Report from the Field: Environmental Justice Work at CESTA

News released on: 
Aug 19th, 2015

A farmer speaks about the drought

Bajo Lempa training

Charlotte Fagan, Bikes Not Bombs' International Programs Coordinator, spent three weeks in Latin America to visit our International Partners CESTA and Bici-Tec.

My visit to CESTA would be incomplete without also witnessing their environmental justice work, and I was lucky enough to experience three different types of programs that are typical of CESTA’s work.

My first day with CESTA I traveled to San Miguel, the second largest city in El Salvador, for a training with local environmental municipal workers. Most of the attendees work in small (1 to 5 person) environmental agencies as part of the local governments in small towns and cities. Some of the attendees have a background in environmental issues, others do not. I was able to attend the first day of the three-day training organized by CESTA covering climate change, biodiversity, and agriculture. CESTA President Dr. Ricardo Navarro gave a sobering and powerful message of climate change: climate change is already out of control. Ricardo feels his roll in these trainings are to impress upon the attendees the gravity of the situation with climate change, and to empower them to use their positions to enact change in their communities.

The next day, CESTA organized a small forum about the draught in El Salvador at their compound in San Marcos. They invited farmers from all over the country, representatives from water research groups, and city dwellers whose water is continually being shut off, to come together to discuss the draught crisis. Ricardo opened the event by emphasizing that this draught is a result of climate change, and that the situation will only continue to get worse in the coming years. Throughout my visit he often repeated this in a variety of contexts to emphasize that communities need to organize themselves now in order to be able to survive the coming climate crisis. However, the most powerful part of the forum was hearing farmers interact with one another and talk about what seeds were doing well, strategies that had worked and what hadn’t worked, and sharing knowledge of how to survive the draught.

On my last day with CESTA I travelled to the community of Bajo Lempa, an area where CESTA has organized in a variety of contexts for decades. A few months ago CESTA organized a 2-day workshop with folks from Bajo Lempa to brainstorm strategies for community resilience to climate change. I was there to witness CESTA's return to present a compilation of these strategies back to the community. Most of the strategies revolved around a few key categories: agriculture, water, waste, and resistance to mega-projects. Strategies ranged from creating a community grain reserve and a community seed bank, to community research around where their water comes from and how to make sure that the water source is protected.

I’m lucky to have arrived in El Salvador during such a jam-packed week! Since I am generally more involved with the bike side of CESTA, it was great to see more of their other programming and to see the tangible impacts they are having on communities experiencing the impacts of climate change. BNB’s shipments of used bikes go a long way in helping to support CESTA’s cutting-edge, grassroots environmental justice work in El Salvador as bike sales contribute 10-25% to the organization's overall budget. I left CESTA deeply impacted by Ricardo’s message of urgency around climate change, and inspired by how CESTA is helping communities create resiliency strategies to survive.