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.