During the past fiscal year, SHI- Panamá expects to graduate 27 families in the communities of Bella Florida, Los Alonsos, La Cabuya, and La Mata, and begin incorporating new families into already participating communities.
Staff have received several trainings in collaboration with APOCHI, a collective of organic producers in Chiriqui, and is introducing families to nutrient dense crops like amaranth (calaloo). Over the next several months, we will be working to integrate various projects according to nutrient flow in order to produce zero waste. Systems will vary but consist of pig pens, duck and fish ponds, vegetable gardens and rice paddies.
During the last fiscal year ’09, we converted 174 acres to sustainable land use, installed more than 45 wood-conserving stoves, and provided direct market access for families through various local farmers markets and fairs.
SHI-Nicaragua continues its development of the Demonstration Farm in Bluefields. We recently broke ground on the main office/ dormitory structure, and are in the process of creating an integrated farm plan that will feature garden plots where local street children can plant vegetables and enjoy the nutritious harvest. Several families in the Kukra River zone are expected to graduate soon and we will begin work with more families. With the support of several organizations and local universities, we have developed new techniques to improve soil fertility and crop production.
Recently, we improved market access for families by installing a farm stand in Bluefields where families from Kukra River can sell their produce. The farmer’s market occurs every 15 days, and offers a wide variety of products including more than 30 vegetable and fruit varieties, organic compost, biofertilizer and more.
SHI’s largest program continues to grow, with plans to begin work with communities in the area surrounding Sulaco, Yoro. Scheduled to initiate work in Sulaco in October of 2009, the incorporation of an additional 50 families will provide the program with a total of 585 families for the new fiscal year.
As the program grows, so does the level of work and projects being implemented. We organized and trained several families on the sustainable rearing of dairy goats, and the production and marketing of goat cheeses. The facility to process and sell cheese is still underway and expected to market its first products in the coming months. At the conclusion of last fiscal year, SHI-Honduras had converted roughly 111 acres to sustainable and organic land use, and installed 699 gardens (approximately 512 vegetable, 106 fruit, and 81 medicinal gardens).
In the last year, SHI-Belize has successfully planted 80,000 multi-use trees on over 350 acres. With the support of SHI’s field trainers, the program’s 323 participants have further honed their skills and understanding of sustainable agriculture. We worked with families to integrate pig pens with fish ponds in order to recycle nutrients and waste, and minimize contamination of the local environment.
Country Director, Nana Mensah, and staff have been developing training curriculum for staff and participant families. As a result of much hard work, the program was recently selected to be the recipient of a grant from Annie’s Naturals to fund one full-time field trainer to work closely with schools in Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. Educating the youth of Southern Belize on the benefits of sustainable agriculture and livelihoods is the next step to creating a healthy, sustainable community in Belize.
Written by Kevin Johnson
Does SHI’s work address the United Nations’ new goals?
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development
The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals are an unprecedented, collaborative global effort to improve quality of life around the world. These eight goals are meant to serve as focal points for the work of organizations like SHI, who are engaging directly with some of the most vulnerable people on the planet to help them meet their most basic challenges.
SHI proudly addresses several of these goals at once, with an emphasis on an integrated vision of sustainability. Take Millennium Development Goal #1, for example: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. SHI’s efforts to sustainably improve production of staple crops (corn, beans, rice, cassava) while also diversifying traditional food production systems (incorporating fruit trees, non-traditional vegetable crops, etc) provide a more accessible, varied and healthy food base for participating families. SHI’s extension program emphasizes the use of local, natural resources – such as animal waste, kitchen scraps, ash, leaf litter and native leguminous cover crops – decreasing families’ dependence on harmful chemical fertilizers which also erode their economic independence. At the same time, by promoting organic agriculture methods, SHI is making great strides in ensuring environmental sustainability in our work sites (MDG # 7), improving maternal health (MDG #5), and even reducing child mortality (MDG #4). It is hard to fully assess the extent of our impact on our beneficiary communities, but without doubt, it is far-reaching.
One response to the UN’s call to “eradicate poverty” has been a renewed focus on the “green revolution”, which puts its confidence in large-scale, non-organic production of pest-resistant staple crops in order to maximize yields. Unfortunately, small-scale subsistence farmers must rely on selling a large portion, if not all of their products in order to recover their investment in genetically- modified seed, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Too often the harvest is not consumed by its farmers, who have already put their health and the integrity of their environment in jeopardy in this new production system. Families become distanced or entirely cut off from the inputs of production, as well as the outputs.
In contrast, there are a wealth of social benefits to SHI’s work. The focus of our extension program is unequivocally on the well- being of the participant families, and making their lifestyles and production systems more fruitful and sustainable. Because SHI participants have been able to increase production on their land to the point of selling product to neighbors or local markets, many have enthusiastically reported that they are able to afford the cost of sending their kids to school (MDG #2). Also, since men often leave home for work, many women engage with SHI Field Trainers and become the primary caretakers and beneficiaries of projects like family gardens, wood-conserving stoves, and chicken coops. Some of the community loan funds SHI supports are comprised only of women, empowering them to invest their funds based on their needs and skills (MDG #3).
At SHI, we proudly put into practice the idea that success is measured in sustainability, and that these different issues are all aspects of the same challenge. We’re happy to be doing our part and providing a model for organizations to emulate in other parts of the world.
Author: Peter Zinn
Among the most impoverished countries in Central America – where basic human rights and fair governance rarely extend beyond the wealthy class – Honduras ranks as one of the region’s most destitute. An estimated eighty percent of the population, nearly six million people, lives below the poverty line. As staggering as that figure is, more than fifty percent of Hondurans reside in rural areas, where they’re unlikely to be included in any of the country’s already troublesome statistics.
The perpetually overlooked class of rural, indigenous women stands particularly at risk to the effects of poverty. Exposures to disease and chemicals, as well as low life expectancies, are simply facts of life in many of the country’s villages. In addition to physical dangers, the ways in which women are viewed in society continue to marginalize their opportunities for improvement. Even their significant work in agriculture, though a lifeline within small communities, is considered more a social duty than a vocation fit to play an economic role.
Through the work of Sustainable Harvest International, women in Honduras have been given access not only to aid, but more crucially, to empowerment. SHI’s community loan funds and micro-credit programs currently manage over $45,000 within a group of rural banks. Micro-Credit Specialist, Lili Andrade, leads these initiatives. “We are not just giving a loan,” explains Lili. “We are providing families with hope for a better life.”
As the women of rural Honduras are typically responsible for child care within the family, as well as the provision of food, Lili’s work exemplifies the commitments of SHI towards relieving the harms of gender imbalance. Beginning with 12 rural banks in 2001, SHI has granted more than 1,500 loans to over 1,000 families. These community loan funds carry interest rates agreed upon by lenders and borrowers, structuring payments on a case by case basis. As money is borrowed by community members and then repaid to a shared fund, interest income is retained within a network of neighbors. Not only does this system help strengthen the banks, but because of the personal nature of accountability, default rates are kept exceptionally low, with nearly 100% repayment from participants.
On average, SHI will provide start-up capital of $700 for a group of 10 rural bank members to put toward projects such as starting general stores or purchasing land – both of which help create food sovereignty. The micro-credit loans are smaller, commonly about $100 each, and are made to individuals seeking to buy specific goods, such as livestock, feed, or other farming supplies. These loans are repaid each year, at which time the money is then put towards a subsequent round of lending.
As much as Lili’s work benefits Honduran families (and in turn the women who often lead those families), her example sets a precedent of financial independence being available to anyone, regardless of gender. The first female to work on the field staff of SHI-Honduras, Lili received training through local programs and Trickle-Up (an organization that has partnered with SHI for micro-finance and small business development programs). Over the years she has established and led successful micro-finance programs for participants. By teaching basic bookkeeping and management skills, Lili enables participants to start their own rural banks and small businesses. Not only does her instruction benefit participants, but for many of the families that SHI serves, the fact that Lily is a Honduran woman who has achieved so much herself, is an added inspiration. The projects she helps initiate – small stores, sewing cooperatives, animal husbandry, and bakeries – are often run by rural women.
“My work, to reach the poorest families and to give these families access to loans, is full of challenges,” Lili explains. “The people who need our support have very few resources and sometimes in a group there will be only one person who has finished elementary school. Small farmers here do not have access to conventional loans, but with just a little seed money and training they can really improve their lives.” As evidence of the progress Lili has made, SHI’s rural banking program now extends to 28 communities throughout Honduras.
IN HER OWN WORDS
Now that I know how to cultivate organically, I am thinking about increasing the quantity and variety of vegetables so that our garden is always producing something, for our daily diet and to sell at market. SHI has taught us that the best way to rise out of poverty is to have a self-sustaining farm. - Elvia Ayala, 59 years
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