Farmer Jacques Ravena casts a gloomy eye over his fields, where scanty patches of vegetables struggle to grow between large expanses of dry, cracked soil.
“The fields are getting more and more salty,” says Jacques, the president of the local planters’ association. “I pump water from the bore holes, but the water is salty. And when I use this water to irrigate my crops, and this affects my agricultural production.”
Jacques is one of a growing number of farmers on Rodrigues, a self-governing territory 500 km from the main island of Mauritius, who face one of the less well known impacts of climate change - sea water contamination. As oceans get warmer, sea levels rise and seep into low-lying coastal regions, including fields.
In previous years, rainwater would flood down from the hills and wash away the salt water. But for the past two years there hasn’t been enough rain to clean the fields of salt.
Fellow planter Loisotto Upedon agrees: “Some seasons there is work, some seasons no work.
But work is getting scarcer because there is no rain,” she says. “We have had very little rain during the winter period and the bore hole water is getting saltier and saltier. I have problems growing crops with this salt water.”
Climate change is making life harder for farmers, especially those in small island developing states (SIDS). Together with sea level rise, farmers face drought, floods and extreme weather events such as hurricanes. That is why the EU is investing around twenty percent of the EU co-operation budget - two billion euros a year – to help developing countries tackle climate change, and to give special attention to small island states.
In Mauritius, an ambitious EUR 3 million project supported by the EU GCCA+ initiative is giving practical help to farmers like Jacques and Loisotto. Some of the funds is being used to build water reservoirs where rain water can be stored and can be used instead of the salty boreholes.
“There are a lot of dykes that were built in the past that now are very silted, they can’t hold any water, so we want to clean them, to rehabilitate them, so they can hold water again,” says Atma Beeharry-Panray, a farming consultant to the Rodrigues regional assembly. “The solution is to provide these farmers with the right infrastructure to store water during the rainy season. The funding from the European Commission will be used to build a water reservoir so that all that run-off water may be channeled there and stored until it is needed by the growers to irrigate their fields.”
For growers like Loisotto, the work funded by GCCA+ can’t come soon enough. “Because of climate change everything is out of track,” she says. “The seasons have changed. When we are supposed to have water, we have none, and then we have too much. Day by day we are facing climate change problems, and in the future I think it will be more difficult for us. Just a few years ago, I used to grow three times as many vegetables as I do now.”
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