I was standing in a field the other day in rural Honduras, chatting with a farmer named Alexi. Another farmer and neighbor of Alexi's passed around freshly shucked corn on the cob for us to munch on.
Honduras is considered the poorest country in one of the poorest regions, with 63% of the population living in extreme poverty. As poverty is one of the main causes of hunger, the country has the highest proportion of food-insecure people by far in the Central American region.
Alexi was telling me how the increases and general volatility in the price of food made it tough for him to provide for his family. Since he is a farmer I then asked him about growing his own food, and he said that increases in seed and fertilizer prices made it difficult to even grow his own crops to feed his family. Further, since he was pressed for money, he always felt forced to sell what meager output there was right at harvest time — when prices are lowest.
This catch-22 is a real example of how the global food crisis is impacting a Honduran small farmer and exemplifies this year’s World Food Day theme, “Food Prices—From Crisis to Stability.” The theme highlights world hunger and how swings in food prices and basic goods negatively impact those in poverty.
What can be done to break this vicious cycle? A lot, actually. Right now as you are reading this, Episcopal Relief & Development is working with partners around the world in some of the most food-insecure countries to empower farmers to help themselves. In Burundi, farmers are learning to plant using drought-resistant seeds. Farmers in the Philippines are gaining access to micro finance programs to improve their rice production and profits – for example, receiving loans to be able to buy more seed. And in Honduras, Alexi and his neighbors are working with Episcopal Relief & Development to stop hunger by diversifying their agriculture production so that they are less vulnerable to wild price swings.
In partnership with El Hogar Agriculture School, our program enables farmers to have options when confronted with unstable markets and rising prices of staple goods. Alexi and other farmers are learning to implement multiple and diverse agriculture projects concurrently, such as pig raising, kitchen gardening and fruit tree production. In this way, the farmers have alternatives to fall back on when, say, the price of seeds rises too much to be able to plant, but pigs are selling at a premium.
Episcopal Relief & Development is fighting hunger by promoting sustainable development that helps farmers go from crisis to stability and a more certain future.
Matt St. John is a Program Officer with Episcopal Relief & Development.
Photo: Alexi (right) with the foundations of the pig shelter he is building. Raising pigs is one of several options to help his family weather the uncertainty of fluctuating market prices.