More than 200 million impoverished people worldwide make their homes on hillsides. These hillsides are the source of some 20 percent of the world's freshwater, and yet agricultural activities have resulted in vast deforestation and topsoil erosion. Since 1993, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) based in Cali, Colombia, has been working with farmers to conserve soil and water while helping them to increase their meager incomes.
The nonprofit agency has combined the knowledge of local communities with computer-based geographic information systems to help monitor farmland and plan alternative uses. Researchers have also introduced new high-yield plants.
In the Cabuyal watershed, the changes have been significant. Better seeds have increased food production for local communities. Fencing around streams has ensured clean water to downstream households as well as to local coffee growers. In exchange, the growers have supplied farmers with water tanks for their cattle. In newly created buffer zones around the streams, farmers have planted trees which produce a native fruit called lulo, which they can sell at local markets.
The hillsides project has expanded to areas of Honduras and Nicaragua as well as some African countries. More than 1,000 people from communities, local governments, and other nonprofit agencies have been trained in the techniques developed by CIAT. The project's ecological and economic benefits have been far-reaching.Reuters