Food Security Initiative
Originally, 2020 was intended to be the third and final year of the CoHI Pilot Program before determining whether to expand or abandon the program. We covered the initial impact of COVID on the programs activities in our previous CoHI update. Program staff began this year by providing training on local project identification and prioritization. However when local supply chains were temporarily disrupted, we quickly shifted our focus to emergency food distribution alongside local communities and government agencies. Following an initial round of food distributions, we began planning for a more sustainable approach to bolster local food security.
In order to maintain our commitment to asset-based community development and empowerment of local community members, this CoHI food security initiative differs significantly from a traditional food security or agricultural development initiative. A traditional project might provide training and resources (such as improved seed varieties or new crop types) to local community members and then guide them through the cultivation and harvesting process in order to ensure food security for individual families within a community. Within this traditional paradigm, a family's continued access to food is paramount to other considerations such as local input/ideas, community unity, participation, and long-term project sustainability.
In contrast, the CoHI food security initiative turns those priorities around, although in the end, both are obviously very important. The CoHI food security initiative prioritizes community empowerment and long-term project sustainability over immediate issues such as food access. Although this may seem callous or wanton initially, it is important to note that we are not choosing one or the other - we still work on both fronts. However, when push comes to shove, and we arrive to a moment when we need to choose between a) "highest food production possible" and b) "highest level of community participation and empowerment possible" we will go with option b.
So, how does this look in practice?
Away from the hillside cornfields, it all begins with basic communication and is developed through dialogue. The CoHI communities expressed to us that they were deeply concerned about rising food prices and basic food access issues, and we began to work alongside them towards a sustainable solution. Some staff had an initial (admirable and rational) reaction to bring in a Honduran agricultural engineer who then proposed that we provide communities with improved seeds, agricultural inputs, and remote training on the most productive methods to raise corn and beans (which form the backbone of the staple, rural Honduran diet). Local producers would have then worked collectively on shared parcels and distribute the harvest among the community's families.
However, instead of proceeding with this top-down, outside-in plan, we decided instead to start with a conversation about local resources and abilities - just as we have so many times along this road of holistic development.
With government permission and health precautions, HTH staff members Fredy and Otto visited the communities to meet with local leaders about what they felt like they (as a community) could do and what we (as a supporting organization) could do to help with their steadily-rising concerns about food security. Through the course of these facilitated conversations, a novel, locally-developed, holistic solution emerged.
Community members felt confident that their pre-COVID seed stock was viable and adequate. Indeed by the time we held formal conversations with them in May, some had already begun to plant. Communities decided that they would provide all seeds, labor, and tools. Instead of working collectively on a communal plot, farmers would each work their own parcels. HTH would provide all other inputs (fertilizer, herbicide, etc). In order to care for the vulnerable members of their community that were unable to participate in the project, each farmer signed an agreement to turn over an amount of grain equal in value to the value of the inputs that they each received. If an individual farmer received $250 worth or fertilizer, that same farmer would donate $250 worth of grain (at market value at the time of harvest) to the community. Heart to Honduras is paying experienced local welders to fabricate simple silos to house this grain, which will be distributed to each community.
Now the question arose - how should the grain be distributed to community members? Logically, each participant in the program would have their own grain. Though the growing season is still underway, initial impressions are suggesting potential bumper crops at harvest time. Since many producers have normally been unable to purchase adequate agricultural inputs due to familial economic restrains, their harvests have not historically achieved their full potential. This improved access to inputs may potentially provide each farmer with an exceptional harvest (though this is yet to be determined). Each program participant's family should receive adequate harvest to ensure their family's food security for the next few month. However, the program was lacking a strategy for how should grain collection and redistribution to the community's most vulnerable residents.
Once again, we were initially tempted to provide community leaders with a detailed collection, management, and redistribution plan. However, once we pumped the brakes and asked ourselves how we might empower communities in even this part of the process, we came up with a different solution. We provided each Community Development Commission (democratically elected representatives of local community-based organizations) with the challenge to develop a plan of action. This means providing the community with a set of questions instead of a set of answers. What kind of questions? Here are some examples:
- Which (community) voices will you listen to in this process in order to ensure a variety of ideas are considered?
- How will you identify and select vulnerable individuals and families to receive this grain?
- How do you plan to distribute these grains in the most just way?
- How much will each family receive?
- How will you track and record inventory and distributions?
- Will any amount be saved back for later or sold?
- What would happen to any proceeds?
We also provided participants with a variety of examples and sub-questions to provoke additional ideas and help clarify each question. In addition, we also included some logistical recommendations for measuring each harvest and storing it together in a central location in order to lend additional formality to one of the most potentially-contentious stages of the progress. Now, in this month of August, each team has drafted an initial version of their food security plan and have already submitted their initial drafts. These drafts are full of fascinating ideas as well as significant holes.
At the very center of the community of Las Lomitas is the soccer field - in both a geographic and social sense. Nearly every evening, people of all ages congregate on or near the field to socialize or play futbol. Until a couple of years ago, the field was extremely bumpy and unlevel - a problem that was remedied by a large community / HTH / municipality project to build a large retaining wall and level out the field. Unfortunately, after the municipal grading machines pulled away, the field was still quite less than level. Now, a few years later, the community and HTH convinced the government to return with the machines to finish the job.
However, once the machines left this time, disappointment were once again in their wake. Only this time it was much worse. Not long after the field was finished, a massive storm hit, and the new leveling did not allow for the water to drain adequately from the corner where it now accumulated.
We were heartbroken along with the community that such tragedy would strike in the middle of the COVID pandemic - but their resilience and unity shone through. Las Lomitas decided to rebuild, only this time with stone, leaving larger drainage areas. They would provide all of the stone and the labor, and asked HTH to support with cement. Before long they were back on track.
But they did not stop working once they cleaned the sides of the road. They have also been working with the municipal government to rework the seriously eroded sections of their primary road in order to improve access to and from town.
Finally, the community council (patronato) has continued to doggedly pursue proper formalization and legal constitution, and even went to the local municipal office in the midst of the pandemic in order to be sworn in for their new term. We applaud and encourage this dedication to a formal and functional local government.
Pastora Jesus from Caliche joined several other women in the HTH Juntos (Together) campaign of unity by hand-embroidering promotional bandanas for use in the campaign in the United States. Instead of purchasing bandanas in the US, HTH employed Honduran women to produce 200+ bandanas by hand, providing income in a vulnerable moment for several families.
These bandanas do not only represent the "togetherness" of our United States and Honduran staff, communities, and partners, but also empowerment for many women who were able to support their families at a time when income is scarce and their partners (who would traditionally be the family breadwinners) may have been unable to work. This was a significant opportunity for women like Jesus, and we are proud to partner with them and celebrate their artistic ability and human dignity.