Interview with Sergio Ramos, agricultural economist and teacher on Santo Antão
RAIN. RAIN. FINALLY RAIN.
"We are a people that never give up, no matter how difficult the circumstances might be" says Sergio Ramos in an interview
"Txuba, Txuba!" is what you could often hear over the last few weeks - "Rain, rain" is what you hear the people shout on the streets of Santo Antão. It is rainy season in August and September on the Cape Verde Islands - however, significant rainfall has become rather seldom in the last decades. Climate change has also reached Cape Verde. Increasing climatic extremes are leading to water shortages and droughts on the islands, which particularly effects agriculture dramatically.
After years of water shortage, it finally started to rain at the beginning of September 2020. Sometimes it had been that heavy that it even flooded parts of the country.
Connected to this rain we had some questions with respect to agriculture. Sergio R. knows the answers. He is a farmer on Santo Antão and lives in the northern part of the island in the Chã das Pedras area.
Due to the current corona situation, the 32-year-old, who is a full-time teacher in the western part of Santo Antão, now has more time to support his mother and family in agriculture.
Sergio has also worked as a dedicated guide for vista verde tours in the past.
vista verde tours: It seems that it rained way more this year compared to the last ones or is this in fact not true?
Sergio: This is a fact; we had more rain this time, compared to the three last years without any profitable rain.
vista verde tours: How often have you already experienced this heavy rain in your life?
Sergio: Rarely, since the start of effects of the global warming (aprox.2008) this is only my second time: 2016 and 2020.
vista verde tours: What are the advantages of the rain this year, what disadvantages arise with respect to agriculture?
Sergio: Rain always brings advantages to us, it means the more rain the more water, the more food for animals, more practice of agriculture to increase the production and the trade, but, however it brings the erosion which causes an effect on the soils reducing the nutrients of the fertilised lands.
vista verde tours: Is the damage on your personal land dramatic? To which extend is the land affected?
Sergio: Yes, it is! I had damages on the harvest which was around (650) Euros and also a dramatic loss of nutrients on the soils due to the collapses of the terraces.
vista verde tours: Are the fields actually more fertile or is it the contrary due to the stage of rain?
Sergio: For sure the lands are less and less fertile combined the stage of rain and the natural characteristics of Santo Antão
vista verde tours: Do you now expect a bigger harvest compared to the last years (with less rain)?
Sergio: Yes, for sure that we are expecting a good harvest, compared to the last years.
vista verde tours: Do you have more terraces/field/land available compared to last year? If so, why?
Sergio: This is a question that I have to answer with passion and the fascinating hope that feed our soul. We are a people that does not give up, even when circumstances are hard; so in my case I built more terraces, I extended more lands and restored more abandoned fields.
vista verde tours: Is the land self-owned or lend?
Sergio: Personally, I had my owned land and some belongs to my family, but in general land here is rented and “re-rent” to some farmers to maintain the rhythms of production.
vista verde tours: How do you preserve the resource water in respect to agriculture in a country where rain is very scarce? Where do you store it?
Sergio: Since the beginning of the 40’s it has been made a very interesting job in (water tanks, dams) reservoir and dams in order to store the water.
vista verde tours: How does the agriculture adapt towards these conditions (irrigation systems, type of agriculture, etc.)?
Sergio: There is a contradictory on the mind-set of the farmers; in some parts new technologies are being welcomed regarding to the irrigation system and the diversity (specific crops) and others still keep the old fashion of agriculture which is now bringing many disadvantages such us waste of water, the washing of nutrients and more difficulties to combat the plague of insects.
vista verde tours: Which crops do you normally grow?
Sergio: Normally we have two types of agriculture: dry – where we mostly grow a variety of beans, corn, potatoes manioc, and squash; wet – where we grow all from the dry type plus more sugar cane, vegetables (yams, banana, and manioc) fruits.
vista verde tours: How do you exploit now the heavy rain? Do you grow different crops compared to last year? If so, which ones and why?
Sergio: There is no pattern to grow crops related to different type of rain, what exists is a slight difference on the resilience of plants, but it doesn’t effect in our decision so as longer the soils are wet we can do crops there, for example, we can have a good production with little rain or vice versa.
vista verde tours: Do you grow only for your family or do you also sell/export? If so, which crops?
Sergio: Normally, we set a balance, we have more goods (sweet and normal potatoes, manioc, corn, beans like peas and even the grasses for the animals) for trading (sell/export) to different islands (São Vicente) and surely goods to keep in our table for our own consume.
vista verde tours: Do you think about storing certain crops for “worse” times? If so, how and which?
Sergio: I think it’s a great idea and it will reduce some dramatic effect on to have (more) seeds, food for both animal and men. Since long time people used to store mostly beans, maize and peas on iron barrels for at least 10 years; however we have other techniques but this seems to be more effective.
vista verde tours: Is there any influence or connection between the current covid-19 crisis and agriculture (e.g. more manpower, etc.)? If so, which ones? Do you see any advantages with respect to farming?
Sergio: We said that in the time of crises there is always an opportunity, so the covid-19 brings a good perspective on people’s vision, how they could be sustainable! They saw a good chance to create their own income, so more people are investing; hence more labour force.
vista verde tours: Would there be even better possibilities under different circumstances for agriculture (access to material, support by government, etc)? Which ones?
Sergio: We would like to have such support on agriculture more clearly but not fragmented. I think some old techniques would be really appreciated when looking at the erosion, collapses, more reforestations, more support in new technology of irrigation systems, and more water reservoir as well as support of the farmers, when they had a bad harvest.
vista verde tours: To which extent does the government supports the farmers now after the heavy rain? Is the government at all interested in a sustainable agriculture and farming? If so, how would you describe it? If not, what are the reasons in your opinion?
Sergio: Here we do not have policies that can encourage the farmers when they (we) had some losses, so everything is hard made by our own efforts (obliging us to have sometimes more expenses than income) and this brings totally a psychology and physical attrition by consequences.
Since 2016 they are showing an interest in turning our agriculture in to a sustainable one, they created a small industry to transform the goods into product (e.g. mango into juice) and so on... in order to at least create more employment and more income, but we are still waiting for getting it…
In my option, if so, it will be more effective and a turning point of more progress.
vista verde tours: Is there any protection with regards to environment and climate connected to agriculture on Santo Antão?
Sergio: Till now nothing has been pronounced.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH, DEAR SERGIO!