The economy of Honduras visibly depends on the agricultural sector. Its influence can be traced in the country’s GDP and is properly reflected in the involvement of the population, with roughly half of the workforce involved in agricultural activities. Unfortunately, the most value-added segment of the country’s productivity is also one of the most riddled with challenges. Some of them are direct results of the natural environment, such as the field’s vulnerability to natural disasters. Others can be traced to changing economic conditions of the global markets, such as the declining prices of the exported goods. In addition, some of the reasons for inefficiency conclusively (albeit indirectly) linked to the social and cultural conditions of the country, with literacy rate, access to education, the gap between financial income, and high poverty rate being the most prominently responsible factors. Finally, the infrastructural shortcomings, such as limited access to water, place an additional burden on farmers. The combination of these variables introduces sufficient misbalance into the system and leads to a situation where the combined influence of several forces leads to food shortages, not to mention economic failures.
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Most of the factors are well-researched thanks to the effort of organizations such as the World Bank. Besides, several initiatives were launched to minimize the adverse effects of the mentioned factors. However, despite the direction taken at improving the situation in the agricultural sector of Honduras, the current rate of observed progress is insufficient to facilitate necessary improvement in the short run, which suggests the need for adjustment of the existing initiatives and the introduction of the new ones to strengthen the desired effect and increase the possibility of a positive outcome.
The following paper is secondary research that tackles the issue of existing challenges and possible solutions to the problems of agriculture in Honduras. By exploring the existing literature on the subject, we attempt to locate significant issues pertaining to the field, identify the existing programs which target some of them and compare them to similar interventions issued in countries with similar conditions. Based on the obtained information, we suggest a number of amendments to the existing programs and offer several new complementary initiatives intended to reinforce the improvements and increase the long-term effect of the interventions. The priority is given to the initiatives which have a potential net positive effect on social and economic segments of the country’s well-being.
The role of the agricultural sector in the economic stability of Honduras cannot be underestimated. It’s estimated share of the income is 39%, with roughly half the country’s working population involved in the sector (USDA, 2016). At the same time, it remains among the least secure sectors, displaying vulnerability in several aspects. The most recognizable threat to agricultural practices is a combination of unfavorable natural factors, such as droughts, hurricanes, floods, landslides triggered by rainfalls, and the prominent presence of pests and harmful fungi (USDA, 2016). Such setup effectively places Honduras among the most climate-dependent countries. However, the risks are not limited to natural forces. For instance, while the agriculture of the country has diversified over the years, it still remains highly dependent on several dominant cultures, such as coffee, shrimp, and bananas.
The latter has already illustrated the possible economic vulnerability of the economy due to susceptibility to disease in the past, which served as a reason for diversification initiation, but the process is not fast enough to eliminate the threat completely (The World Bank, 2016). Finally, several social factors further undermine the country’s agricultural integrity. Most prominently, the high level of the country’s economic inequality results in the lack of qualification and, by extension, a significant lag in agricultural technology (Syrquin & Teitel, 2014). Finally, the challenges of a dynamic and gradually globalizing environment contribute to the declining prices of export goods, further diminishing the value of the sector’s activity. Therefore, a multi-faceted set of interventions and improvements is recommended to strengthen the state of Honduran agriculture and, by extension safeguard it from possible economic downturns.
Identified Areas for Improvement
As was detailed above, the natural conditions of Honduras open up a multitude of possibilities for disrupting agricultural practices. In addition, some of the possible disasters, such as hurricanes, are serious enough to interrupt exports and introduce significant challenges to the domestic food supply. One of the most obvious ways to make agriculture better prepared for such a possibility is to create a set of risk management strategies. Such initiatives are already being introduced in the country by the World Bank and, according to the reports, show signs of effectiveness on a small scale (The World Bank, 2016). However, the diversity of possible threats supposedly renders many of the traditional risk management strategies ineffective. The main reason for this is the scope and breadth of these strategies. Most of them are developed for much more specific purposes and therefore rely on fewer variables. In the environment characteristic for Honduras, such strategies either do not cover all of the potential possibilities effectively or fail to accurately predict (and, by extension, mitigate) possible risks.
Two methods can be suggested as complementary measures to improve the efficiency of the existing strategies. First, one of several existing comprehensive disaster risk assessment models can be utilized to improve the accuracy of the analysis. Such models address a number of social, economic, and cultural factors characteristic for Honduras, such as poverty level, dynamics of human development, and capacity for productivity in specific agricultural areas, among others (Stojanovski & Muir-Wood, 2015).
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Application of such model allows generating four outputs crucial for the sector, such as probable loss of capital stock (land, equipment, buildings, and vehicles), direct loss of income (in the case of Honduras – losses associated with the decline of export capability), loss of nutrition (useful for the most severe of disasters which destroy enough produce to create food shortages for the local population), and indirect loss of future production (e.g. the inability to produce a harvest in years following the disaster due to the damage done to the infrastructure, equipment, and loss of contact with buyers of goods) (Stojanovski & Muir-Wood, 2015). Based on these outputs, it becomes possible to develop a universal mitigation plan which would significantly decrease the time of response. In addition, the use of such a model provides a more robust insurance mechanism, increasing the chances of investments and improving trust of lenders.
Second, the existing risk management practices can be expanded by introducing scenario-based risk management training initiatives. Unlike the streamlined and predictable strategies, such scenarios emphasize problem-solving abilities, stimulate critical thinking, and promote the application of existing knowledge in unfamiliar situations. Understandably, such type of training requires more skill and dedication from the organization which provides it. However, it is expected to improve the relevance of responses and decrease the dependence on the familiarity of situations, which is especially important for Honduran conditions.
Education of the Population
It is worth noting that for a successful implementation of problem-oriented training program the audience is required to have formidable knowledge base as well as basic critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, the educational system in Honduras still displays gaps in both the quality of education and accessibility for various social groups. Most prominently, women face sufficiently lower chances of obtaining access to education (Murphy-Graham, 2012). On a broader scale, poorer stratum of the population experiences difficulties in getting elementary education (Murphy-Graham, 2012). At the same time, studies consistently show a direct relation between the quality of education of the population and the productivity of agricultural sector in societies which are highly dependent on it (Mok et al., 2014).
Therefore, improvement in education system and uniformity of access is expected to improve the productivity in the field. In addition, such direction allows opens up a possibility of innovation by fostering conditions favorable to sustainable practices. The latter are known to decrease costs of the product which is important given the recent trend of the lowering process of the exported goods. Since the decline of the prices are a direct result of internationalization of markets, a process which is not expected to cease, it would be reasonable to account for it as the most likely succession of events rather than treat is as a short-term disadvantage. The favorability of innovation expected from improvements in education is the most likely way to address the problem.
For both historical and infrastructural reasons, Honduras displays overreliance on certain cultures in export, with coffee and bananas being the most recognizable. Such setting introduces instability and was known to cause serious economic problems in the past (Syrquin & Teitel, 2014). To minimize the risk of reoccurrence of such option, the Honduran government made an effort towards diversification of the agricultural sector, which now includes various crops, shrimp, fish, forestry, and vegetables, among many others. Nevertheless, the shift is arguably slow and is mostly observable on a larger, country-wide scale. At the same time, individual farmers still practice narrow specialization and, therefore, remain vulnerable to changes in the global trends, not to mention specific weather conditions. Therefore, it is desirable to alternate agricultural practices on the individual level.
Studies of issues experienced by developing countries whose economies rely on agricultural sector indicate similar tendencies and can be traced to two core factors: inadequate income resulting from farming and insufficient subsistence of individual business (Syrquin & Teitel, 2014). Since it is possible to assume that these issues are interconnected, we can speculate that the latter can at least indirectly influence the former. Therefore, we can assume that by diversifying the selected cultures, individual farmers can safeguard themselves from unforeseen challenges, such as specific diseases and pests harmful for the dominant cultures or trends in markets which adversely impact the process of goods. By extension, such move would improve financial stability, increase self-sufficiency, and minimize destabilizing factors. Most importantly, unlike the country-wide intervention mentioned above, the suggested action is individually-driven, which offers additional benefits, such as independence of decisions, adaptability to local conditions, better grasp of particular details, and the ability to adjust to the dynamic economic conditions of international market. Most importantly, the suggested diversification would allow higher level of sustainability and possibly decrease the risk of food shortages which occur in the country with the onset of natural disasters.
In addition to lowering the price of exported goods to compete on the international market, the agricultural sector may look for way of improving the value of its products to match the desired price. One way to do this is to introduce consistent and professional standards of product certification for compliance with international standards. After doing this, it will significantly broaden the market coverage by reaching out to previously unavailable buyers. In addition, the certification may improve brand image, foster trust of potential customers, and raise the perceived value of the product. Importantly, such practice demands significant allocation of funds and effort and lead to the least net effect on the overall well-being of the country. Therefore, it should be given the lowest priority and introduced after the success of the previous interventions.
The research of the issue allows us to confirm the existence of a number of barriers in the field of agriculture. The most notable include the reliance on a small number of dominant cultures (e.g. coffee and bananas), the lack of skilled and competent workforce due to uneven access to education, gradually changing conditions of global market which put additional financial burden on the export segment, infrastructural challenges (e.g. shortage of water), and the challenging natural environment prone to various disasters. With the exception of the latter, all of the issues are present to some degree in many developing countries (Mok et al., 2014).
The familiarity of problems also means that the organizations which specialize in their elimination are equipped with relevant tools for addressing these problems. However, at least some of the programs meant to improve the situation display little adjustment to local conditions. For instance, attempts to increase readiness for natural disasters and improve responsiveness do not incorporate strategies that would account for the diverse range of possible occurrences characteristic for the Honduran conditions. Therefore, we recommend adopting a comprehensive disaster risk assessment model that would produce multiple outcomes and allow for the development of extensive mitigation plan.
To ensure the success of risk mitigation strategies, it is also recommended to introduce a series of training events that encourage critical thinking, increase problem-solving capacity, and prepare the stakeholders to act in unfamiliar situations under unpredictable conditions. Since such approach requires strong knowledge base, it is also desirable to address the issues of access to education. The efficiency of operations was conclusively tied to the quality of education in developing countries with similar dependence on agricultural sector (Murphy-Graham, 2012). Therefore, it is expected to see similar results in Honduras. Finally, both sustainability and economic stability can be improved by scaling down the state-wide diversification strategy to the individual level and possibly introducing features which increase the competitive value of the exported goods (e.g. control and certification).
Admittedly, most of the strategies are founded on the currently active programs instead of being new concepts. While introducing little innovation, they are expected to be more easily implemented due to better alignment with the chosen course. It should be noted that some of the suggested interventions, such as improvement in education, are not achievable without the involvement of external parties which possess both skill and resources required for successful implementation. Besides, most of their benefits would likely not be observed in the short run. However, if implemented, they are expected to create a self-sustained system which would benefit the social, cultural, and economic spheres of life and lead to steady long-term improvement not only in agriculture but for the overall well-being of Honduras population.
Mok, H. F., Williamson, V. G., Grove, J. R., Burry, K., Barker, S. F., & Hamilton, A. J. (2014). Strawberry fields forever? Urban agriculture in developed countries: a review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, 34(1), 21-43.
Murphy-Graham, E. (2012). Opening minds, improving lives: education and women’s empowerment in Honduras. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Stojanovski, P., & Muir-Wood, R. (2015). Comprehensive disaster risk modeling for agriculture. Planet Risk, 3(1), 158-167.
Syrquin, M., & Teitel, S. (2014). Trade, stability, technology, and equity in Latin America. New York, NY: Academic Press.
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USDA. (2016). 2016 farm sector income forecast. Web.
The World Bank. (2016). Honduras: Overview. Web.