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?


John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

A friend wrote on Facebook:
"Yellow corn, John... talk to your friends back in Ames.. .it's cattle feed. These exports serve two purposes: first, giving subsidies to corporate farmers without calling them subsidies (they're "export credits" instead) AND off-shoring a labor intensive industry (and a particularly environmentally unfriendly one... i.e. feedlots) to Honduras. A "win-win" for everyone... except the 99% of us who aren't agro-multinationals. The only absolute losers are the Hondurans whose farmlands and livelihoods are being gobbled up for first world hamburgers."
I responded:
I think you are probably right. Yellow corn and soybean meal are cattle feed. But who owns most of the cattle here in Honduras and may buy the feed? A few rich large land owners who use their land for cattle grazing - which not only takes away some of the best flat land but also is environmentally poor in its misuse of hills. Again, the poor suffer.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

There is a good post on this in Honduras Culture and Politics that answers some of my questions and raises more questions.