For more than a century, Honduras has been defined by its banana plantations and other monoculture cash crops produced for export. These commercial operations dominate the narrow but fertile coastal plains.
Honduras is also known for its beautiful but rugged mountain terrain that makes up 80 per cent of its territory and is also home to the majority of its people. Small-scale farmers must make their living from the poorer soils of these higher altitudes, where erosion and the effects of climate change are a constant battle. Yet these hillside farms are vital to the food security of Honduras’s rural poor.
Honduras holds great potential. It lies in a biodiversity hotspot, with many native crop varieties, especially of maize and beans. These plant genetic resources are critically important for adaptation to changing climate conditions and building resilience against pests and disease.
The monoculture plantations of the coastal plains, owned by economic elite, produce a limited number of commercial crops and varieties. The commercial seed and plant breeders who supply them have long ignored the needs of Honduran hillside farmers and their relatively small market.
Living far from public services on the poorest quality land, small-scale farmers also tend to be excluded from government-sponsored plant breeding programs and resources. Over time, the diversity and hardiness of native crop varieties, most suitable for Honduran hillside farming, have been neglected.
With a long history of small-scale cultivation, farmers and communities harbour valuable local traditional knowledge of their crops, soils and ecosystems. But they need support.
USC Canada in Honduras
USC Canada works in three regions with more than 500 farmers in 51 communities, finding ways to overcome the challenges of hillside farming through agroecology. Our programs reach thousands more through seed exchanges and access to locally produced seed stocks.
Today, with USC Canada support, farmers are diversifying and growing more of their own locally adapted crop varieties of beans, maize and other vegetables. This agroecological approach is feeding families, improving nutrition and providing more secure livelihoods.
Participating farmers are constantly experimenting with indigenous varieties, adapting them to their needs such as better cooking and storage traits, greater productivity or higher nutrition. They have bred corn varieties with shorter, sturdier stalks, which are less vulnerable to increasingly extreme winds and rains. And they’re preserving precious soils – strengthening them through terracing, crop rotation, planting nitrogen fixing crops and making their own natural composts and pesticides.
Our Local Partner: FIPAH
The Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH) recognizes farmers as local experts and researchers whose knowledge is essential in the process of identifying problems and finding local solutions.
- WATCH: A short documentary, Saving the Seed, to learn more about FIPAH's work.
FIPAH helps small-scale farmers organize themselves into community-based agricultural research teams, known as CIALs, and partners them with the technical support of FIPAH agronomists. These efforts enable small-scale farmers to conserve a diversity of native seeds and enhance crop varieties that perform well in local conditions and strengthen the resilience of local food systems and farming communities.
As a result, the communities we work with have experienced a dramatic drop in the number of “hunger weeks” – when food runs out before the next harvest: from an average of five weeks a year down to about one week. By using an agroecological approach, these farmers have enhanced biodiversity and increased productivity of local corn varieties by 20-30 per cent, while making these varieties hardier and more adaptable to climate change.
Core Work: Farmer Research Teams (CIALs)
- On-farm conservation of farmer seed varieties
- Secure seed supply through seed reproduction and sale
- Participatory plant breeding
- Community-run seed and gene banks
- Cooperative grain storage systems
- WATCH: The Story of the CIALs, for a brief look at the inner workings of the farmer research teams.