FAIRFAX, Virginia — El Triunfo, a town in Southern Honduras, is found in Central America’s dry corridor. Countries such as Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are also within this area and the region as a whole is subject to long droughts or terrible floods. The changing weather patterns have made it hard for farmers in Honduras to grow their corn, an essential crop to their diet. However, farmers are now planting cashew trees in Honduras where they once grew corn, effectively yielding large sums of the nut that they can sell to feed their families.
The Corn Situation
In 2021, the Honduran government estimated that 73.6% of the population lives in poverty, with 53.7% of households living in extreme poverty. Today, about 40% of the population of Honduras works in agriculture, growing corn, bananas, beans and rice. Since Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America, they don’t have a large exporting capacity and rely mainly on subsistence farming where each family grows enough food to feed themselves. Despite being relatively easy to grow, corn crops are very sensitive to changes in weather and the lack of water experienced by farmers living in El Triunfo has damaged their crops.
Additionally, most plots of land in Honduras operate in a monoculture style where corn is the only crop planted year after year. This practice leads to a depletion of nutrients in the soil and the soil itself becomes exhausted. The World Food Programme (WFP) is trying to decrease food sensitivity rates in countries by teaching farmers to grow multiple crops on the same field to promote diversity.
The Cashew Trees
Farmers in El Triunfo are turning to plant cashew trees in Honduras on the plots of land that previously belonged to corn. Since cashew trees don’t require a lot of water, they are more resistant to the harsh weather in the area, and all parts of the tree can be sold – the wood, fruit, and seeds. In 2017, members of the WFP worked with farmers to teach them how to grow various fruits and vegetables on their land. Thanks to these teachings and mostly female farmers since 20% of rural households are headed by women who work in agriculture, the WFP cooperative began to appreciate the cashew tree more and use it to its full potential.
Etramasot Selling the Seeds
While the cashew trees in Honduras are providing some income to farmers in the dry corridor, they are not as profitable as they could be. Once the nuts are sold to companies they have to be processed and dried in the sun for three days before they are manually cracked open and in the sun again. Machinery to make the entire process faster is expensive but a company in El Triunfo is trying to make the operation easier.
Etramasot was started in 2003 and now helps 92 farmers in El Triunfo by buying the seeds that the farmers grow from the cashew trees. The president, Almi Martinez, has helped these agricultural workers get enough money to buy land, send their children to school, and continue to grow their crops. The business has also helped Honduras’ growing food insecurity crisis where almost one out of three persons has an inadequate food supply. Her company allows more female farmers to earn enough money to support their families, working out the gender gap issue within the agricultural society. Etramasot uses the seeds to make dried cashew fruit and beverages which Martinez wants to start exporting to Europe in order to create more jobs.
A Look Ahead
Even though this new way of farming is still being integrated, the cashew trees in Honduras are exactly the kind of step that the WFP wants countries to take. When a nation that relies heavily on agriculture, like that in Honduras, keeps its farmers planting the same crops over and over there is little to no chance that the economy will ever be able to flourish. By practicing permaculture, the planting of a variety of fruits and vegetables on the same plot, countries will be able to avoid intense crop failure and increase profitability as there is other produce to fall back on.
– Yashavi Upasani