Since I began working with SHI, so much has changed in my life, especially now that I understand things such as how to use chicken manure and rice husks for fertilizer. My field trainer, Daysbeth, has shown me how to ferment this into a liquid mix that is very hot at first, but after ten days it is ready to be used.
This year we planted a small coffee plantation using terraces with very large holes. We filled the holes with the chicken manure and rice husk fertilizer and mixed with good soil. It is really helping the coffee seedlings to grow.
We are also creating compost with all of our waste from the kitchen, along with the leaves that we sweep up in the yard.
With the help of SHI, I now have a small chicken coop and have begun selling eggs in a small shop that I opened. This has helped me to keep sending my daughter to school to finish her secondary classes.
I am very grateful for your support of SHI. I can’t tell you how happy I am. I hope my neighbors will have the same fate as I do and can be helped in the same way.
How can you help? Join us on our Smaller World Honduran Coffee Tour, or give a Reforest a Family Farm Gift of Hope to your friends and family!
Hello, My name is Maria Auxiliadora Alvarez. I am 45 years old and am married to Alfredo Lezcano. We live in the Nueva Alianza Community in Nicaragua with one of our children (the other three are grown and live in other communities).
My name is Julia Cucul, and I am living in the village of Dolores in Belize. My family and I are very happy to see the work that has been ongoing with Sustainable Harvest International in our village.
Before joining SHI program I was in a woman’s group and we were given a lot of false promises by a lot of different organizations, but nothing came to pass. I asked to do some small projects but we could not get any assistance.
I was promised by other NGOs that they would help with gardening, but most only made one visit and then never showed up again. It happened that SHI reach the village of Dolores one day, and we all thought that it was just another pipe dream. It wasn’t so… SHI came and stayed and is doing a lot of wonderful work here in my little village.
Sixta Alonzo, age 56, lives with her mother Maria Anacleta in Panama and began working with SHI five years ago. She has spent this time reforesting, cultivating her own plots of coffee, corn, plantains, yuca, and ñame (another root vegetable). The generosity of our supporters continues to allow Sixta and her mother to improve their health while restoring the environment for future generations.
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
Author: Stephanie Deutsch, Smaller World Volunteer
It was our first morning in La Majada, a tiny village in the mountains of Honduras, and we were walking with our local guides from the one-room, cinderblock schoolhouse up a steep, verdant hill to visit Don Virgilio Hernandez, an elderly man in a wide hat with a warm, almost toothless grin, and Noé, a young farmer proud of the radishes he had raised using newly learned organic farming techniques. We passed several tiny adobe cottages with red tiled roofs, a simple chicken coop, and a concrete outdoor sink with a washboard next to clothes hanging on a line. Everywhere there were chickens – roosters strutting and crowing, hens of all colors and sizes pecking the ground, shepherding scores of chicks. As I snapped a picture of the chickens, Gloria, the pretty young teacher with her own flock of young girls in uniform blue skirts and white blouses following the foreigners with interest, asked me, “Don’t you have chickens in your country?” Well, yes, I told her we do, but we don’t see them very much. We’re city people.
We're 14 women, 11 of us from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C., visiting Honduras with Sustainable Harvest International. One might question how effective 14 middle-aged women, none of us farm girls, would be at advancing the mission of SHI, but there was another concept underlying the partnership – the idea that women enjoy relating to other women and that this natural affinity would, somehow, serve the missions of both organizations.
We visited two small villages near Trinidad, Honduras spending time working with SHI staff members on agricultural projects in the mornings, and visiting with the women of the villages in the afternoons. The agricultural work was, in a way, the easy part. We would help to create gardens on steep hillsides, mix dirt, ash, manure and yeast to create organic fertilizer, pot tiny seedlings for people in the villages to take home with them. We would follow directions. Spending time with the women was more of a challenge. Some in our group spoke little Spanish; conversation might not flow.
And since this time together had been our idea, we would be giving, not following, directions. We decided to focus our visits by inviting the women to do two craft projects with us – embellishing plain cloth tote bags with sewing, embroidery, fabric paint and appliqués, painting and decorating small, wooden picture frames. We took cameras and small printers to give each woman a picture of herself to put in the frames. Before heading to Honduras, we visited a local Spanish-speaking senior center to practice. The enthusiasm of the women there sent us on our way with high hopes.
We arrived in Honduras with not just our own backpacks and rolling suitcases, but with seven enormous bags bulging with frames, fabric, buttons, tote bags, glue, sewing kits, scissors, paint and materials to donate to the primary schools. By mid-week it was clear that the women in both villages were enjoying the projects. As our SHI guide had warned us, each afternoon there were more of them than there had been the day before. And it was not just women, of course, who flocked to the schoolhouses where we met. Each day there were men looking through the windows and children scampering everywhere.
On our last day in the villages, each of our groups attempted a conversation just with the women. Over the din of children playing outside, we gave simple information about ourselves – “Me llamo Stephanie; vivo en Washington, DC; soy casada; tengo tres niños” – and invited our new Honduran friends to do the same. Each group had one native speaker in it. The Hondurans were interested in what we did (we counted a priest, a teacher, a psycho-analyst and retired government workers among our number) and in the fact that we had, to their minds, so few children. They said they all voted, but they were not enthusiastic about their current mayor because he planned to eliminate a kindergarten class for lack of funding.
Our translators were kept busy facilitating the exchange, but none was needed when one of the women from our group, noting the lack of electricity in most of the village homes, innocently asked, “What do you do in the evenings in your villages when there is no light?” Without hesitation, all the women in the room began to laugh. There is much, much more to say and understand about each other, but a moment of shared laughter is surely a good place to start.
The way we work with Sustainable Harvest in the community is as a collective unit. What this means is that we now help one another on our land, sharing ideas, harvests, successes and failures. From day to day and week to week, the groups of families perform rotations, whereby no one family plot is worked on more than twice in one week. During the planting and harvesting of crops, rotations are at their peak.
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Voices from the Field