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Chorti People Agriculture Project

posted Feb 21, 2011, 5:36 AM by Bob Whitney   [ updated Feb 21, 2011, 6:01 AM ]
As a bit of history, the government of Honduras working with the World Bank and United Nations has been making land reparations to the Chorti People.  The Chorti are a Mayan people group who over the centuries have been left landless.  Starting in the 1990's there was a movement to provide government purchased land to tribal villages.  This land is located in the mountainous region of Northwest Honduras near the Guatemala border.  Land ownership is a new concept to this generation and with land ownership the Chorti farmers find themselves planted in one location.  Slash and burn agriculture has been the norm for generations because they could easily relocate to new areas. Now with land ownership and continuous farming the land began to decline in productivity. The Chorti farmers could not move to "new" land but instead suffered the consequences of his farming technology IE lack of fertility and soil erosion.  This in turn has led to malnutrition and famine across whole villages.  It is in this setting that Billy and Mary moved and then were asked to provide help.

In 2003 Billy and Mary Collins, Missionaries to the Chorti People of Copan Ruinas, Honduras approached the Chorti Governing Council asking them how best they might help the Chorti People.  The council overwhelmingly voted to request assistance for their people in the area of agriculture, something neither of them were prepared for!  
 
Billy and Mary had no training in agriculture but they had heard about a retired agriculture missionary to the Philippines, Harold Watson, who now lived in Mississippi.  Dr. Watson has a history of working in the tropics and is the principal developer of SALT, Sloping Agricultural Land Technology.  His pioneering work in the use of double hedgerows of legumes planted across mountain slopes has revolutionized agriculture in the Philippines and many other places in Asia.  Harold was contacted and agreed to work with Billy and Mary to train the Chorti in SALT beginning with developing a training center near Copan Ruinas.  The Chorti Council agreed to provide the land for the center and to support the work by providing access to all their villages and even cooperating farmers.
 
The training center was started in 2004 and with the help of churches in the US, funds and laborers came into Honduras to build buildings and ready the land.  SALT was established on the approximately 8 acre site.  In 2004, 12 farmers from 6 villages were selected by the Chorti Council to be SALT demonstrators in their villages starting in 2005.  It was during the 2004 growing season that I was contacted to be a part of the agriculture training team.  Also a Chorti farm family was hired to live at the center and manage the facility and an Extensionist was hired to work with the demonstrators in each village.  The first official SALT training programs were held in the Spring of 2005 at the Agriculture training center using the SALT projects on the Center land.  Both Harold and I have made trips and continue to make trips throughout the years to oversee work at the center and provide support and advice to the projects in each village.
 
In 2006 the project grew in numbers of demonstration projects from 12 to 30 and dairy goat raising was added as a project for those who demonstrated an ability to expand into livestock raising and had enough land for forage growth.  Dairy goats are raised in confinement and feeds provided on a cut and carry system.  Goat milk has significantly raised the level of nutrition in children and provides a source of cash income.  
 
Also in 2006 several other new projects were started but on a smaller scale including bees, cacao, coffee, tilapia and fruit trees.  Training is offered and must be completed on any new project area before farmers are given materials to start the project. 

Since 2006 the project has now grown from 30 to over 150 farmers in 15 villages.  Through the implementation of SALT demonstrations farmers have shown that they have very little erosion, legume hedgerows are returning fertility to the land and corn and bean yields are increasing.  Farmers are increasing family health and income  through new projects in dairy goats, bees, fruit, cacao, coffee and tilapia.  In the midst of hurricanes and through dry years the farmers in the SALT project have consistently had better crops with improving soil.  Even in 2010 with several hurricanes and torrential rains the SALT farmers are returning high yields and improving their family situation.  Because of this improvement farmers a new project was started in 2009 to provide grain silos to farmers with good SALT projects and repayment was made in grain.  This new venture has made a real difference in higher priced grain sales and for improving family food supplies throughout the year.
 
Also since 2004 the Training Center has grown from a small building to now include two buildings, outside covered work areas, concrete seed drying areas, meeting rooms, two rooms with bunk beds, restrooms with showers, legume seed production areas, SALT demonstration area, fish farming, FAITH Gardening, dairy goat production area, breeding bucks, replacement nannies, fruit orchard, bee yard and nursery area.  The farm manager is provided a house for his family and a garden area.  
 
Plans for the future
 
There are literally thousands of Chorti farms covering the area governed by the Chorti Council.  This area extends 50 miles in any direction and is located in a mountainous area that is at best difficult to farm and certainly not easily accessible.  There is no government support for the Chorti and the council has very limited funds supplied by some grants.  The Chorti Agriculture Project and training center have operated solely on the support of churches and individuals in the United States and all volunteers have supplied their own travel and accommodations.  Even though the project is very successful as indicated by the growth in project participants and the land improvement, future project growth is severely restricted by the limited sources of funding and the current economic crisis in the world.  This crisis is and will affect donor support even for sustaining the project much less growing it.
 
It is in this situation that the Chorti Agriculture Project is seeking a new direction.  The needs and certainly the interest of the Chorti people has expanded beyond the current level of funding and even professional support.  Both Harold and I see the potential for this project to continue to develop throughout this mountainous area and for the Chorti people.  Vegetable gardening is needed to help overcome vitamin deficiencies and there is a real shortage of protein and iron in children diets that could easily be overcome with new bean varieties developed by CIAT.  Beekeeping and honey production is a ready cash crop and a there is a potential to develop a honey industry around the stingless bee indigenous to the region.  There is also a ready industry in growing and harvesting legume seeds for use in soil improvement as the supply of seed is very small.  There is the potential to improve yields through hybrid corns and beans.
 
The potential for improvement and expansion is is unbelievable.  There is a need to take this to the next step and it is with this in mind that we are considering options for project development.  If you would like to partner with us then send me an email and let's see how we can continue the change already started in this part of the world.