The predicted consequences of climate change are already becoming a reality in Honduras. ‘La Roya’, a devastating coffee disease, heightened by climate change, is a very real example of the impact that changes in climate can have, not only on the environment, but on the economy and livelihoods as well. Melons in the South of Honduras are now requiring more water to grow as temperatures are soaring and the vegetables in the mountains are struggling with the opposite, becoming sick with fungi due to the cold. In a developing country where agriculture and subsistence farming form the majority of people’s livelihoods, this is a huge concern. Mitigating the damaging effects of climate change is one of the main objectives of Progressio’s work with local organisations in Honduras.
The title of our placement here in Marcala is ‘Promotion of Agroecology and Mitigation actions against Climate Change in the South of Honduras’. As we are working with COMUCAP, a women’s organisation that generates its income from coffee and Aloe Vera production, I had expected most of our work would revolve around explicitly dealing with climate change which was evidently having a huge impact on Honduras. Even during our very first days we witnessed the effects of climate change as we were met with extreme and unseasonably cold weather. In addition I also assumed that ‘climate change’ would be a common phrase used by the women working the land even if it is something of a pseudo-scientific term. However, on one of our first days on a beautiful coffee farm, our questions about climate change were met with blank stares. The ladies didn’t seem to be at all familiar with the term. However, once we had rephrased the question one of the COMUCAP women explained how they had noticed that the air used to feel fresher and cooler, but now there is less rain, the air is hotter and the crops are suffering as a result. We quickly learned that many of the women on the farms didn’t consider climate change as some vague environmental concept, as many consider it back in the UK, but rather they see it simply as a fact of life and just another challenge, among many, to be conquered.
During our training week in Tegucigalpa, we learnt about the organisation and the work that we would be doing on our placement. As Doña Edith, one of the founders of COMUCAP, explained about the production of coffee and Aloe Vera I realised that climate change hadn’t been explicitly mentioned throughout the entire presentation which came as a surprise to me so I decided to ask her about it later. She explained briefly that they have techniques in place to deal with the changes the country was experiencing but I was again surprised how calm and pragmatic she was about the issue. This was the first (of many) times that I witnessed the famous resourcefulness of Hondurans and their admirable willingness to continue and persist with any task, regardless of setbacks and challenges. For example, while in the rural areas around Marcala, we saw how difficult the terrain in Honduras is to farm. Almost everywhere is mountainous and steep, and by UK standards probably almost impossible to use for arable farming. Yet the Honduran women persist. They work and toil on treacherous slopes equipped with nothing but their hoes and their flip-flops.
The truth that we learned was that the women of COMUCAP spend every day adapting to new challenges and fighting various different problems, of which climate change is but one, and so they have adopted a philosophy which incorporates dealing with all these problems together instead of just one – and we learned about this philosophy during our agroecology session with our facilitator and Progressio development worker Roger Diaz.
During the class we discussed agroecology and permaculture. From the conversation I came to the conclusion that agroecology and permaculture are very much a philosophy as well as science. The class stressed that part of agroecology is about social responsibility, with everyone working together, having the same ideals and values about the importance of managing the whole ecosystem in a healthy way. This philosophy includes climate change and many other issues we experienced during our time here but it wasn’t directly mentioned.
At university I had learnt the basic principles of organic farming and the importance of biodiversity but at university I had only really taken note of the science. It was brilliant to hear that COMUCAP are able to use these principles, combining the philosophy and science, in a sustainable manner as well as supporting the livelihoods of the women. COMUCAP’s crops are not only healthy but the soil and the ecosystems are healthy too, and as a result they stand up to the challenge of climate change.
All of the work that we have been completing on the farms has featured what we learnt about in the class. The land that COMUCAP works on is organic, and is cleared and maintained by hand. No pesticides are used and everyone is careful to be respectful and preserve as much of the nutritious top soil as possible. Techniques are in place to ensure that crop production and the ecosystem is in balance, for example instead of having pesticides, chickens are employed to eat the grubs that would otherwise harm the crops. On the coffee farm, banana trees, coffee and Aloe Vera are all grown and work together creating a sustainable productive crop yield for years to come, while all the while considering the issues that climate change presents.
Initially I felt that COMUCAP were not overly concerned about climate change (perhaps the language barrier contributed to this feeling) but, it seems that people in Honduras have so much to deal with in relation to production-steep slopes, no access to mechanised farming and relatively dry land with poor irrigation systems, that climate change becomes just another factor that has to be considered in their impressive and sustainable philosophy. Whereas some of the world is all in a fluster about the implications of climate change, it would appear, the COMUCAP women at least, are taking it all in their stride.
Written by UK Progressio ICS volunteer Fiona Boland