Bean Farmers in Honduras Increase Incomes and Improve Food Security during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the potential for a global food crisis. In Honduras, bean producers play an important role in increasing food security. We talked to Tomás Membreño, chief of party for the MAS 2.0 program, to learn how they are improving their livelihoods and contributing to food security through this crisis.
In Honduras, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed an estimated 250,000 families into food insecurity. In mid-March, the Honduran government closed international borders, restricted movement within the country, and issued a national curfew to reduce the spread of the virus. These measures have significantly impacted people’s jobs and livelihoods — particularly for daily wage laborers who often live hand-to-mouth. Without jobs, many of these people struggle to feed their families, and may risk malnutrition.
One crop plays an outsized role in the food security of the country: beans, which most Hondurans eat on a daily basis, as they are an important and relatively cheap source of nutrients. As the lockdowns continue, people have sought out shelf-stable and economical foods, and the demand for beans has increased significantly. This led to a 60% increase in the price of beans, putting this important food staple out of reach for many consumers who were already experiencing reduced incomes.
Ensuring that bean growers are able to grow and sell their crops is therefore critically important. Since 2013, TechnoServe has been working with bean farmers in Honduras through the Mejoramiento Agrícola Sostenible (MAS and MAS 2.0) programs, a partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture. Tomás Membreño, chief of party for the MAS 2.0 program, discusses the challenges bean producers are currently facing and what TechnoServe is doing to help.
How is COVID-19 impacting the food system in Honduras?
The situation in Honduras is rapidly evolving, as is TechnoServe’s response to the crisis. There is an ongoing national curfew, and individuals are only allowed to leave their homes on designated days, based on the last number of their IDs. Although these restrictions are in place to reduce the spread of the virus, they have also made it more difficult for people to earn a living and access the food they need to survive. For farmers, the situation has made it more difficult for them to grow, sell, and transport their crops.
What are the main challenges farmers are facing?
Farmers in Honduras face many challenges, including low productivity, lack of access to markets, and climate change. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity to these existing problems. Roadblocks and other transportation shutdowns have made it more difficult for farmers to access important inputs, such as fertilizer and seeds. These disruptions have also made it more difficult to transport crops from the farm to markets. In addition, many farmers have not been able to access the technical assistance they need to successfully grow their crops.
What is TechnoServe doing to help?
TechnoServe has been working to improve the competitiveness of bean producers in Honduras by increasing agricultural productivity and quality, improving access to information and high-value markets, developing the capacity of producer organizations, and strengthening local, regional, and international markets. As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, it has become increasingly evident that these bean producers will play an important role in ensuring food security for the country.
To counteract shortages and price increases, the government of Honduras — through the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG) and the Agricultural Marketing Institute (IHMA) — requested assistance from the MAS 2.0 project, with the goal of increasing the supply of beans by approximately 3 million kilograms.
From mid-March to mid-April, bean farmers in the MAS 2.0 program sold 2.5 million kilograms of beans to IHMA — providing approximately 85-90% of Honduras’ total national strategic bean reserves. Equitable agreements between producer organizations and buyers provide producers with better access to formal markets. Producers with a marketing contract have better access to finance and can invest in their farms, resulting in higher productivity, higher incomes, and improved food security. As Maria Rosales, president of the Santa Rosa producer organization, explained, “In our households, we have taken advantage of the sales made to the IHMA. Now we have more income, since before we sold to the intermediary.”