Last week FEWS NET issued a Special Report on coffee leaf rust and food security in Central America.
This week I am asking colleagues working in Central America for their perspectives on the report and the current CLR situation in the region. Today: Honduras.
Miguel Flores has been working in the coffeelands of Honduras for better than 20 years. Over the past few years, he has worked to integrate our coffee and water programming, a new strategic direction rooted in the conviction that good coffee management is good water resource mangement. Miguel has also been working over the past few years on a food security project in coffee communities, so has seen up close the impacts of CLR on food security in the coffeelands. And he is a coffee farmer coping with coffee leaf rust on his own farm. He is, in other words, well-qualified to weigh in on the FEWS NET report and the impacts of CLR in the coffeelands.
Miguel agrees generally with key elements of the FEWS NET report: the observation that CLR mitigation efforts are squeezing grower’s margins; the resort to negative coping strategies; the increased competition for a reduced number of harvest jobs; the projection of acute food insecurity. He suggests, in fact, that the report may understate the severity of the situation for smallholders in particular. He agrees with our colleague from Guatemala, who yesterday suggested that aggregate data on production losses may obscure the disproportionate impact of CLR on smallholders. He also sees in the current CLR crisis the possibility of a restructuring of the coffee sector, with significant numbers of smallholders leaving coffee altogether.
- Does the FEWS NET report ring true based on your experiences on the ground at the intersection of coffee leaf rust and food security?
Based on our experience, the report is accurate. As a result of production losses and low prices, many smallholder farmers have had to neglect their own farms to look for work on larger farms during harvest. This means there are more farmworkers competing for fewer jobs, which puts downward pressure on the daily wages of workers. We also see evidence that the costs of inputs, particularly related to rust mitigation, continues to rise, reducing even further the modest earnings of smallholders. We agree with the conclusion that there will be more food security problems this year than there were last year.
- Is there anything you are seeing or hearing on the ground in Honduras that the report doesn’t address that you think is essential to understand how things are playing out there?
The production volumes may be even lower than the official estimates. And certainly losses on smallholder farms are higher than the average. There is a real risk that many smallholders will have no choice but to sell their farms to repay the debts they had to contract in the first place to try to save their farms. The situation is very critical for many smallholders, and could provoke a fundamental change in the composition of the country’s coffee sector, with many smallholders disappearing and mid-sized and large estates representing a greater proportion of coffee growers.
- What is the most urgent need you see on smallholder farms right now?
Smallholders need financial support to plant basic grains for the next harvest. If they are going to stay in coffee, they also need continuous technical assistance and medium to long-term finance for rehabilitating current coffee plantations and establishing new ones.