Friday, April 15, 2011

On the land

“It’s better to exhaust yourself than to exhaust the land,” Ricardo López told us, as we visited the farm his father shares with him and three brothers in El Pelón, Esperanza, Intibucá.

Isabel, Cáritas France, with Ricardo López in the family bean field
 Manuel, the agricultural worker for Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán, was showing the project he is facilitating in Intibucá to folks from the national Caritas office as well as to Isabel, the representative of Caritas France which is financing the project. I went along as a representative of the Santa Rosa office. Padre Efraín Romero, the director of Caritas Santa Rosa, was with us for a short time.

Ricardo and three of his brothers work on their father’s land. Manuel has helped with terracing and drip irrigation and provided other technical assistance. Since they have irrigation they can plant in the dry season and they have diversified their planting, adding potatoes, carrots, and broccoli to the subsistence crops of corn and beans. They also have peach and apple trees.

When we arrived Ricardo and his father, Jacinto, were working in a field. They proceeded to welcome us and explain what they are doing, after sharing tasty peaches with all of us.

Ricardo was impressive, not only telling us what they are doing and the problems they are facing, but using semi-technical language to explain why using drip irrigation in a potato field is better than aspersion irrigation.

Ricardo showing the drip irrigation at work on chinapopa beans.
We went and visited other parts of their farm and saw how they use tall grass as windbreaks, their measuring rod to determine distances between different plants, and their nursery where they were nurturing broccoli shoots.

They have problems, including the problem of commercialization, since they have no direct access to good markets and so must depend on intermediaries who often don’t give good prices for the crops. The national Caritas office people talked about different ways they might get various growers to work together to market their crops, something Manuel is already working on.

Virgilio terraced potato field
After leaving the López family farm we visited three other sites, all in potatoes. We spent most of the time with the site Virgilio works with his brother. Last year he lost his corn crop because of high winds, but this year they are planting potatoes on a hill-side with terraces and irrigation. One field was about ten days from harvest, but Virgilio showed us a few of the potatoes which have to stay in the earth a few more days to develop a firm skin.

Virgilio's potatoes
We visited another plot but the farmer was not there. What was impressive about his field was his planting in the midst of trees and banana plants. He had not cut them down but was planting potatoes among them

It was a fruitful day.  And even though this project only helps about 100 farmers, it was exciting to see the work and even more exciting was to see the expertise of people like Ricardo, who, with only four year of formal education, has learned a lot about agriculture and is using it for the good of his family. He is also helping others, since he has helped Manuel to install drip irrigation at other sites.

Jacinto, Ricardo, and Hugo López
This Caritas Santa Rosa project does help some families but the situation in the Honduran countryside is critical. Just a few days ago an official of the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, reported that one-third of the rural population of Honduras does not have land and another third has very little land without the capacity to produce enough to feed themselves. 

It is clear that these efforts of Caritas are important but ways need to be found to help those without land. In fact, over lunch, Manuel, Isabel from Caritas France, the two National Caritas workers, and I talked a bit about how to do this. It's a long struggle and means changing structures, but isn't that what is needed.

There was only one really sad part of the day. One of Jacinto’s grandchildren, ten year old Hugo,  had an accident several years ago and his sight is severely limited. He can see some during the day but at night he can hardly see. Padre Efraín and I will be looking into ways to help this boy who, despite his near-blindness, helps his family on their farm.

UPDATE: After contacting an eye doctor in Ames, Iowa, who has worked with a Honduran-run eye project in El Progresso, Honduras, we have arranged the possibility of an operation in June. Thanks be to God and generous people who help the poorest.

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