Healthy homes and harvests for families in Honduras’ Dry Corridor

By Jillian Slutzker 

October 8, 2019

The yuca plants are nearly ready to harvest in José Belberto Varela’s small garden outside his home in the San José community of Concepción de María in southern Honduras. It’s a simple but important milestone for Varela’s family of six and just one of many changes they’re seeing this season.

Nestled in Honduras’ Dry Corridor, a region known for severe droughts and resulting food insecurity, the Varela family has struggled to access clean water and to grow crops. And like many in this region where more than 90 percent of people live below the poverty line, the Varelas’ home lacked some of the basic amenities needed to keep their four children, all under age 11, healthy.

Jose Valera displays his new clean cook stove, which the family received through ACS-PROSASUR support. Photos by Amalia San Martin.

But that was before the family started growing new crops for consumption and sale, raising chickens for eggs and meat and benefiting from household improvements. In short, it was before the Varela family began participating in the ACS-PROSASUR project, which works in 12 municipalities in the southern departments of Choluteca and El Paraíso to improve livelihoods and build resiliency for 6,000 poor and extreme poor families.

“I feel grateful because thank God I now have better conditions for my children. I never imagined that one day I would get help, that I would benefit from ACS-PROSASUR and that one day my house would change completely,” says José Belberto Varela.

The project has two main components: Food Production and Income Generation to boost resiliency for smallholder farmers; and Nutrition Education and Household Hygiene to combat chronic malnutrition in children under 2 and in pregnant women.

The Varelas are one of 1,000 families in the region benefiting from both. Families qualify for both components if they fall below the poverty or extreme poverty line, as well as having children younger than age 2 or a pregnant woman in the household. Also, they must own a plot of land at least 500 square meters.

ACS-PROSASUR is implemented by Creative Associates International in partnership with the Honduras Strategic Investment Office, INVEST-H, and receives funding from the World Bank through the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program. It is one piece of the larger Dry Corridor Alliance, which aims to lift 50,000 families out of extreme poverty and reduce under-nutrition by 20 percent in target communities.

A healthier home inside

A couple hours’ drive away from the Varela home, in the rural community of Chagüiton, Namasigüe, Nuris Amparo Pastrana details just a few of the improvements she’s received through the project from the floor she stands on to the air she breathes.

Nuris Amparo Pastrana stands in her home in Chagüiton, Namasigüe. Through the project, her home received a clean stove, new cement floors, a filter for clean water, and a latrine.

“There,” she says, pointing a finger above her new clean cookstove. “You can see how the smoke from the old stove stained the wall.”

In addition to the new clean stove, Pastrana, her husband and their daughters ages 7 and 1 received a latrine, an eco-filter for their water and a cement floor to replace their dirt one. By breathing cleaner air when they cook, using the latrine and no longer sitting and walking on dirt, the family is far less vulnerable to stomach diseases and diarrhea, major causes of childhood malnutrition in the region.

Through the project, the Varela family also received an eco-filter, a clean stove, a latrine and cement floor.

In addition to these improvements, each participating family works with project counselors to develop health and hygiene plans and nutrition plans for diversifying their diets with nutritious foods and keeping family members, especially young children, disease-free and healthy.

Growing for nutrition and resilience outside

For qualifying families, ACS-PROSASUR provides support not only inside homes but also outside in gardens and fields. Through assistance establishing small garden plots, accessing seeds to grow a variety of hearty, nutritious crops, and constructing water harvesting systems to weather drought, these families build resilience to food insecurity and expand their opportunities for income.

Carlos Ruiz, Chief of Party for ACS-PROSASUR, explains that this two-pronged approach provides families with wraparound support that can substantially change health and economic outcomes.

“A place that has the benefits provided by both components is guaranteed holistic wellbeing, greater productivity of food for the family because of appropriate agricultural techniques and will live in healthier environments,” he says.

Families work with project counselors to establish food security and nutrition plans as well as agricultural or non-agricultural business plans and gain the skills and knowledge to grow nutritious crops in garden plots.

The Pastrana family planted new crops this season with support from ACS-PROSASUR.

In Field Schools set up by the project in each community, participants learn and practice agriculture techniques they can use at home, and families can access healthy plants from a community garden. These are also used as sites for community health monitors to track children’s growth for signs of malnutrition.

 “First of all, they gave me technical assistance to plant the garden, where I now have yuca and from which I harvested corn and sweet potato,” says Varela, who also received a rooster, six hens and a chicken coop.

The Pastrana family has established a small, raised vegetable garden where they grow corn, beans and sweet potato that will help them boost their nutrition. With a new rainwater harvesting system provided by the project, they can ensure their plants are watered and growing, even in the dry season.

A lasting transformation

As the Varela and Pastrana families begin to see the results of all these changes – yuca plants, clean water, healthier kids, income from crops – the project is working to ensure that participants and other families in the region have access to information to live healthier lives and achieve more economic stability.

A new radio program called “Vivir en el Campo” (“Living in the Countryside”) is dispatched every Saturday morning with segments on nutrition, healthy habits and farming techniques. And in Field Schools, community members can learn from their neighbors who have had hands-on training, and project field technicians who visit families can gain a better understanding of the context.

When ACS-PROSASUR comes to an end in 2021, the project aims to leave families with the tools, skills and knowledge to continue to thrive. The project is working with local governments to incorporate health and economic support activities into municipal development plans and to link vulnerable families to other municipal and international programs.

“First and foremost, it is important that families achieve nutritional and economic stability that allows for sustainable livelihoods where they currently live,” says Ruiz. “I truly believe that these sustainable strategies will ensure the continuation of the project’s achievements.”

With reporting by Amalia San Martin

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