When the first white cranes started appearing on the banks of the Rio Coco, deep in the Nicaraguan rainforest, Marciano Washington told his sons to start preparing the family’s three hectares of land for planting.
A month later, the weather-beaten Miskito elder from the town of San Carlos shades his eyes from the baking sun and surveys his cracked and barren land. His seed is rotting or has been eaten by rats. The few rice seeds that have sprouted are only inches high, yellow and discoloured.
“All my life the earth has told me when the rains are coming,” he says. “I don’t understand what is happening to our land.”
The natural signs that Washington’s father taught him to observe, such as the white cranes, flowering avocado plants, silver fish and rapid flashes of lightning, no longer herald the rains that his community so desperately need.
Climate change is having a devastating effect on the Miskito Indians who live in wooden huts in Nicaragua’s western territories. They subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers.
Ten years ago Washington said he could harvest 60 bags of rice a hectare. Last year he managed seven. “Every year it is getting worse,” he says. “We have floods in the summer and droughts in the winter. We can’t depend on nature anymore and we don’t know when to plant our crops. I don’t know how I am going to feed my family.”
Environmental researchers are warning that the effect of climate change is likely to hit indigenous communities like the Miskito the hardest. Many of the world’s indigenous people live in isolated communities and their livelihoods depend on nature and on predicting the weather, making them vulnerable to increasingly unstable weather patterns.
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