spacerFirst came the floods. Then came the drought. Despite years of farming experience under his belt, El Ni?o's double assault in 1998 brought 60-year-old Ethiel Brieones of Manabi Province, Ecuador, and many farmers like him, dangerously close to the brink.

"It rained every day for 10 months. Water and mud came down from the mountains," says Ethiel, pointing to the hills behind his farm in the village of Sitio Mej?a. "It almost reached the window of our house."

At least 226 people were killed in the province; 52,000 became homeless.

The rain was followed by months of drought and Ethiel's fields were as grey and hard as cement. He lost his cacao, coconut and lemon crop, along with much of the soil from his once-fertile two hectares.

Experts from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's Special Programme for Food Security (FAO) came at the height of the crisis in the spring 1999. They listened to the farmers affected and made suggestions.

Ethiel was among several farmers who built pilot irrigation systems on areas of his farms. FAO provided pumps and tubing, plus training.

The farmers began using water more economically. They also introduced new varieties of crops that adapt to extreme climatic change and developed inexpensive techniques to add nutrients to the soil.

"These farmers have most of the necessary skills and know-how already," says Napoleon Cede?o, one of the local FAO experts. "We just show them how they can best take advantage of what they've already got."

FAO has Food Security projects that are working to reduce the year-to-year fluctuations in crop production in 64 countries worldwide.

Ethiel's two hectares are green again and growing with papayas, peppers, beans and maize. He is confident that he will sell his bumper crop this year for a large profit, which he plans to invest back into his farm.

"I want to be more prepared for climate changes in the future," he said. "Though I'm too old to go through El Ni?o again if it as bad as the last one."

FIND OUT MORE about the FAO and how the UN works to help people during emergencies such as earthquakes and floods. Go to the link next to Ethiel's photo.