ANNANDALE, New Jersey — From the skyscrapers of Panama City to the lush jungles of Belize, Central America is a very diverse region. However, one phenomenon common to the isthmus is the Dry Corridor.
What is the Dry Corridor?
The Dry Corridor is a region of Central America that severe drought and torrential rainfall affects. In recent years, these extreme weather conditions have only intensified.
Although the Dry Corridor stretches across all of Central America, it is particularly acute in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 10 million people live in the Dry Corridor’s harshest regions.
Most communities in the dry region live off of subsistence farming. Many families rely on growing grain crops such as maize and beans. However, this traditional agrarian method has become intractable due to protracted drought and sudden barrages of precipitation. Thus, these harsh environmental circumstances have exacerbated the living conditions of Central American communities across the Dry Corridor. According to World Food Program (WFP), this has resulted in food insecurity for around 1.4 million people living in the torrid region.
Despite these formidable obstacles, many families have overcome climate-related poverty. Three stories in particular serve as a source of optimism and show how communities can thrive in challenging situations.
An Innovative Cooperative
In El Triunfo, Honduras, the Dry Corridor was quickly making corn-based agriculture unsustainable. Lucia Alvarez, a resident of El Triunfo, explained the dire situation to The Guardian in 2022. “There was no rain. Then, on the few occasions it did rain, it would pour and ruin all the crops.”
In 2017, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) visit to El Triunfo quickly brought change to the community. Representatives from the philanthropic organization taught town members new agricultural techniques which enabled the Honduran community to adapt to changing weather patterns. In response to the WFP’s work in El Triunfo, a group of 38 individuals, including Alvarez, coalesced to create the innovative cooperative: Caja Rural 15 de Enero.
The organization’s goal was to transition their community’s agricultural practices from corn to a more versatile form of produce: namely, cashew trees. According to The Guardian, cashew trees are more resilient than grain crops like corn. While corn easily exhausts the soil, cashew trees add nutrients to the soil and are more lucrative for the community. The trees produce wood, seeds and fruit; all of which people can consume or sell.
While Caja Rural 15 de Enero is still in its incipient stages of development, the transition to cashew trees has been a boon to the community. The efforts of women like Alvarez also give hope to those living in the Dry Corridor.
The House of Gold
In neighboring El Salvador, the WFP also developed community initiatives to combat climate-related poverty. In 2018, members of the WFP traveled to the region of Cacaopera, one of the driest areas of the Central American nation. Like El Triunfo, Cacaopera’s soil did not support traditional grain crops. Rather than introducing a new form of produce, the WFP taught residents of the Salvadoran community hydroponics technology.
The WFP’s outreach in Cacaopera is an offshoot of its “H2Grow” initiative which brings hydroponics technology to disadvantaged communities around the world. This cultivation technique enables less water and faster growth rates than conventional agriculture. Most importantly, the novel technology does not require the infertile soil endemic to the Dry Corridor.
Residents of Cacaopera used hydroponics technology to construct a greenhouse. They called it “La Casa de Oro” – the house of gold, the WFP reported. Since the greenhouse’s inauguration, Salvadorans of the once barren region have benefited from a reliable income and a steady food supply.
A Family Trade
Moisés Rivera from El Dormitorio, Honduras used to cross the border into El Salvador to earn money. He said, “I spent a lot of time in El Salvador because there was no work here.” However, Rivera recalled that he often encountered thieves on his journey back to Honduras who would steal his hard-earned income from his labors in El Salvador.
After about three years of the precarious trek, Rivera decided that he would make a living in his native El Dormitorio. He entered the pottery trade which his mother, Elvia Martínez, introduced to him, World Food Programme (WFP) Insight reported. Rivera’s novel profession provided him with a safer environment and more profitable business than his onerous labor in the Salvadoran countryside.
Soon after Rivera joined the pottery vocation, several of his relatives joined the pottery business making it a family trade. The familial ceramics business revitalized and brought hope to the small community. Like the cashew tree cooperative and the hydroponics house of gold, the ceramics trade of El Dormitorio continues to be a burgeoning business model in the desolate region of the Dry Corridor.
A Reason for Hope
These three stories from Central America’s Dry Corridor give hope to those living in impoverished areas worldwide. The three communities of El Triunfo, Cacaopera and El Dormitorio successfully combated climate-related poverty.
These stories also demonstrate that there is no universal model for success in the Dry Corridor. In the extremely diverse region of Central America, there is a diverse array of ways to downsize poverty as illustrated by the examples of cashew trees, hydroponics and pottery. Governments and NGOs alike should keep these different stories in mind as they work to secure a more equitable future.
– Alexander Portner