Communities count on resilience tactics to survive Honduras' pattern of drought

Each day, two women are in charge of caring for the hen house, which includes collecting freshly laid eggs. Photo by: Teresa Welsh / Devex

CURARÉN, Honduras — The chickens mill around, pecking at the dirt floor long after the last kernels of stray feed have been snatched up. Others ruffle their wings as two women rock their warm bodies aside, checking underneath the mound of feathers for fresh eggs.

There are many: These 350 chickens collectively produce about 10,200 eggs a month for a community that previously had little access to protein. The walk to the nearest vendor selling eggs was two hours — if there was enough money to purchase them.

“The idea is to try to build the resilience of this same population so we don’t have to assist them with emergency next year.”

— Etienne Labande, deputy country director, WFP

This chicken coop is managed by a women’s group in the municipality of Curarén in southern Honduras that has christened itself Women’s Group of Faith and Hope. Every day, a rotation of two women care for the chickens from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — feeding the animals, cleaning the coop, and collecting eggs. The eggs are then washed and sold by the pallet of 30 for 75 lempiras, or about $3.

“The eggs always sell,” said Leticia Vasquez, president of the women’s group. Members also eat eggs more often now because they are so much cheaper when they’re available directly in the community.

Previously, women here earned income by weaving bed mats — a labor-intensive process that took three to four days to create something that sold for $4. Now, they can earn more by selling eggs while benefiting from the nutritious protein themselves.

The construction and operation of the chicken coop is a part of the World Food Programme’s resilience project run in three different municipalities in Honduras. Ninety-seven families in the area benefit from the henhouse as well as a host of other interventions — such as crop diversification, reforestation, and tilapia farming — that aim to diversify the nutritious foods available in this community despite more frequent drought.

By adopting climate-adaptive practices as they plant more diverse crops, people in the drought-prone Dry Corridor have a better chance of thriving even if the rain continues to be sparse in future years.

Farmers have learned to plant a diversity of crops, improving dietary diversity and nutrition. Photo by: Teresa Welsh / Devex

A rise in severe food insecurity

Drought has become a pattern in Honduras over the past five years, which causes families to turn to negative coping mechanisms, according to Etienne Labande, deputy country director at WFP. This has increased food insecurity in the country.

“One year of drought, people can cope. They had a bit of reserves, bit of means — financial — to cope with one bad harvest. The problem is that right now in that area for small [farmers], it’s every year, every year, every year,” Labande said. “In 2018 … we had 105,000 households in food insecurity.”

Of those, 15,000 households were severely food insecure, Labande said.

It’s particularly damaging when both of Honduras’ yearly harvests are affected, Labande said. The first, which typically takes place at the end of August, was damaged in 2019, causing households with severe food insecurity to jump to 70,000.

WFP is on alert for a spike in food insecurity in the country if the second harvest this year is also lost, Labande said. It is now targeting households in the Dry Corridor that are at risk of food insecurity if December’s harvest, key for the staple crop of beans, doesn’t receive the constant rain it needs over 60 days.

“The idea is to try to build the resilience of this same population so we don’t have to assist them with emergency next year, in two years from now,” Labande said. “We have good evidence that our past projects, the people who are part of our past projects, are more resilient and are not falling into severe or even moderate food insecurity because they have more access to water, they manage better that water, they manage their crops better — techniques, type of crop, everything.”

As of now, the rains have been regular enough to create hope that the harvest will produce proper yields in December.

Promoting resilience

Increasingly sparse rainy seasons have caused the most common crops of corn and beans to fail more regularly, forcing families to buy food they used to be able to grow themselves.

WFP’s resilience approach teaches farming practices to community members that can help their harvests make it through with little rain. They’ve learned to plant crops a certain distance apart and rotate them each season. They’re planting a more diverse set of crops, including green beans, peppers, onion, tomato, sweet potato, watermelon, and avocado.

“Before, we had to buy peppers,” said community member José Santos Muniga. “Now we can grow them.”

The project also seeks to promote resilience in the environment surrounding the community. It has helped households construct more efficient stoves that require burning less wood, decreasing deforestation caused by gathering for use in cookstoves. This keeps the land healthier for agricultural production and provides additional shade to shield crops from the hot sun.

Muniga said that before his community began the resilience activities, the impact of climate change on their crops was clear.

“We cultivated corn and beans because the rainy season was excellent. Now, in the last three years, the climate change has destroyed our harvests,” Muniga said. “We didn’t have hope or any vision for how we could continue on.”

Uphill from the community, a rainwater reservoir doubles as a tilapia farm. The circular cement pool catches precious rain when it does fall, which can then be used to water fields down the hill when soil starts to get too dry. It’s also home to the tilapia, which are currently only a few inches long but will eventually provide additional dietary diversity when they’re large enough to eat.

“This project doesn’t only want to guarantee the development of food security for the community,” said Hetze Tosta, communication officer at WFP. “They’re growing more vegetables for their families, so they are improving their health, food security, and nutrition, and they also have additional income.”

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About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.