By John Brewer, Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator
As our group sat near the strawberry fields, in Jutiapa, Honduras, it was hard not to be impressed with the positive outcomes stemming from a USDA grant in 2006. On Tuesday, June 29, I inaugurated the “Biotechnology and Food Security” Conference and later that day I found myself in the strawberry fields—I’ll get to those in a minute.
Honduras has been an active participant in USDA food programs. On Tuesday I had the honor of announcing a 2010 Food for Progress (FFPr) project, which will expand micro-credit coverage and services to 15 of Honduras’ 18 departments or states. FINCA International Inc., a group which provides financial services to the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs, will sell 20,000 metric tons of wheat over three years and use that money to offer specialized agricultural loans so that farmers can buy equipment, undergo training, and improve technology and production capacities. These investment projects will reach about 70,000 individuals in three years, creating substantial long-term results.
Under the 1985 Food for Progress Act, the U.S. Government provides agricultural commodities to developing countries that are committed to expanding free enterprise in the agricultural sector. Non-profit organizations sell these one-time donations and invest in long-term projects such as the one I announced today, creating thousands of jobs and spurring millions of dollars worth of economic activity. In the past 10 years, USDA has facilitated a total of $90.8 million in food aid programming to Honduras, which has a history past collaboration and successes. You can find out more about current Food for Progress programs here.
The positive results from FFPr are clear. Through a Food for Progress initiative in 2006, FUNDER, a local Honduran foundation for rural business development, implemented a project in four hillside strawberry farm communities on the outskirts of the capital city, Tegucigalpa. These communities have earned the nick-name “the green ring.” The FUNDER organization introduced new technologies and taught the farmers improved techniques to increase production capacity. The program also connected the farmers to banks willing to supply credit and hold communal accounts, to supermarket chains that distributed their products and helped the farmers to create a trust fund, and to several innovative private companies such as the one that provided market information prices via text message. I had the privilege of meeting several of these participants and seeing the fruits of their labor (figuratively and literally!). Over 250 families have benefitted from this great project!
Food for Progress investments create long-lasting and sustainable results, and programs like this one are unfolding all over the world. Today we saw one small example where the strawberry fields in the “green ring” are improving farmers’ lives.