The Voice of Many: Honduran citizens hold the state to account to secure farm investment | Millennium Development Goals | Oxfam

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Rural communities in Western Honduras have long been marginalized, suffering high levels of poverty and inequality. Governments have shown little interest in smallholder agriculture and as a consequence have invested little in the region. Following ten years of action to build civil society, however, communities and local authorities are now working together to claim their rights. Working progressively at different levels – community, municipality, regional, and national – Oxfam and its partners have campaigned to promote small-scale agriculture as a viable means of building livelihoods and reducing poverty. As a result, new funding is beginning to have an impact in rural areas.
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    1. The Voice of Many Honduran citizens hold the state to account to secure farm investment   A farmer’s market in Copan Ruinas where farmers sell their produce directly to consumers in the urban area. ©OCDIH, 2009 Rural communities in Western Honduras have long been marginalized, suffering high levels of poverty and inequality. Governments have shown little interest in smallholder agriculture and as a consequence have invested little in the region. Following ten years of action to build civil society, however, communities and local authorities are now working together to claim their rights. Working progressively at different levels  –  community, municipality, regional, and national  –  Oxfam and its partners have campaigned to promote small-scale agriculture as a viable means of building livelihoods and reducing poverty. As a result, new funding is beginning to have an impact in rural areas.    P  r  o  g  r  a  m  m  e   I  n  s   i  g   h   t  s    1. The Voice of Many  , Programme Insights, Oxfam GB. April 2011 2 Introduction Honduras suffers from some of the highest poverty levels in Latin America. Of its population of about 7.2 million, 55 per cent of urban households and 70.8 per cent of rural households live below the poverty line, and one-quarter of the population –  1.6 million people –  live in conditions of extreme poverty (UNDP). 1  Although it is classed as a middle- income country, Honduras scores 0.667 on the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), significantly below the Latin American average of 0.797, 2  due to its highly unequal income distribution. Although 55 per cent of the population live in rural areas, over the years the state has reduced funding and technical assistance to the rural sector (UNDP). 3  Instead, governments have prioritized support to large- and medium-scale commercial agriculture for export crops. This has hampered the country’s capacity  to produce food for domestic consumption and has increased its dependency on imported food. With rising global food prices and more land being used to produce ethanol for fuel, Honduras is increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity. Citizens have historically been excluded from decision-making. Between 1963 and 1982 the country was ruled by a succession of military governments. 4  The 1980s saw a culture of authoritarianism and party political sectarianism, with violent persecution of those opposing the government; many leaders of social movements were killed. While elections have been held more regularly in recent times, real participatory democracy is still a challenge. Governments have generally accepted participation that supports the implementation of their own policies, but have been less accommodating of participation by citizens when the aim is to bring about real change. Nevertheless, in 1990 the Honduran government initiated a process aimed at decentralising decision-making. The central government retained responsibility for determining policy, but operational functions were devolved to the municipalities 5  and the private sector. A new Law of Municipalities gave them autonomy to approve budgets, collect payments for local services, operate public utilities, and create mechanisms allowing citizens to participate in local democracy. The municipalities were to fund this new model with the income they collected, while an additional 5 per cent of national income was transferred to them from central government (UNDP). 6  More additional resources became available in 1999, when Honduras became a beneficiary of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. 7  In return for debt relief, the country agreed to design a Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), setting out how funds would be invested. This provided a policy framework for negotiating new funds with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.   1. The Voice of Many  , Programme Insights, Oxfam GB. April 2011 3 Honduras also joined in the global commitment to work towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which necessitated stringent public budgeting. The PRS and the MDGs became reference points to determine how state income –  whether from grants, new foreign debt contracts, or domestic income –  could be used. As the allocation of resources and operational decision-making became increasingly decentralised and the state developed a greater focus on reducing poverty, so the opportunities for civil society to influence budget decisions at municipal and regional levels increased dramatically. Oxfam’s engagement  in the process began in 1999, through a programme designed to support the development of a movement of active citizens in Western Honduras. Empowering citizens in Western Honduras In the country as a whole, rates of illiteracy range between 50 per cent and 70 per cent, and malnutrition, poor housing conditions, and limited health services mean that diseases such as polio and tuberculosis are rife (FAO). 8  Western Honduras, comprising the departments of Lempira, Copán, and Ocotepeque, has experienced particularly acute problems of poverty, exclusion, and marginalization. The six departments of Honduras with the lowest HDI rankings are Lempira, Copán, Ocotepeque, Intibucá, Santa Bárbara, and La Paz, where the population is mostly of indigenous srcin (Lenca and Maya Chortis ethnic groups). 9   Initially the focus of Oxfam’s intervention was on creating space for citizens to participate and engage in dialogue with those who governed them, with the aim of finding ways to tackle the root causes of poverty. However, it was also clear that improving the capacity of rural people to generate income was critical in overcoming poverty and exclusion. Oxfam introduced a programme under its Global Agricultural Scale Up Initiative (GASUI), which consisted of two key components. First, the programme aimed to demonstrate the viability of agriculture as a livelihood activity that could link rural people to profitable markets (see Box 1); second, it engaged in advocacy and campaigning work that would be critical in changing local, regional, and national policies on agriculture and creating an enabling environment to support smallholder farmers. Box 1: Demonstrating the viability of smallholder agriculture: small farmers and their businesses lead the way Oxfam has been working with local partner the Christian Organization for the Integrated Development of Honduras (OCDIH) since 2006 to demonstrate the viability of small-scale agriculture as a profitable livelihood option. This means turning small family plots used to grow basic grains into integrated, diverse farms producing a range of fruits, vegetables, and livestock for consumption and for market. The model also aims to demonstrate the most effective and profitable ways of investing in the sector. In particular, the programme has supported:    1. The Voice of Many  , Programme Insights, Oxfam GB. April 2011 4 Improved natural resource management:  Through the development of irrigation systems and farmer-to-farmer training programmes, the programme has reached over 20,000 beneficiaries  –  increasing yields of corn by 54 per cent from 2006 to 2010 and incomes by 27 per cent in the same period. Farmer training programmes and demonstration farms have encouraged farmers to diversify the crops and livestock they produce, as well as to adopt new soil and water management practices that reduce the need for costly inputs, such as fertilisers. Access to credit: Poor access to credit hampers the ability of farmers to invest in their farming activities. Formal financial institutions offer credit at extremely high interest rates. The programme has established over 90 savings and loan community funds ( cajas rurales ); in 2008 these had accumulated capital of $294,370 and over 2,000 beneficiaries, 48 per cent of whom were women. Lower interest rates for women have improved their access to loans and their ability to repay them, and have also increased their ability to make autonomous decisions about the use of credit. Linking to new markets:  As well as boosting production, the programme has supported farmers to develop agriculture through small businesses in order to access new markets and achieve better prices. It has contributed to increasing producers’ sales by $150,000 in the past year in municipal farmers’ markets and through wholesalers and supermarket chains.  The number of women who have access to goods and agricultural inputs and are active in the market has now reached 31 per cent, far greater than the 1 per cent recorded in 2006. As a result, the base line of the Economic Justice programme reflects an increase in the contribution of women to household income from 10 per cent in 2007 to 20 per cent in 2008. The first phase of work to influence policy and investment took place in 1999 – 2000, and was aimed at building active citizenship in the Western region. In 1998 the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations of Honduras (ASONOG) carried out an assessment on democracy and citizen participation in the region. Oxfam agreed to work in partnership with ASONOG on a process aimed at closely linking citizen participation with human development, in a way that would change the political culture in Honduras. In that year Hurricane Mitch struck the country with devastating force, leaving 5,000 people dead, most of its crops destroyed, and damage estimated in the billions of dollars (World Bank). 10  In the aftermath of the disaster, ASONOG supported municipal authorities with training in relevant municipal laws, planning, budget formulation, tax collection, and resource management. It also provided them with funds to develop small projects of social benefit for the poorest and most excluded people, after consulting with the communities themselves about the relevance of each project. The programme began at the community level. Oxfam and ASONOG set out to engage with citizens and to encourage them to take action to claim their democratic rights. Successful strategies included: Using theatre, traditional dance, music and poetry festivals, and radio and TV programmes to educate people about the
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