The feisty fog-catchers of Chile
IN THE school playground in Los Tomes a lone child, José Ossandón, plays with his emboque, a ball-and-cup game. The eight-year-old is the school’s only pupil. His teacher, Nilda Jimena Gallardo, herself a former pupil, says that enrolment has dropped from 65 when she started teaching 43 years ago. Drought has driven families away, she says. “Only the old remain.”
Los Tomes is an agricultural co-operative, one of 178 in Chile’s Coquimbo region. Nineteen comuneros try to grow wheat and raise sheep and goats on 2,800 hectares (7,000 acres) of semi-arid scrubland. A decade-long drought has made that harder. Hilltop springs where the animals once drank have dried up. As herds shrank and yields fell, farmers’ children moved away to take jobs in cities or at copper mines.
Hope for Los Tomes comes in the form of three 60-square-metre (646-square-foot) nets stretched between poles on a ridge above the community. These atrapanieblas capture droplets from the fog that rolls in from the sea 4km (2.5 miles) away. They trickle down to a pipe, which channels the water to two troughs at the foot of the ridge, from which livestock drink. The banner-like nets can harvest 650 litres (140 gallons) of water a day. “We’re content: it’s produced the results we wanted,” says José Ossandón, the child’s father and the president of the co-operative.