordination with the municipality and the National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology (CENTA in Spanish), will provide assistance to Juan Carlos and the group of producers of Las Casitas so that they can produce new varieties of vegetables and thus continue to support the food security of their community. “Thank God we are able to sell vegetables to the community. As vegetable producers, we have realized that we are fundamental for the local food supply. People are aware now more than ever of the importance of producing our own food locally.” In this time of crisis, with the changes in buying and restrictions on movement, livelihoods of food producers and smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable. FAO is supporting rural communities to adapt to these new realities, helping to safeguard their livelihoods. While protecting the health of all individuals is paramount, we must continue to ensure the food security of communities and support a flow of income for vulnerable families to get past these difficult times.

Source : Fao