Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Agriculture and the future

Honduras is not an agricultural country as only 9.1% of its area is considered arable land (FAOSTAT 2011). Interestingly enough these same statistics show that agricultural area totals 28% of total land in the country. Meaning, we have a large amount of people producing in fragile or marginal areas. However, a lot of our people depend on agriculture for their survival and thus has a social importance beyond its contribution to the gross domestic product and the economy. Finding a response to agriculture will go a long way to help many of the poorest of the poor in our country.

What is the appropriate mix of policies regarding agriculture in Honduras?

A basic principle in devising a portfolio of policies addressing agriculture's limitations and the overall goal of reducing poverty and food insecurity, is the understanding that the need of agriculture's intensification is critical. This is not a choice anymore, it is an imperative. Although, many countries in the world have reached a "food secure" status, we cannot ensure this will last into the future, unless appropriate investments are made to sustain this policy outcome.

In Honduras, we are really far from attaining food security. However, we cannot impose models which in the past have proven disastrous especially in Latin America such as the import substitution, where people were moved out of agriculture into urban areas with the expectation that industrialization would occur and thus absorb incoming flow of people. The later did not happen and that is one of the many reasons we have poverty belts in our cities.

We need to look for innovative approaches to improve smallholder productivity, to improve medium and large scale agriculture, promote exports and to develop the non-farm rural economy. Tough order, but we have no choice but to find solutions and policy responses to these challenges. One interesting experience is that of FINTRAC where they promote intensification of smallholder to medium farmers, with a target of increasing income by at least US$2,000 per hectare.  http://www.fintrac.com/donor.aspx?pg=eda and http://www.hondurasag.org/.

This should be one model for addressing agriculture worth exploring up-scaling to the national level.  This is just one experience that can become part of the suite of options that can be implemented as there will not be one solution to the problem. Of course, we have to start by also looking at government institutions such as the "Secretaria de Agricultura y Ganaderia" and INA, who in some cases have been part of the problem.

More to come.

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