At 57 years old, María Salomé Rosales is nearing the age when many people might be considering retirement. But as a new leader in her farming community, the grandmother of three and mother of eight is only getting started.
María has worked alongside her husband, Martín, for over 40 years on their farm in the El Paraíso department of southern Honduras. The name of the area means “paradise”–and indeed, the lush rolling hills provide an ideal setting for growing the beans that provide much of the family’s income.
But despite this, María’s family often faced “an uncertain future,” she says. “We had little knowledge of the cultivation of beans as we were getting quite low yields…we did not have a good market in which to sell the product.”
Food Insecurity in Honduras
María’s problem is not uncommon in Honduras, a country of almost 10 million people with one of the most unequal distributions of income and resources in the world. More than half of its citizens live below the poverty line amid high rates of violence and crime.
In addition, food insecurity and malnutrition have worsened due to droughts in the southern and western regions of the country, known as the Dry Corridor. In these areas, cycles of severe drought or torrential rains can wipe away months of farmers’ work and investment in crops like corn, sorghum, and beans. The COVID-19 pandemic and then Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020 only heightened food insecurity in Honduras.
As a result, a recent analysis conducted in Honduras found that roughly a quarter of analyzed households do not consume a proper diet every day. Low purchasing power and constant rising food prices have also resulted in high rates of malnutrition.
How Farmers in Honduras More Than Tripled Their Harvest
To address problems of low farmer incomes and food insecurity, TechnoServe began working on the problem with the United States Department of Agriculture. Through a consortium with iDE, Fundación para el Desarrollo Empresarial Rural (FUNDER), the Honduran Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock, and Michigan State University, TechnoServe began working with farmers in María’s community and beyond to help them improve their crops and connect to formal markets.
Beans grow well in these communities. However, the farmers were not earning as much as they could due to low crop yields and middlemen who bought beans from them at very low prices.
When María joined the training, the farming techniques she learned helped her nearly double her crop productivity. Before working with Technoserve, she used to get 2,866 pounds of beans from roughly two acres of land, and the same land yields over 5,000 pounds. “I like planting beans because it is a quick harvest crop, and now we can see the fruits,” she says.
The program also helped María make direct market connections–such as with the Honduran Agricultural Market Institute (IHMA), avoiding middlemen who took a cut of the profits. “We have always harvested beans, and they were sold very cheaply,” she says. “Now that we have signed a contract with the IHMA, they pay us a [better], guaranteed price.
When the IHMA sends a truck to the community to collect the beans, farmers from other communities can also bring their beans to sell. And IHMA provides farmers with bags of seed and fertilizer to help them continue achieving strong yields and increasing food security for their families and communities.
How Access to Finance Created “Hope” in Honduras
Accessing savings and credit presents another challenge in rural communities like María’s, but it’s particularly hard for women. They are less likely to legally hold assets, frequently have less power in household financial decision-making, and are less likely to receive training on financial management.
But TechnoServe worked with María and other farmers to establish a rural savings and credit bank, called CRAC La Esperanza (“hope” in English). With 10 of the group’s 21 members women, the savings association is constantly learn about accounting, loans, savings, and more. Members of La Esperanza also make bread and nacatamales to sell in their community, sell beans to the Honduran Agricultural Market Institute (IHMA), and La Esperaza makes loans to its members.
María motivated the members of her community to form the CRAC La Esperanza, and her tireless work resulted in the group organizing itself, obtaining assistance from TechnoServe and others, and obtaining legal status. Because of her leadership and initiative to move her community forward, María was elected to be the president of the CRAC La Esperanza.
“It was not easy to organize us because at the beginning some people were not interested; they said they wanted to continue working as we had always done,” says María. “However, I did not give up and kept inviting them to meetings until we were able to form the CRAC.”
CRAC La Esperanza also has a Field School where farmers learn about the best agronomic practices for bean cultivation. After a community trainer teaches farmers about the theoretical aspects of farming, they go to the field school to apply what they have been taught. The topics follow the crop cycle: soil preparation, seed preparation, planting, pest and disease control, fertilization, harvesting, cleaning, grading, storage and marketing.
Better Crops Provide a Better Life
“With the profits from the beans, I can now buy more food and clothes for my family,” says María. “I hire labor now. I’ve fixed up my house, bought a TV, a set of furniture, and a motorcycle. I hope that my son will continue to farm the land and will be able to have other businesses at the same time.”
María’s family wants to buy pigs, more chickens and cows–and more land on which to grow beans. And the CRAC is planning to start its own farm in the community.
“We have very good communication with the TechnoServe staff and that has made it easy to teach the group,” says María. “We are learning a lot. We feel they have come to revolutionize bean cultivation.”