Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Coals to Newcastle: corn to Honduras

Will someone explain this to me? Somehow this doesn’t seem right.

Today, the US Department of Agriculture issued a press release on an agreement between US and Honduran agricultural officials:

Through the Food for Progress Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service will provide the government of Honduras with 30,000 metric tons of U.S. yellow corn and 18,000 tons of U.S. soybean meal, valued at approximately $17 million. The Honduran government will use proceeds from the sale of the commodities to implement projects aimed at improving agricultural productivity, enhancing farmers' access to information and market skills, building government capacity, and strengthening local, regional and international trade in agricultural products.

Hondurans eat white corn. I don’t know anyone who eats soybean meal, though it may be used in some commercial products.

corn drying in the sun
The corn and the soybean meal will be sold – but to whom?

Why doesn’t the US just sell the food and give the money to Honduras?

According to one source, Honduras produces 430,000 metric tons a year. Another source noted how corn production in Honduras dropped about 10% last year.

But how will this yellow corn sale really help hungry Hondurans? 

Will it help them produce sustainably, so that their families can eat well?

I have seen how the Food for Education Program works and it does seem to enhance the lives of school in rural schools.

But will this aid promote long-term sustainability or will it tie farmers into the ups and downs of export agriculture and contribute to the cost of basic foodstuffs that may have to be bought rather than produced by the small farmers?

And which farmers will profit - those in the US who sold the corn, those in Honduras who may see their corn prices crop, the big farmers who take advantage of the US aid? 

 The press release claims that

The projects supported by this new agreement will focus on the creation of jobs and income opportunities for some of Honduras' most vulnerable citizens. The beneficiaries will include small farmers, as well as small businesses and producer organizations, particularly those that support rural women and youth.

Will someone please explain to me how this will help the people here?

I have my doubts.

I also wonder if we can trust the Honduran government to really utilize the money well for the benefit of the really poor or if the money and programs will be used to further the political interests of the people and political parties in power.

Will someone explain this to me?

Monday, April 06, 2015

Dulce Nombre parish coffee in the US - coming soon

Tonight I received good news for a small coffee coop of 15 small producers in the village of El Zapote Santa Rosa in the Dulce Nombre parish.

Samples of their coffee were toasted and tasted (cupped) in the US and we have some buyers.

The coop calls itself “Café hasta el Futuro “ which can be translated as “Coffee towards the future” or, maybe better, “Coffee looking forward”.

The price of coffee for small producers now is about 80 cents a pound. That makes life really hard for the producers.

More than a year ago Tyler Zoz, a young man, graduate of Iowa State University, came to the parish with Fr. Jon Seda from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. He had the dream of finding a way to market coffee from small farmers in the parish to help them get good prices.

He talked to two guys – one of whom, José, followed up with people in his village, El Zapote de Santa Rosa.

The 15 small coffee farmers are forming a cooperative – which will help them work together to improve their crops as well as to market the coffee.

Some of the first members (though some have dropped out.)
They did manage to send some samples to Eleos Coffee, in Kansas City, Missouri, a small toaster and distributor of coffee. They were interested in the coffee. But, of course, no coffee was available to be sent in mid-2014.

They meet about once a month to decide what to do.

They have been able to get one solar dryer from a Honduran agency and would like more.

Recently we had ten of the coffee farmers send soil samples to a lab to be tested. We are waiting for the results and the recommendations to improve the soil.

The group already had a fund-raising event last year – a Carrera de Cintas.

José in the carrera
Four of them went with me to La Unión, Lempira, to see the work of Aldea Development, a small US group helping local coffee farmers and exporting coffee.

In La Unión with Patrick of Aldea Development 
They will be working through the channels to organize themselves legally, probably with the help of Caritas of the Santa Rosa diocese.

In January we brought samples to a processor and exporter in San Pedro Sula. The samples were not sent until March, 2015.  But today I got good news which I shared by telephone with José.

Of the producers, only 4 have enough coffee to send, though several other sent samples.  These four, in addition, also had a tasting (cupping) done here in Honduras. 

Dan of Eleos Coffee liked those four. To quote his e-mail:
…the four farmers that are ready to export are solid coffees scoring in the low to mid 80's.  They were consistent in the roast, had nice body and a balanced acidity that to me translated into a pleasant brightness, with a sweet maple aroma and in the cup a natural citrus and hazelnut.
So Café hacia el futuro will be in the United States – a small, but very important step to helping a few farmers get better prices for their labor.

Thank God. Thank Tyler and Dan Smith from Eleos Coffee. Thank all those involved. And thank the producers. And thank the anonymous donor who is helping us with some of the costs here.

This is good news.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

A real vigil to celebrate Easter

Holy Saturday morning the church in Dulce Nombre was busy.

Some were preparing more than 1,000 tamales for those who would come to the Easter Vigil.

Others prepared the church and the Paschal Candle.

Our Easter vigil in Dulce Nombre began in a soccer field at least two kilometers from the church in Dulce Nombre.

The firewood arrived late, but the Easter fire was lit about 6:30 pm. After a few words (from me), lots of singing, the blessing of the fire and the Paschal candle preceded the procession to the church.

There are often fierce winds during Holy Week – and so most of our candles were snuffed out as we walked to the church. My guess it that there more than 800 of us - maybe as many as 1,000.

We got to the church at about 8:00 pm and waited until the Paschal candle entered the church.

Then chaos ensued. Despite having put string where the catechumens and their godparents were to sit, I found myself policing the seats and asking people to leave so that the catechumens could have seats. Despite my efforts about 15 catechumens stood or sat on the floor for most of the vigil.

The vigil proceeded with the Exultet. the Easter Proclamation, and all the readings. The singing of the Gloria was “glorious” with the ringing of the church bells and joyful singing.

About 10:00 the baptisms began and continued until midnight – all 102 or so of them. During that time tamales were shared.

I was pleased to see the work of so many catechists in preparing these mostly young people. But I was also very pleased to see a good number of special needs people being baptized and receiving their first communion.

Those baptized also received their first communion and so the Vigil Mass ended about 1:30 am – 7 hours after the Fire was blessed.

I returned to Plan Grande with a car full of people, arriving about 2:30 am.

As we turned into Plan Grande, we noticed that about 15 people from La Torrera had been dropped off there and were starting to walk three hours to their village.

When I left off the people in Plan Grande, I asked if someone would accompany me to take the people to the turn off to their village, thus cutting off about two hours of walking. Isaías gladly joined me – what a good young man.

The people were surprised and quite happy when I pulled up behind them and honked the horn.

I let them off at the junction and they started walking home – arriving at 4:30 instead of 6:30 am.

What dedication of people to live their faith.

I got to bed at 3:30 am – and will spend the day with the Dubuque Franciscan sisters in Gracias Lempira.

The Easter Vigil was long – but another sign of light in the midst of the darkness that often surrounds the life of people here in rural Honduras.

Christ is risen, indeed – in the lives of so many here in the parish of Dulce Nombre.

Photos from Holy Week in the Dulce Nombre parish can be found here.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday: with the poor and the infirm

I woke up about 6:00 am in Agua Buena on Good Friday. After two cups of coffee and about an hour of reading psalms, I walked around the village. 

They were preparing for the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross. A tradition they have there is to prepare fourteen large crosses in the road, decorated with flowers. The crosses are made of jiote, also known as indio desnudo (the naked Indian) or bursera simaruba.

I left Agua Buena about 8:00 am to get to El Bálsamo, one of the most remote and poor villages in the parish.

There I first visited an elderly woman to bring her Communion. Clementina will turn 100 in December and, tough she is weak, she is quite aware of what is happening. A woman of deep faith, she talked my ear off.

I was taken by the deep faith of this illiterate woman who has a deep love for God. Before leaving, I asked her to bless me. It was only appropriate.

I joined the Via Crucis – Stations of the Cross – at the third station.

They are using the stations we developed for the parish Via Crucis last Friday. One element of these stations is that we used this quote of Pope Francis this quote of Pope Francis (from his September 7, 2013 homily) at every station:
"My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken."
The village church leaders led the stations, but a little girl carried the cross for most of the procession.

At the end of the stations, we gathered in their small church. they asked me to say a few words.

For me one of the most important things to share with these people is that Christ is there suffering with them. There is a strong sense of Christ suffering for them and the salvation brought by the Cross (and Resurrection). But I think it is important to emphasize the presence of Christ with us in our sufferings – not to take them away, but to give us the courage to live – and even hope – in the midst of suffering.

I would soon see an example of this.

After sitting around and talking with some of the leader, I left for Delicias, Dolores. We got there early and I went to visit a sick couple.

As we approached the house I saw a good number of kids in the doorway and an older man (only 72) there. Juan Ángel’s arms were hanging by his side – probably the result of a stroke or other cause. He was quite friendly. My guide, Maximo, their son-in-law, brought out Juan’s wife, Josefina, who is blind and 74 years old. 

We spoke and I found out they had been married for 51 years! We talked and prayed and I shared the Eucharist with them. I made a point of talking to the grandchildren gathered at the door, urging them to take care of their grandparents. Maximo told me that though he would like to move to another place to make a better living, at the insistence of his wife they remain there to help these two frail, ill parents.

I was moved and told them we would pray for them at the service.

There were not a lot of people at the service, the Good Friday Liturgy. But it was a time full of grace.

After the service, I talked with a few of the folks, only to find out that two of them were going to get married in May.

I returned home to Plan Grande tired, but grateful for the chance to have spent these two days with the poor – especially with the sick.

As Christ accompanies us in our sorrow and suffering, I was gifted with the opportunity to accompany the poor and the sick – and to be blessed by a ninety-nine year old woman.

 This year Good Friday has taken on a new meaning - Christ Jesus suffering at our side.