Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. In terms of per capita GDP, at $3,883 Honduras is the third poorest country in the region behind only Nicaragua and Haiti. Worldwide it ranks 106th of 169 countries in the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Over 50% of Honduras’ total population lives in poverty and 35% of Hondurans live in extreme poverty (less than $2/day), with poverty concentrated in the rural areas where half the population of 7.6 million resides.
Agriculture plays a central role in the economy accounting for more than 20% of the gross domestic product, yet many of Honduras’ poorest and most food insecure are farmers. There are many interconnected reasons why the nation’s farm families struggle to make a living, but all are closely linked with a lack of access to social and productive assets and resources and centuries of marginalization and inequality.
Rural families typically cultivate small hillside plots with marginal soils, limited access to the means of production and limited local seed production. Their yields are generally low due to variability in rainfall, inferior seed and poor crop management, ineffective pest and disease control, and inappropriate use of pesticides and fertilizers. Also, because most families live harvest to harvest and rely on agricultural credit for the purchase of new seeds and equipment (to be repaid with funds from the most recent harvest), one lost season can begin a downward spiral that ends in extreme poverty or sending those already in poverty into an even more desperate situation.
Also, due to these challenges, the majority of smallholder farm families have incomes below the minimum wage of approximately $150/month, which does not allow them to buy even the “basic consumer basket” set by the government at less than $2 per person/day. In other words, many families cannot afford to buy food if their farms are not producing enough.
For this reason, and because the global financial crisis has reduced remittances and slashed work opportunities, rising food prices have had a disproportionate effect on poor Hondurans.
Honduras and a number of other Latin American countries have experienced food inflation rates of 10% or more since 2008. Meanwhile, remittances, which historically have accounted for more than 20% of Honduras’ GDP, have plummeted since the international financial crisis began in 2008. In 2009 they fell by more than 11% and the cumulative decline since the crisis began is in the double digits. With prices rising and remittances falling, an increasing number of families are sending members abroad or elsewhere in Honduras to find work.
Finally, land degradation, through over-use, deforestation, and poor agricultural practices, is making the country more vulnerable to climate-related and other natural disasters, which have aggravated the already considerable problems facing the Honduran people.
These factors coupled with the recent political upheaval have made it more urgent than ever for local Honduran organizations to take control of their own development. Vecinos Honduras, an NGO based in Tegucigalpa and a Groundswell partner, is doing just that. Its goal is to facilitate equitable and participative processes of holistic human development with families and organizations in rural communities; promoting the sustainable use of local resources, food sovereignty, moral and cultural values, community health within the framework of the protection of nature and environmental improvement for the benefit of current and future generations. Vecinos Honduras’ approach is based on strengthening local capacity for sustainable development at both the individual and community level and avoiding external dependence.