'I sobbed silently as 2 hurricanes destroyed my home – this is just the start'

In the third part of the Mirror’s NextGen International Series, Hixell Rodriguez reports on how rising temperatures and hurricanes are wiping out coffee farms in Nicaragua

Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020 caused mass devastation (

Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Nancy Duarte Rodriguez stood helpless in the pouring rain as the earth shifted behind her house and then swept down the mountain, destroying almost everything she owned.

This disaster was caused by two hurricanes that came in quick succession, wiping out homes, crops and, in some tragic cases, lives.

Hurricanes Eta and Iota killed 270 people in Central America in November 2020 and their impact on families like hers has been devastating.

Never in meteorological history have two Category 4 intensity storms made landfall so close in time and space.

The probability of an Atlantic storm developing into a major hurricane has increased by about 8% per decade, according to research.

“During Eta, we had heavy rains all day and night, which saturated the ground on the mountain where we live,” says 32-year-old Nancy.

Nancy Rodriguez’s home was destroyed by two hurricanes in 2020
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

“When Iota met us 14 days later, thick and fast mudslides came.

“I was at home around 10am on November 18 when I heard one of my cousins ​​yell at me to leave the house immediately.

“It was raining heavily, but I hadn’t noticed that part of the mountain was sliding towards the house.

“After grabbing what I could and fleeing for my life, I heard what sounded like a small explosion and looking up saw land falling on the house.”

The destroyed parts of the plantation
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

She adds: “I put my hands on my head as I tried to process what I was seeing.

“A lump formed in my throat as I sobbed softly. My home was destroyed.

“All the land, stones and crops were still slipping and I was homeless with nothing.”

After about 30 minutes, Nancy and her cousins ​​went to see what they could salvage from the rubble, but it was still raining and there was a possibility of another landslide.

Nancy’s family home was destroyed by the hurricanes that hit Nicaragua in 2020
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

Hearts still pounding, they could just make out their kitten’s desperate meowing in the pouring rain.

“We found her in the remains of the kitchen under all the debris and mud, her little nose sticking out,” says Nancy.

“She was the only thing we could save that day.

Nancy’s cat was rescued from the rubble
Nancy’s home after the landslide
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

“The structure of the house, the kitchen, the bathroom, the organic waste drain we recently built, and a major water drain were destroyed by the landslide.”

A year later, the house still needs repairs, but the family was somewhat lucky that day.

Miraculously, their coffee crop survived the storms. Others weren’t so lucky – entire coffee farms in the region were wiped out.

“I am proud to come from a long line of coffee farmers in Nicaragua and to have inherited our small family business from my late father who passed away in July 2020,” says Nancy.

Nancy Rodriguez works on her family’s coffee farm
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

Nicaragua has 40,000 coffee farmers, 84% of which are small producers like Nancy.

But living on the front lines of the climate crisis makes life even more challenging.

Nancy says: “When my grandparents settled on the mountain in 1967, the land was fertile and the climate ideal for growing coffee. Now, 54 years later, coffee is still being grown on the same land, but the rise in temperature we are seeing is destroying our crops.”

It is believed that as temperatures rise, it becomes increasingly difficult to grow good coffee.

And by 2050, about half of the land used for high-quality coffee will be unproductive, studies show.

Plants are also attacked by fungi such as coffee rust and berry stain, which wipe them out.

The Rodriguez farm is located in a mountainous region in northern Nicaragua
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

Extreme weather caused by climate change will only accelerate the spread of this fungus.

It is believed that these factors alone could wipe out up to two-fifths of Central America’s coffee crop.

“It’s a heartbreaking statistic,” says Nancy. “My late father, who died at the age of 65, is my greatest source of inspiration and pride in life.

As a coffee farmer, he was careful not to harm the environment and taught me the best approach to using and managing natural resources, which I will later study at university.

NextGen reporter Hixell Rodriguez at the plantation
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

“He worked for almost a decade to become a 100% organic coffee producer and run a self-sufficient farm while still protecting part of the jungle. Our farm, Rancho Viejo, was his life’s work to the end of his days.

“After his death I had to take over the unfinished business because harvest time was approaching and the place was so special to him. So I’ve made a commitment to carry on his legacy.”

A member of the Rodriguez family carries coffee bags
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Image:

Mayor Orlando Valenzuela Cisneros)

In the past three years alone, climate change and emigration have had a significant impact on coffee growing, harvesting and profitability.

Last year coffee ripening was delayed by the heavy rains that hit the country, but this year it started in early October due to lack of rain.

And many people in rural areas are migrating in search of better-paying jobs, so the workforce for the coffee harvest has declined significantly over the years.

“We’re concerned that the hurricanes we faced last year are just the beginning,” Nancy said.

“It gets harder every day to continue my father’s legacy as a sustainable and responsible coffee farmer, but I will keep going as long as I can.”

Hixell Volunteers at Raleigh International Learn more and support their work here.

Raleigh International is a global youth action organization supporting a global movement of young people to take action for the planet.

Young people are at the forefront of building a fairer, more inclusive and greener world and are actively addressing the planet’s most pressing crises through Raleigh International’s global campaign, Action Not Excuses.

Dame Chance – meaning “to give a chance” – is an Action Not Excuses campaign led by young people in Nicaragua to reduce deforestation and improve green livelihoods.

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Dame Chance fights deforestation and unemployment by helping 6,000 local farmers increase forest cover.

Through the work of this Action Not Excuses campaign, young people from rural communities are developing new employment opportunities and working with local communities to conserve and protect Nicaragua’s precious forests.

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