Climate Change Brings Migration from the Dry Corridor to Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast

Peasant farmers on a farm in the town of Sébaco, in the northern Nicaraguan department of Matagalpa, part of the Dry Corridor of Central America, where this year rains have been generous, after years of drought. Credit: Wilmer López/IPS


01 August 2017 |José Adán Silva | Inter Press Service

“MATAGALPA, Nicaragua, Aug 1 2017 (IPS) – If the impact of drought and poverty in the municipalities of the so-called Dry Corridor in Nicaragua continues pushing the agricultural frontier towards the Caribbean coast, by the year 2050 this area will have lost all its forests and nature reserves, experts predict.

Denis Meléndez, facilitator of the National Board for Risk Management, told IPS that annually between 70,000 and 75,000 hectares of forests are lost in Nicaragua’s northern region and along the Caribbean coast, according to research carried out by this non-governmental organisation that monitors the government’s environmental record.

This phenomenon, he explained, occurs mainly due to the impact of climate change in the Dry Corridor, a vast area that comprises 37 municipalities in central and northern Nicaragua, which begins in the west, at the border with Honduras, and ends in the departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega, bordering the eastern North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN).

The Dry Corridor in Central America is an arid strip of lowlands that runs along the Pacific coast through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

In this Central American eco-region, which is home to 10.5 million people, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the cyclical droughts have been aggravated by climate change and the gradual devastation of natural resources by the local populations.

In Nicaragua, it encompasses areas near the RACCN, a territory of over 33,000 square kilometres, with a population mostly belonging to the indigenous Miskito people, and which has the biggest forest reserve in Nicaragua and Central America: Bosawas.

From these generally dry territories, said Meléndez, there has been an invasion of farmers to the RACCN – many of them mestizos or people of mixed-race heritage, who the native inhabitants pejoratively refer to as “colonists“ – fleeing the rigours of climate change, who have settled in indigenous areas in this Caribbean region.

“They are peasant farmers who are unaware that most of the land in the Caribbean is most suitable for forestry,and they cut the trees, burn the grasslands, plant crops and breed livestock, destroying the ecosystem,“ Meléndez complained.

He said that if the loss of forests continues at the current pace, by 2050 the Dry Corridor will reach all the way to the Caribbean coast.

IPS visited several rural towns in the northern department of Matagalpa, where four of the 37 municipalities of the Corridor are located: San Isidro, Terrabona, Ciudad Darío and Sébaco.

In Sébaco, the rains have been generous since the rainy season started in May, which made the farmers forget the hardships of the past years.

There is green everywhere, and enthusiasm in the agricultural areas, which between 2013 and early 2016 suffered loss after loss in their crops due to the drought.

“The weather has been nice this year, it had been a long time since we enjoyed this rainwater which is a blessing from God,” 67-year-old Arístides Silva told IPS.

Silva and other farmers in Sébaco and neighbouring localities do not like to talk about the displacement towards other communities near the Caribbean coast, “to avoid conflicts.“

A good winter or rainy season this year in the tropical areas in northern Nicaragua curbed migration towards the neighbouring Northern Caribbean Region by farmers who use the slash-and-burn method, devastating to the forests. Credit: Wilmer López/IPS

“I know two or three families who have gone to the coast to work, but because the landowners want them because we know how to make the land produce. We don’t go there to invade other people’s land,“ said Agenor Sánchez, who grows vegetables in Sébaco, on land leased from a relative.

But like Meléndez, human rights, social and environmental organisations emphasise the magnitude of the displacement of people from the Dry Corridor to Caribbean coastal areas since 2005.

Ecologist Jaime Incer Barquero, a former environment minister, told IPS that this is not a new problem. “For 40 years I have been warning about the ecological disaster of the Dry Corridor and the Caribbean, but the authorities haven’t paid attention to me,“ he complained.

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