Food and water security of communities in the shared Sumpul River sub-basin

IUCN @ Paul Aragón
Published: 08 January 2021
Last edited: 21 February 2023
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Water scarcity and extreme weather events are already a reality in the sub-basin of the Sumpul River, shared by Honduras and El Salvador, and will likely worsen as the impacts of climate change intensify. This makes adaptation responses necessary to increase the resilience of production systems and ensure water provision. To achieve this, 3 axes of work were combined: strengthening capacities and knowledge through an "action learning" approach; increasing the resilience of ecosystems and livelihoods by implementing ecosystem-based adaptation measures (EbA); and revitalizing the governance of the sub-basin. This led to the analysis of community vulnerabilities; the application of EbA measures in farms adjacent to water sources; the strengthening of the governance and management capacities of local authorities; the articulation of actions through the sub-basin’s Binational Community Committee; and the promotion of EbA as an effective response to climate change.


Central America
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Ecosystem services
Erosion prevention
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Sustainable livelihoods
Water provision and management
Other theme
Legal and Policy Frameworks
Watershed management
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


San Ignacio, Chalatenango, El Salvador | La Palma, Chalatenango, El Salvador. Sumpul River, shared between Honduras and El Salvador


  • The sub-basin faces problems of environmental degradation due to deforestation and contamination of soil and water. Conflicts have also arisen between border neighbours over the use of water from the Sumpul River.
  • The basin’s binational nature implies collaboration and coordination challenges between Honduras and El Salvador.
  • There are weaknesses in the local management of water resources and scarce knowledge of decision makers and local leaders about ecosystem-based adaptation and how water management is a central part of it.
  • The main climatic threats are: strong variations in rainfall patterns, extreme temperature fluctuations ("frosts") and strong winds; landslides, floods and recurrent droughts also occur. These all lead to damages in infrastructure (housing, nurseries, etc.), food production and local livelihoods (mainly vegetables and basic grains) and increase the vulnerability and migration of people.


  • >400 families from the upper basin of the Sumpul River, in particular >100 producers.
  • ADESCO Water Committees of 4 communities
  • Municipalities of La Palma and San Ignacio (El Salvador)
  • Binational Community Committee of the Sumpul River Sub-basin

How do the building blocks interact?

In the shared sub-basin of the Sumpul River (El Salvador-Honduras), governance for adaptation was strengthened (BB3) and EbA measures were implemented with producers (BB2) under a "learning by doing" approach (“action learning” BB1) that combines actions in the field, exchange of experiences, participation, dialogue, alliances and an ecosystem vision (BB2 and 3), and generates social capital. Therefore, the solution presents 3 Building Blocks (BB). Combining them led to progress in the community governance of a binational territory (BB3), the adaptive capacity of local communities and the resiliency of their livelihoods (BB1 and 2), especially their agroforestry systems. Demonstrating the relationship between adaptation and water provision also facilitated scaling-up of the EbA approach (BB3) and its institutionalization into policy and management instruments, such as the Strategic Plan of the Binational Community Committee of the Sumpul River Sub-basin and the Local Adaptation Plans of the Las Palmas and San Ignacio Municipalities (El Salvador). Thus, several sustainable development objectives were met by articulating social capital with natural capital for greater socio-environmental resilience in the face of climate change.


  • Implementation of EbA measures in agroforestry systems (crop diversification, soil conservation practices and works, and protection of water sources) benefiting >100 producers in the sub-basin.
  • Greater articulation between key actors of the sub-basin linked to the integrated management of water resources.
  • Strengthening of 4 Water Committees in the upper part of the sub-basin (Municipalities of La Palma and San Ignacio, El Salvador) and internal regulations for the water supply systems for human consumption.
  • Participatory formulation and adoption of new planning and management instruments for existing governance platforms (Binational Community Committee of the Sumpul River Sub-basin and 4 Water Committees, which are locally known as "Water Boards" and a core part of the Community Development Associations, ADESCOs).
  • Technical accompaniment by the Municipalities of La Palma and San Ignacio (El Salvador).
  • Greater communication and advocacy capacities after training 38 community leaders in negotiation, policy influencing and communication.


Plan Trifinio @ Miguel Arévalo

Mr. Eduardo Santamaría S.:

"For 36 years I was a cabbage farmer and I ended up changing my assets in order to produce avocados."

Today Eduardo produces avocado, cabbage and basic grains and has extensive experience in soil conservation works and practices, including Ecosystem-based Adaptation measures, such as the use of: level and underpass irrigation channels (ditches), tracing of contour lines, live barriers, windbreaks, management of crop residues, and vermiculture. In Eduardo's avocado forest there is abundant leaf litter and pruning material, which reduces runoff, improves water infiltration and moisture retention in soils, prevents erosion and provides nitrogen through its decomposition. .


"The farmer needs to be supervised and helped by a technician. The union of both is essential in order to produce healthier and more environmentally-friendly foods. The aim is to guarantee the sustainability of agricultural systems and thereby reduce the impacts of climate change.”


Mr. Ignacio Salguero: "Chemical agriculture only brought me headaches ..." Eight years ago, Ignacio opted to change his conventional agricultural methods and challenged himself to learn about organic farming. Having inherited unbalanced soils, pests and diseases, today he is a benchmark for organic agriculture in the upper basin area, producing numerous food crops in an ecological way. His plot has been visited by public officials, students, people from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Germany, El Salvador, with the objective of witnessing the sustainability measures and soil conservation practices developed there.


"Agroecological agriculture is life, it is health, it is wellbeing, it is family integration, it is quality of life and this is not found in wealth, but in peace, tranquillity, stability, security, better markets, reductions in production costs. And this has allowed me to overcome the financial crisis that chemical agriculture left me... Today I go to sleep content and can work at my own pace."


Mr. Noé Alvarenga: "Plan Trifinio and IUCN gave us pine trees and cypresses to plant ... which help to protect the water spring that is used to irrigate four productive plots; they also gave us 110 avocado trees that we planted in a totally deserted plot. The land was just debris; it was a thicket. Today it is awesome! Today it is already a demonstration plot. The avocado has strengthened us; it helps the environment and helps us financially."

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MARTACLAUDIA.PEREZ_36296's picture

Marta Pérez de Madrid

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Comisión Trinacional del Plan Trifinio