Even though it is our smallest program, SHI-Panama has established itself in the Cocle region of Panama as a preeminent organization working on sustainable rural development. Partnering with local universities and NGOs, Peace Corps Panama and government agencies such as the Panamanian EPA, SHI-Panama has been pivotal in disseminating appropriate technologies, like wood-conserving stoves, and providing training in the core principles of sustainable small-scale farming.
By embracing new ideas, SHI-Panama is altering the face of sustainable agriculture, local markets and more. With the support of SHI business partner, Eco-Libris, the program is organizing bi-monthly “canastas” (or CSA - Community Supported Agriculture as termed in the US) of fresh produce from participants to interested clients in and around Panama City. Currently ten families from El Entradero and others from La Tranquilla, San Pedro and Bella Florida are participating, offering a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, including bananas, plantains, tomatoes, parsley, celery, mustard greens, eggplant and more.
Staff are currently training on ecological and holistic pest management, a more evolved offshoot of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and they are learning concepts related to bio-intensive gardens. Beginning in late winter/early spring, SHI-Panama will begin a comparative analysis of the ecological impact of bio-intensive gardens versus traditional gardens.
Since the Fall 2009, SHI-Honduras has been working closely with field staff to restructure the program based on newly defined goals and outcomes. According to Country Director Yovany Munguia, the new structure provides more incentive for participant families to become sustainable and self-sufficient. In the process of restructuring, SHI-Honduras has assisted families with the installation of over 30 drip-irrigation systems and 330 new mixed gardens featuring vegetables, medicinal plants and fruits. Families are now capable of harvesting nutrient-rich foods through the extended dry season.
Embracing the philosophy of starting small, SHI-Honduras has aided participant farmers, like German Quiroz of El Tablon, to see the results in his home garden necessary to create a much larger garden with commercial purposes. More families are transitioning their backyards from small-scale gardens to intensive systems incorporating sweet peppers, lettuce, cassava, mahogany trees, velvet bean, soy and much more.
SHI-Honduras staff are in the process of testing alternatives to polyethylene tubular biodigesters, and plan to install several prototypes using a synthetic rubber commonly used as pond liner.
Join SHI-Panama this November, exploring the impact of our work on developing vibrant, sustainable economies in rural Panama. Mornings will involve farm tours, visits to local cooperatives, schools and community groups and volunteer projects with SHI's local staff and families. Afternoon workshops will include creative approaches to building sustainability in the workplace and ways your business can be a leader in the global sustainability movement in your community.
Panama's tropical forests are home to more than 10,000 different species of plants and animals. Unfortunately, our planet loses approximately seven species each day! Most of these extinctions take place in the tropics where unique fragile ecosystems are quickly being destroyed by agricultural expansion.
Farmers in Panama are desperate to learn ways that they can grow the food they need to support their families without destroying the environment. Help SHI's field trainers teach techniques that families can use to improve their diets, health and incomes while protecting their natural resources.
Volunteers participating in SHI's Smaller World Service Trips to Panama will travel to the district of Anton where our local staff have been providing training in alternatives to slash-and-burn farming practices since 1998. SHI's Panamanian staff and families are very excited to show volunteers the progress they have made.
Anton is an impoverished district located in the center of the country, northwest of Panama City. The group will be working side-by-side with farmers on a variety of projects that they have requested volunteer assistance with including irrigation systems, gardening, wood-conserving stoves and reforestation. Participants will have the opportunity to do homestays and really experience the way of life in the rural villages. There will also be a weekend excursion to another part of the country which may include visiting the Panama Canal, salsa dancing, snorkeling, hiking and relaxing on the beach.
Business Sponsor Trip - $1,500 per person
These costs include project materials and supplies, liability insurance, rustic dorm accommodations at the work site and double occupancy hotel accommodations when we visit tourist areas, meals, in-country transportation and guide / translation service. In addition, 20% of your program fee is given as a direct donation to the local program. This total DOES NOT INCLUDE airfare, medicine, phone calls, souvenirs, or any additional costs not mentioned.
A deposit of $300 should be sent in with your registration form. The balance $1,200 is due to be paid 60 days prior to the trip departure date. If travel funding is an issue for you, don't hesitate to fundraise for your trip expenses. Visit our fundraising idea page or contact our office for more information.
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.
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
Annie’s Homegrown, a loyal business supporter of SHI, kicked off a major celebration this month to share their success – and their love – with farmers, families and the planet! For every entry into the Annie’s Free Year Sweepstakes, the company will donate 20¢ (up to $20,000) to SHI in support of 20 village school programs.
GoodSpark sponsors the work of SHI field trainers to teach Central American farmers how to grow the food they need to support their families without destroying their environment, and without resorting to farming techniques that damage their own health or the health of their children.
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Voices from the Field