Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact
Our program will begin with a pilot project in the El Chile Bioreserve region, serving as a model for replication in other protected forest areas nationally where INADES works in cooperation with local rural communities and the Honduran Ministry of Forestry.
The El Chile Bioreserve is a legally-designated protected cloudforest region of approximately 6,000 hectares, located in south central Honduras. More than 100 small communities in the region depend on El Chile’s critical watersheds, while residents from 44 of these communities, including coffee growers and agroforestry cooperative members, engage directly in agriculture and other allowed uses on buffer zone lands surrounding the Bioreserve. Especially given last year's political instability in Honduras, resulting in economic sanctions that have only recently been removed, on top of the current global economic recession, rural farming communities in Honduras are in dire need of new opportunities and income. With an aquifer slated to be developed for diversion to supply water for the capital city of Tegucigalpa, El Chile Bioreserve has received little attention from the international conservation community, while pressures on its natural amenities are intensifying. This project aims to instill a forward-thinking, inclusive model of market development that promotes a regional conservation ethic and genuine care-taking and protection of the Bioreserve by local residents, while enhancing both the economic and environmental benefits of local agroforestry.
The program will engage local community members in assessment of regional assets and needs, in monitoring environmental resources and ecosystem services, in setting their own priorities, and in planning for the future. This self-directed approach to local resource assessment, combined with the provision of concrete market specifications and business contacts, enables farming communities to achieve an economy of scale and successful market access in a sustainable manner that respects the carrying capacity of the land. This assessment will serve as the basis for both cooperative business and individual farm management planning, for design and implementation of environmental education and agricultural extension services, and for improvements to regional supply chain management capabilities. Collaboration with and guidance from business, government, NGO, and academic professionals, including faculty and students from nearby Zamorano (the PanAmerican Agricultural College), officials from the Honduran Department of Natural Resources and Ministry of Forestry, and extentionists from the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research, will help create development protocol and published resources for replication of the project elsewhere.
Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing
A majority of local people are coffee farmers and agroforesters living at or only slightly above subsistence level. Increasing pressures in the forest's buffer zone, including expansion of coffee production and other conventional agriculture, deforestation from clandestine logging, and the practice of slash-and-burn, threaten the Bioreserve’s protected core. Unfortunately, local residents often, by necessity, make choices that bring short-term economic gains at the expense of long-term conservation and forest protection. Participatory, community-led environmental monitoring will help guard against imprudent forest resource use but can only be accomplished through an "honor system." Can viable, cooperative market development occur in an honest and inclusive way that truly promotes a regional conservation ethic and achieves conservation goals in the Bioreserve, including protection, ecological restoration, research, recreation, reduced carbon footprint, and curtailing of destructive land-use practices?
Farmers need alternatives to coffee production. However, both cultivation and wild-collection of botanical products for trade requires accurate species identification by each farmer/collector, preparation of specimen "vouchers" and other product tracking documentation, and diligent record keeping. In the humid tropics, quality control of dried products is of critical concern. What's more, brokers may ultimately require "product attribute" certifications, such as organic and fair trade, depending on market demand. These market requirements become especially challenging when community members may be functionally illiterate. Before a cooperative trade initiative can begin, community members will need training in botanical identification and collection protocol, while management techniques will have to be implemented that guarantee consistency of species and of appropriate handling and quality control among all farmer participants at each step of the supply chain.
Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?
Project coordinators from INADES have garnered the support of a leading botanical products broker, Ed Fletcher of Strategic Sourcing, Inc. (www.strategicsourcinginc.net). Mr. Fletcher has agreed to consult gratis and will provide farmers with the latest industry standards to help guide cooperative business planning, and with industry specifications for specific botanical products. Although no formal business commitment exists between Strategic Sourcing and El Chile farmers, Mr. Fletcher has provided us with a "letter of intent" expressing his company's support of careful and thorough, participatory environmental assessment and conservation planning in advance of market development, and its willingness to do business with these farmers once appropriate botanical products are selected and trade specifications are met.
INADES has also garnered the support of academic professionals including faculty from the PanAmerican Agricultural College (Zamorano), botanists from the Honduran National Autonomous University, and GIS specialists from California State University - Stanislaus. Members of INADES staff and community representatives from the regional Agroforestry Cooperative and Coffee Growers Association have met with officials from the Honduran Ministry of Forestry and Department of Natural Resources to confirm their participation in this collaborative effort. Mr. Fletcher has agreed to travel to Honduras for introductory meetings and to participate in assessments of supply chain and farmer capacities once our project is underway.
Once these initial assessments are completed, 50 local farmers will be selected and trained as "project promoters" to conduct farmer-to-farmer training. Environmental monitoring and group planning will begin by compiling existing map resources to create base maps of the region. Community workshops will accomplish on-site "ground-proofing" of botanical resources and other base map characteristics, generating a series of current, community-scale maps compiled into a regional Map Atlas. Farmers will also learn mapping techniques and produce base maps of their own land holdings. Community workshops will explore and define regional assets, constraints, and opportunities, using a participatory community visioning process to discover and cultivate shared goals that local residents envision for themselves.
While the cooperative business model is ideal for regional farmers, consistency and excellence in quality control among each participant will be the group's greatest challenge. Other potential barriers to success may include continued illegal and destructive land-use practices. We are deliberately using an inclusive, participatory planning process to facilitate learning and open, transparent dealings between all parties involved.
Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible
First year activities will result in preparation of a comprehensive business plan addressing community-wide conservation management, improvements to regional supply chain management capabilities, and prospects for botanical raw materials export. However, these activities in and of themselves will benefit regional farmers even if botanical export is found to be unlikely or delayed beyond our expectations. Group assessment and Working Group recommendations for processing facilities and transport routes will help farmers to better understand the requirements for specialty-grade coffee production and to make plans for improvements. Our project does not seek to end regional coffee production but rather, to discourage establishment of new coffee plots, to help farmers with coffee planted on unsuitable lands transition into more appropriate land use activities, and to maximize the quality and value of already-established coffee being produced in the higher elevations. Coffee production is the primary income source for regional farmers; development of any new economic activity must be complimentary, rather than interfering, with that industry's seasonal work schedule and quality control demands.
The social fabric of cooperative enterprise in the region is based on individuals' reputations, friendships, and familial ties. While these connections are important, the bottom line for successful cooperative coffee production is quality control. Addressing these issues in a group setting, with participation of Working Group members from outside the cooperative, will help the group make hard choices and express concerns they may be unwilling to explore on their own as neighbors and family members. It will help the group identify those members for whom a transition away from coffee is best -- for themselves, for the forest, and for the larger group -- in a supportive and inclusive environment that seeks to build positive new relationships and develop alternatives for everyone.
The community workshop format and group visioning process for identifying regional conservation priorities will enhance group learning and raise regional awareness of ecological values, risks, and ecosystem services. It provides the community with an opportunity to address fire prevention, fire protection, and community-wide fire emergency response. Signing a "Declaration of Commitment" to mutually-agreed-upon land use tenets clarifies and strengthens a regional environmental ethic along with individual farmers' understanding of their "social contract" as stewards of a nationally protected forest area.
Finally, SWOT analysis of the INADES organization -- the primary agricultural service agency in the region -- will improve our capacity to add new services while sustaining ongoing programs.
If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?
Protected forest areas in Honduras tend to be "Parks on Paper" with little or no way to enforce local land use policies. Participatory, community-led environmental monitoring and cooperative planning will strengthen enforcement of existing policies and may lead to additional forest protection measures.
In regard to INADES’ position on the political environment in Honduras; While we recognize that recent political events in Honduras dramatically affect the lives of all Hondurans, INADES cannot in good conscience take any position in opposition to our own government or in opposition to any class of our own Honduran people. The nature of cooperative enterprise demands freedom of association. This means that one's political affiliations are protected and are outside the scope of the cooperative program's interests. Our program will neither exclude people based on their political affiliations nor will the program be used in any way as a vehicle for any political message favoring or opposing any political party, candidate, or elected official. Not only would that be outside of INADES' mission, it would be against Honduran nonprofit law. Honduras Adelante.