How Cashew Trees in Honduras Alleviate Poverty

FAIRFAX, Va. – El Triunfo, a city in southern Honduras, sits in the Central American Dry Corridor. Countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are also in this area and the region as a whole is prone to long droughts or terrible floods. Changing weather conditions have made it difficult for farmers in Honduras to grow their corn, a crop essential to their diet. However, farmers are now planting cashew trees in Honduras where they once grew maize, producing large sums of nuts that they can sell to feed their families.

The maize situation

In 2021, the Honduran government estimated that 73.6% of the population lived in poverty, with 53.7% of households living in extreme poverty. Today, approximately 40% of the population of Honduras works in agriculture, growing corn, bananas, beans, and rice. Since Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America, it does not have a large export capacity and depends mainly on subsistence agriculture where each family produces enough food to sustain itself. Although relatively easy to grow, maize crops are very sensitive to climate change, and the lack of water experienced by farmers living in El Triunfo has damaged their crops.

Additionally, most plots of land in Honduras operate in a monoculture style where corn is the only crop planted year after year. This practice leads to a depletion of nutrients in the soil and the soil itself becomes depleted. The World Food Program (WFP) is trying to reduce food sensitivity rates in countries by teaching farmers to grow multiple crops on the same field to promote diversity.

Cashew trees

El Triunfo farmers are turning to planting cashew trees in Honduras on the plots of land that used to belong to maize. Since cashew trees do not require a lot of water, they are more resistant to the weather conditions of the region and all parts of the tree can be sold – the wood, the fruits and the seeds. In 2017, WFP members worked with farmers to teach them how to grow various fruits and vegetables on their land. Thanks to these lessons and mostly women farmers since 20% of rural households are headed by women who work in agriculture, the PAM cooperative began to appreciate the cashew tree more and use it to its full potential.

Etramasot selling the seeds

Although cashew trees in Honduras provide income for farmers in the Dry Corridor, they are not as profitable as they could be. After the nuts are sold to companies, they must be processed and sun-dried for three days before being manually opened and exposed to the sun again. Machines to speed up the whole process are expensive, but a company in El Triunfo is trying to make it easier.

Etramasot was started in 2003 and now helps 92 farmers in El Triunfo by buying the seeds the farmers grow from the cashew trees. The president, Almi Martinez, helped these farm workers get enough money to buy land, send their children to school and continue growing their crops. The company has also contributed to the growing food insecurity crisis in Honduras, where almost one in three people have an insufficient food supply. Her business enables more women farmers to earn enough money to support their families, solving the gender gap in farming society. Etramasot uses the seeds to make dried cashew nuts and drinks, which Martinez wants to start exporting to Europe to create more jobs.

A look into the future

Even though this new way of cultivation is still being mainstreamed, cashew trees in Honduras are exactly the kind of action WFP wants countries to take. When a nation that relies heavily on agriculture, like that of Honduras, keeps its farmers planting the same crops over and over again, there is little or no chance that the economy will ever thrive. By practicing permaculture, planting a variety of fruits and vegetables on the same plot, countries will be able to avoid intense crop failures and increase profitability as there are other products to fall back on.

Yachavi Upasani
Photo: Flickr

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