Across Central America, smallholders in fresh produce supply chains encounter multiple production- and market-related challenges that prevent them from achieving sustainable livelihoods through their farms. Suboptimal agronomic practices and unpredictable weather patterns limit yields on the farm; while high production costs, price volatility, and indirect or informal market connections degrade farmers’ profit margins.

Home to a vibrant trade of horticultural products — and as net exporters of fresh and processed produce — the region presents great potential to service regional and international markets by selling to packing houses and processors. The Smallholder Market Access Program in Central America will address the constraints that hamper small farmers from transforming their farms into more profitable ventures and that prevent buyers from tapping into this rich supply of high-quality product. Funded by the Walmart Foundation and implemented by TechnoServe, the Program will sustainably increase the revenues of 5,000 small farmers in Guatemala and Nicaragua by 2022.

A strategy to build better markets for smallholders

By working with farmers to improve their production and integrate into formal, higher-value market systems, the Smallholder Market Access Program will increase smallholder incomes by at least 20%.

Through training in climate-smart agricultural practices, the Program will bolster farmers’ climate resilience and business outcomes

In recent years, farmers in Central America have experienced shifting weather patterns that have challenged their traditional farming practices. Temperatures have increased and rainfall has become more scarce, with increased incidence of drought punctuated by extreme weather events.

While drought can degrade the quality and yields of crops, extreme rainfall poses its own risks, from waterlogging to increased losses from pests and disease, which thrive in the lingering humidity.

Program teams work with producers to implement climate-smart practices on their farm, helping to tamper the impacts of a changing climate while still increasing the quality and quantity of their harvests.

Climate-smart agricultural training will vary per crop and region, but will focus on:

  • integrated management practices to prevent, monitor, and combat pests;
  • soil and water management techniques—such as cover-cropping and crop rotations—to retain moisture, and mitigate erosion and disease; and
  • post-harvest practices to maintain high quality levels for export markets.

By implementing these practices and connecting with markets that provide greater stability and returns, producers will not only weather the ups and downs of these volatile conditions. but will also improve outcomes for their farms and their families.

Program activities will also help farmers to navigate the acute- and longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic within their value chains

As the COVID-19 pandemic impacts short- and long-term trends for produce markets, TechnoServe is committed to continuing safe and effective support to producer communities. The program is bolstering the resilience of farmers and agribusinesses by helping them to adapt to rapidly evolving demand and operating environments.

Despite limitations caused by the pandemic, the Program has trained more than 2,000 farmers and facilitated successful sales between 15 Farmer Organizations and 3 formal buyers. In order to provide rigorous support while keeping farming communities safe, training is conducted through individual and small-group trainings,* as well as via remote advisory services ranging from innovative digital and audio-visual media, to radio and SMS messaging.

*Always in accordance with government and health norms and regulations.

As part of the strategy to build communities’ resilience throughout the on-going pandemic, the program will also adapt to address the increased demands on women’s time that are likely to arise — such as increased childcare and household work — with the goal of ensuring women’s continued participation in program activities and mitigating negative impacts on family income.

Success Stories

In Nicaragua, Rosa Gonzalez is transforming her aging banana trees into a new opportunity for her farm and family.

Rosa Gonzales didn’t foresee a career in banana farming. Raised in a coffee-producing family in Madriz, Nicaragua, she eventually inherited two manzanas (approximately 1.5 hectares) of her own land and dedicated herself to the crop. She didn’t consider diversifying her production at the time, as no other products seemed to attract sufficient prices to maintain a household income.

But even her coffee income fell short. As temperatures increased over the years, her coffee began to wither, and she planted a canopy of banana trees to provide shade. Occasionally, Rosa would sell her banana by the branch when informal middlemen (coyotes) passed through her community. As a single mother, she decided to supplement her income by picking up a job as a seamstress in town, adding long commutes to her already full days.

Despite these challenges, Rosa pushed herself to do more. In addition to her nine-year old son, Rosa and her mother also provide for her nephew. The four of them live together in a floorless adobe home without electricity or water, and she has big plans for her family unit. “I want to provide [them] the best education that I can,” she explains. Rosa became a Coffee Promoter for her Producer Organization, and began studying to become an agricultural engineer. Characteristically unruffled, she says, “It’s a challenge to raise my son alone, but I know that, even though it’s difficult, I’m capable of achieving good results and moving my family forward.”

So it’s not surprising that when she heard of the Smallholder Market Access Program, Rosa immediately recognized an opportunity. “TechnoServe awakened our interest in bananas,” she explains. “It’s a good option to provide shade for my coffee, and through the program we’ve realized it’s also a commercial product with a lot of market potential. It can help us to increase our incomes throughout the year, since it can be harvested year-round.”

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rosa has lost clients as a seamstress, but she is motivated to focus on her farm. She plans to switch out her aging, unorganized banana plantings for the Gros Michel variety, which is sweeter and has more commercial demand.