Desperate times call for desperate measures — or, in the case of the Nicaraguan government, for eating iguanas.
With Nicaragua suffering a devastating drought, the issue of how to feed the nation of approximately 6 million people has become a priority. Desperate for solutions, the government last week suggested that Nicaraguans begin to raise iguanas for food, as they might chickens or pigs.
Some residents of the Central American nation already eat the occasional iguana. However, most people catch the scaly reptiles in the wild, rather than keeping them on a farm, even though hunting iguanas is illegal between January and April of each year, and selling wild iguana is prohibited by law. According to a government official, these laws would not apply to those creating their own “iguanarios” to raise the animals.
“We recommend raising iguanas, rather than hunting them in the wild,” said Guillermo Membreño, a soil management expert and government consultant.
Membreño added that raising iguanas could serve as an additional source of income for farming families that have lost the majority — or even all — of their crops to the drought. Farmers raising iguanas would be allowed to sell and potentially export the animals for their meat or skin, or even as pets.
Still, iguanas alone may not be enough to feed a country.
Nicaragua is experiencing its worst drought in 32 years, with staples like beans and corn becoming scarce commodities and prices rising above what most residents can afford. According to the Nicaragua Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER), the drought has affected two-thirds of the country’s municipalities, and many farmers have lost their entire harvest.
Rural residents are asking for government assistance, which they say is necessary in order to prevent widespread hunger.
The drought comes on the heels of a catastrophic reemergence of the coffee rust (roya) epidemic. The orange-red fungus has devastated coffee crops throughout Nicaragua and neighboring producer countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, where many small farmers depend on coffee to support themselves and their families.
Two years without rain
Nicaragua’s drought is part of a larger regional pattern across Central America and the northern part of South America, where the El Niño weather phenomenon and the effects of climate change are wreaking havoc on agriculture and local economies.
In Panama, the low rainfall has caused the water level in the Panama Canal locks to drop so low that authorities are considering restricting the number of ships that pass through the canal if the rains do not return.
Venezuela has seen a precipitous drop in agricultural production, which comes as an especially tough blow to a country where spiraling inflation has already driven the prices of basic goods sky-high and cleared out shelves in many stores.
The situation is even more extreme on the Guajira peninsula, which straddles the Colombia-Venezuela border. The sparsely-populated desert region has seen nearly all the water sources that serve the province dry up, as it has gone almost two years without rain. Twenty-three children died in 2013 from a lack of proper nutrition, and Colombian authorities estimate that at least 37,000 children in the region are currently suffering from malnutrition.
The crisis has become so dire that civil society groups across the country are holding “water drives” to send desperately-needed water and other goods to the isolated peninsula. Last week, citizens in La Guajira began a civil strike to protest what they see as abandonment on the part of the Colombian government.
And in the desert, there aren’t even any iguanas to eat.