Opinion: Farming the Way Out of Poverty in Honduras

  • by Mauro Teodori (tegucigalpa)
  • Inter Press Service

As a resident in the second poorest country in Latin America, Salomón has often found it a struggle to survive. Like many living in rural areas, his daily income could be as little as USD1.25 per day, or even less when prices dropped or a new disease ravaged his crop. Farming often seemed a hopeless endeavour.

But in the four years since the USAID-ACCESO project came to his small town of Yamaranguila, Salomón has become more than a farmer, he has become an entrepreneur.

"First we learnt about preparing the soil," Salomón tells us. The farmers in Yamaranguila had been preparing the soil in the same way for decades, without knowing which minerals were deficient, and therefore which to apply, and when. Now he has the knowledge to keep his soil nutrient-rich.

Second, Salomón and his neighbors were taught how to combat the various pests and diseases that had destroyed their crops in recent years. "Nowadays there are a number of different pests," he says.

"The trainers come to inspect the plants and if they notice any insect we don't know, they tell us. They also advise when we need to apply a pesticide."

Access to crop protection products has been a game charger for Salomón. Before, an attack from a pest or disease meant that a whole harvest could be wiped out, leaving him with nothing to sell in the market and without an income.

Now, the farmers have not only been taught how to apply the right products at the right times, but they are also able to handle the products responsibly, taking care of their own health and the health of the environment. As farming is a profession that needs nature to survive, farmers have also been taught how to safely dispose of chemical containers at a local collection point.

All this has been made possible through a public-private partnership between the crop protection industry and USAID. CropLife Latin America provided their experts and training materials to instruct 120 field agronomists from the USAID-ACCESO project, including the expert who visits Salomón every Tuesday.

In recent years, public funding to agricultural training and extension services has declined, and organizations like CropLife Latin America and USAID have been stepping in to fill the gap. Through the partnership with CropLife alone, 30,000 farmers have been reached with technical assistance. And the need for their help will continue.

"The issue of pests is always changing," Salomón tells us. "There are always diseases that you don't know, so we always need help". Recent research has suggested that warming temperatures have enabled pests to survive in previously unsuitable regions, and farmers in Honduras have felt increasingly under attack. So monitoring the situation is going to be essential as the project moves into its next phase.

It's not just yields that have increased thanks to USAID-ACCESO, 3,000 jobs have been created through increased sales and market demand for the farmers' produce. Actual sales by farmers involved in USAID-ACCESO increased by $28 million between 2013 and 2014.

This included basic grains, horticulture, animal production, processing and small businesses activities. Connections to local markets have helped farmers select and sell their best produce for the best price.

With his increased income, Salomón wants to increase the reach of his business. "I am investing in buying more fertilizer and more seeds, so that I can grow more," he said.

When these interventions are coupled with health initiatives, the results can be even more impactful. USAID-ACCESO created a Healthy Households initiative that combined hygiene and nutrition training with traditional agriculture extension activities. Families learned to prepare nutrient-rich meals, incorporate better sanitation practices, and more closely monitor children's weight and growth. As a result of these efforts, the prevalence of underweight children under 2 dropped by 50 percent in project communities.

Salomón's story is indicative of the fact that when give the right tools, technologies and knowledge, people will be spurred to drive their business forward, and pull themselves, their families, and communities out of poverty.

Building on more than 15 years of experience in Honduras – including five years implementing USAID-ACCESO – Fintrac is continuing to provide these skills and technologies to farmers in some of the most impoverished parts of the country through two follow-on projects.

Under the first, MERCADO, more than 18,000 clients are receiving technical assistance and training in agriculture and nutrition. The companion project, Alianza para el Corredor Seco, is working with an additional 18,000 clients in the southern dry corridor. Approximately half of the current beneficiaries are former ACCESO clients, ensuring the valuable lessons learned and strides made are carried on to the next generation of farmers.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

© Inter Press Service (2015) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service