First world countries like the United States have developed infrastructures, strong economies and reliable agricultural systems allowing its citizens to consume what they want, when they want.
UPR’s agricultural reporter Bronson Teichert traveled to Honduras to speak with farmers about what it costs them to supply the U.S. with commodities like coffee all year round.
The ideal conditions for coffee beans to thrive are found around the world along the equatorial zone called “The Bean Belt,” located between the latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South. Farmers in Honduras harvest coffee from October to February, so about four to five months. While we are drinking coffee year-round, how do the farmers who grow the beans pay the bills or have enough money to buy food for the rest of the year?
Candida Lopez Garcia and her two sons Pedro and Alberto grow coffee in Opatoro, an area close to the coffee cooperative in Marcala I’ve talked about in earlier stories. When I visited the Garcia farm, the oldest son Pedro was harvesting coffee beans at a field at another location. Their small, cement house and storage sheds were on top of one of the many mountains in the southeast region of Honduras. It wasn’t like a typical farm in the United States, nestled in a valley with level land. The family garden was on uneven ground which can be difficult to grow food while retaining water and soil.
Alberto and his mother are working with a non-governmental organization called International Development Enterprises or iDE. Local representatives train farmers like the Garcia family to install drip irrigation systems and follows up on all the installations.
“Before we were using a hose for irrigating and had to go from plant to plant,” Alberto said. “With the drip system we save time and water. We are growing malanga, tree fruits, avocado, yucca, radish, cucumber, fish and coffee.”
The Garcia family learned to grow living barriers to retain water and soil. Their crops grow on steps that rise and fall with the naturally uneven ground. At the edge of each step, plants with wide leaves create a fence to stop erosion. Now, this family of farmers can better preserve the land and grow food.
Better food and extra money after the coffee harvest are simple but important factors keeping Candida and her family in Honduras. Living conditions high in the mountains of central America are not easy, but being surrounded by highly demanded coffee and living in the upper watershed is easier than people who live in lower elevations.
Jose Luis is an agriculture climate smart facilitator for iDE. He knows the many of the people iDE works with along with the programs helping them improve their lives. He said access to water changes everything.
“There is a difference between the upper watershed and lower watershed,” Luis said. “In that area in the upper part, they are not really leaving or immigrating the U.S. because they can keep farming. In the lower part of the lower watershed where it’s a lot dryer many of their sons have left. In this area they are really not used to immigrate to the U.S. if they leave the area it is to harvest coffee in another area.”
Jose Luis said conservation in the upper watershed by farmers like the Garcia family impact people in the lower watershed. He is seeing improvements in the lives of farmers around Opatoro, but wants farmers in lower elevations to have opportunities like Candida.
“We are able to buy other things like clothes and things for the kitchen in Marcala,” Candida said. “We are saving money because we don’t have to buy as much food and are earning money because we are selling.”
One of their main customers are local schools. Before, children were eating corn, beans and rice for lunch. Now the schools are buying fruits and vegetables from local producers to improve the diets of children. The Garcia family is growing diverse crops for themselves and enough to make a profit and experiment with sources of protein.
“I’m proud of my garden because now I can sell the excess,” Candida said. “I also have the fish pond and the chicken house.”
Chickens, are common in Honduras but now the Garcia family can afford better breeds of chickens and a safe place to keep them. Fish, or tilapia in this case, are not so common in the mountains of Honduras. Having this extra source of protein with more varieties of crops is a huge improvement in their diets and their lives.
“It is important for my sons to continue farming so they don’t have to buy food and will have a better life.”
Next time in my series about agriculture in Honduras, I’m going to dive deeper into the water issues Hondurans are facing and how water is impacting immigration to the U.S.