Disconsolate, Alberto Flores piles up on the side of a road the few bunches of bananas that he managed to save from a failed harvest due to the copious rains that completely flooded his plantation in central El Salvador.
"Everything was lost, I have been cutting what can be rescued with knee-deep water," said Flores, a 54-year-old peasant from the San Marcos Jiboa village, in the municipality of San Luis Talpa, in the department of La Paz. , in the center-south of the country.
Flores told IPS that the rains, which hit the country and the rest of the Central American region in mid-October, have left him a loss of about $ 2,000, by drowning almost a hectare of his plantain plantation (cooking bananas).
San Marcos Jiboa is a rural community of 250 families, 90 percent dedicated to agriculture. Here, the majority of producers were affected by the downpours, according to IPS on a tour of the area.
The damage occurred mainly in crops of chili (pepper), corn, beans, banana, pipián (similar to zucchini) and loroco (Fernaldia pandurata), a vine whose flower is edible and very present in the local gastronomy.
Other areas of the country and the Central American region have also been hit.
Central America has been described, by various reports from international organizations, as one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet to the onslaught of climate change.
And yet, tools that help farmers to lessen climate shocks, such as agricultural insurance, are not yet fully developed in the isthmus, although there are already important initiatives at their disposal.
"I have heard that about agricultural insurance but no one comes to explain how that is," said Flores, sweaty, continuing to pile bunches of green bananas.
Compared with Mexico or countries in South America, Central Americans have made little progress in this area, according to the report on Agricultural Insurance Performance in the Americas, published in 2015 by the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation (IICA).
The document points out that "the efforts made in the region have not generated the expected results", although it highlights a growth in commercialized premiums in Guatemala with a sum of 2.25 million dollars, followed by Panama with 1.8 million and Costa Rica , with just over 500,000, according to 2013 data.
Experts consulted indicated that the high cost of agricultural insurance premiums, which is around 13 percent of an agricultural loan contracted or of the investment made, is one of the reasons behind it, as well as the lack of information and culture on insurance .
"Indeed, it is expensive," Saúl Ortiz, the Risk Management and Analysis Coordinator at Guate Invierte, a financial institution that manages a trust of more than $ 70 million in agricultural support in Guatemala, told IPS by telephone. various items, including insurance.
It is precisely because of these costs that Guate Invierte was born in 2005, Ortiz added, to support small and medium-sized producers in the country and give them the possibility of taking out a policy. The initial plan was to later extend it throughout the region.
In addition to being the guarantor or state guarantor of agricultural loans acquired by producers with other financial institutions, Guate Invierte offered insurance without loans, with a subsidy of up to 70 percent of the cost of the premium.
But that scheme failed because the government no longer injected more funds to continue with that model, and it stopped working in 2015. However, it maintains coverage for customers that do have loans.
In El Salvador, although there is not a very consolidated market, a type of policy aimed at small producers has begun to operate.
Seguros Futuro, together with the state-run Banco de Fomento Agropecuario, launched the Produce Seguro program in July, with coverage for earthquakes, droughts and excess rain.
It is microinsurance for the bank's portfolio of 50,000 clients, dedicated to agriculture as well as to any other productive sector.
Unlike traditional insurance, which in the event of catastrophic events initiates the on-site verification of damage to crops, Produce Seguro is of the “parametric” type.
In other words, it is based on a table of climatological parameters or indicators measured by satellite and state-of-the-art technology that report, for example, the level of rainfall in an area.
And as rain levels increase, to that extent, automatically, compensation is applied.
In the case of rains, the initial level is 136 millimeters of water accumulated over three days. The information comes from the US Administration of Aeronautics and Space, NASA, and the Salvadoran Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.
"We don't have to go to do any verification in the area, everything is based on the indices," Seguros Futuro general manager Daysi Rosales told IPS.
The program, in a pilot phase, is supported by Swiss Re, the Swiss reinsurer. The cost of the premiums is five percent of the credit contracted with the BFA, a percentage accessible to farmers.
In fact, with the last downpours, "these parameters have already been triggered and some level of compensation already applies, we have not paid yet because the event has just passed and we are in that process," Rosales said.
Both Rosales and the Guatemalan Ortiz agreed that in the expansion of agricultural insurance in South American countries or Mexico, the participation of the State in the development of the sector has been key, which Central America has not happened.
"In Mexico, 90 percent is paid by the State, they buy the insurance, not the people," Rosales stressed.
Meanwhile, in one of the flooded plots of San Marcos Jiboa, the farmer Víctor Alcántara, another affected producer, commented that the impacts of nature are perceived almost year after year, in a country where climatic changes have deepened this century.
"This time the blow was twofold, first we lost corn in the dry season (drought) in August, and now with this rain almost all of my loroco harvest," he added.
Alcántara said he had invested $ 300 in the "loroquera (planting of these plants)", but now he lost almost 60 percent of the production due to the rains.
Added to this is the loss in his crop of half a hectare of corn, of about $ 400, this time due to the drought that affected the area in August, in the middle of the wet season, which in this subtropical country runs from May to November and which is when the two annual plantings are made.
In August, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and the World Food Program warned in a joint statement that the drought would impact the price of food, since corn and beans, basic in the Central American diet has been the most affected crops.
Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras reported losses of 281,000 hectares of these crops, on which the food security and nutrition of 2.1 million people depend, the report said.
With his corn crop ruined, now Alcántara said he will have to see how he manages to make tortillas (flattened and circular dough made from grain) on his family's table.
By Edgardo Ayala
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez