Honduras: A New Look at Malnutrition and Agricultural Education

Ashley Koglin's essay for Youth World Food Prize addresses climate challenges and malnutrition in Honduras.

August 2, 2017 - Author: Ashley Koglin

Student Ashley Koglin attending Youth World Food Prize

In 1502, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and during this he explored the Republic of Honduras where at the time Mayans ruled. Spanish soon arrived in the 16th century, where they remained sitting ducks for about three centuries, until 1838 when Honduras claimed its independence from Spain. As the official language is Spanish, English is currently only widely used in the northern part of the country. The country of Honduras is a Democratic Republic where a president rules the country as head of the government. The current president is Juan Orlando Hernandez. The Honduran Lempira (HNL) is the currency, and 23.5350 HNL is equal to one U.S. dollar. Located in Central America and bordering the Caribbean Sea the climate varies from tropical lowlands to temperate in the mountains; the average temperature in the lowlands is 31 degrees (73 F). Above sea level, the average is 29 degrees C (84 degrees F). Honduras has a rainy season from May through October and a dry season November through April ("Honduras." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations).

As the second poorest country in Central America with a total land area of 112,090 square miles which is slightly larger than the state of Tennessee in the U.S. The capital city is Tegucigalpa and bordering the Caribbean Sea on the northeast side and mountainous landscapes on its opposing side the scenery is very diverse. Honduras is a mountainous country which makes the terrain rough, the lack of roads and other infrastructure provide for little to no access to hospitals and other healthcare networks. Health conditions in Honduras are among the worst in the Western Hemisphere. There are an estimated 83 physicians, 25 nurses, and 1 dentist per 100,000 people. Of the countries in Central America, it's the one with the highest number of HIV/AIDS ("The World Factbook: HONDURAS.").

The typical subsistence farm family size in Honduras is five people and is composed of mom, dad, and three kids. This family of five lives off of mostly corn-generally made into tortillas, beans-their main source of protein, plantains (resembles a banana), rice, and coffee. Occasionally meat such as fish, chicken, or pork is available, and most households have pigs or chickens. Education is free for children ages 6-12, but the lack of schools, teachers, poor quality education and the high cost of materials diminishes access to good education. Most Hondurans have the education level of fourth graders in the United States. Their academic year runs from February-November. ("Honduras." Countries and Their Cultures.)

Most Hondurans work in services such as labor force, fifty-nine point six percent to be exact, that's over half the country's population working in services. The other forty-one percent is split between thirteen point six percent in agriculture and twenty-six point six percent in industrial work. Honduras has started to produce more industrial products in the past two decades. ( "The World Factbook: HONDURAS.")

In the agricultural industry, the average farm size is eight hectares which makes the average farm size less than two and a half acres (one hectare is 2.47 acres), but the most frequent size is smaller in the range of three-five hectares. Compared to most farms in the United States this is a very small-scale farm.  Major crops are corn, sorghum, beans, and rice. Other products grown and exported include citrus, African palm, beef, timber, shrimp, tilapia, lobster, sugar, and oriental vegetables. Depending on where a farmer lives, in a valley, the mountains or near a good road, they may raise a cash crop of cabbage, cattle, citrus fruit, corn, coffee, beans or other vegetables. Location and education are major factors on what is grown and how much the product is worth in a specific area. The major exports of Honduran agriculture are a primary sector of the economy, which includes the crops bananas and coffee. Almost all families grow some of their own food if not all of the food they eat.

Honduras is the second poorest country in the Central America and malnutrition is especially problematic. In rural Honduras 48% of the population is suffering from malnutrition, 10% of infants are born underweight as a result of this. Half of children ages 2-6 suffer from anemia. Anemia is a condition marked by a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood, resulting in pallor (extremely pale face) and weariness (extreme fatigue). Honduras needs an adequate source of nutrition and fast. ("Malnutrition in Honduras." The Borgen Project.)

A major factor affecting the people of Honduras is malnutrition. Malnutrition has major effects on the body, some of which you may not know. One of the effects of malnutrition is poor wound healing. When your body doesn't get enough nutrients to keep you healthy wounds cannot heal. Wounds that can't be treated or healed get infected, and without access to proper healthcare (a hospital visit is often out of the question because of location and lack of infrastructure), this chain reaction can often lead to death. Your body does not work as effectively when it is undernourished; you are tired, hungry, and now you have an increased risk of developing medical conditions or diseases. Many of these diseases can be cured with proper medical attention, but they don’t have this option. ("Effects of Malnutrition." Richmond Vale Academy.)

Chronic malnutrition affects one in every four children and stunted growth is found in thirty-four percent of the population in rural areas in Honduras. The World Food Program is working to reduce food insecurity, eliminate malnutrition, and increase health education. The program currently takes action by ensuring appropriate nutrition for children under five in Honduras, as well as for pregnant and breastfeeding women. It provides comprehensive care and food for children in the first 1,000 days of their life, aiming to prevent stunting and malnourishment which is normal in Honduras. The program also helps those living with HIV and their families, aiming to ensure compliance with medical treatment.      ("Honduras." World Food Program USA). We can always put more effort into these programs by increasing funding.

Also affecting the availability of food is climate change. Climate change has also made an appearance by increasing in recent years which increases the frequency and intensity of disasters such as droughts, floods, and storms. Climate-related disasters have the potential to destroy crops, infrastructure, and key community assets. Climatic conditions have already affected the production of some staple crops such as maize (corn), beans, plantains, sorghum, and rice. Drought and extreme heat have dramatically reduced production of key crops during the second half of the 20th century in almost every country, not just Honduras and will likely pose as an increasingly dramatic problem in the coming decades. There is an increase in the prices of major crops because now the yields are low and there is less product to sell which in the long run means less money for the farmer.

Drought is also another factor affecting malnutrition. Drought is so intense in southern Honduras that so far El Niño has affected 1.4 million Hondurans. The World Food Program feeds 1.4 million people, but it's not the same people with drought problems. Sixty-five percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line. With each drought, the price of crops, for example, beans, will rise to forty percent making the price of food very expensive for those living under the poverty line. Without enough water or food children are at extremely high risk and very susceptible to diseases. When a drought occurs, farmers often have to seek new job opportunities because their crops are dry and there is nothing left for them to harvest. A third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and theses farmers have to find jobs to provide what little they can. However, there is no real way to provide rainfall. Farmers could install irrigation systems in some fields for a small supply of food this way farmers don’t have to find a new job. ("Honduras." World Food Program USA)

One solution to malnutrition is increasing food production. A school by the name of Agricultural School Pompilio Ortega is based on providing agricultural practices including the latest technologies. This school opened its doors in 1990 to students in Santa Barbara, Honduras. More schools like this should be built to supply a new future of less worry on where food will come from for the coming generations. The school believes in the "learning by doing method," implementing many hands-on projects. A drip irrigation system was installed so students could get hands-on practice in irrigation system management and maintenance, soil preparation, fertilization and pest management. Students also manage 15 hectares of crops and sell them after learning the best practices of harvesting. This practice allows the students to not only learn new things but actually do it themselves which they will remember doing after they leave the school. More than 2,500 students have received technical agriculture degrees. Most farm families grow everything they eat from livestock, to fruits, to vegetables, although the quality of their food is not always great. Most places have very little access to stores; they can't just jump in their car and drive to the nearest store or walk to the nearest community garden. Their present day farming methods are inefficient, and crop yields and qualities are low. Poor education is the number one reason for this. These farmers have little education on how to grow, harvest or manage their crops to get the best quality product out of them. ("Honduras." Feed the Future ).

A logical solution to the crisis of malnutrition is education, everything from health to agriculture. Knowledge on how to keep yourself healthy and provide your family with an abundance of fresh, safe and reliable food and water goes a long way. Providing access to agricultural and nutritional education to improve nutrition including how to set up an irrigation system to help with drought problems will increase food production. There is no real solution to climate change other than correcting and improving the problems it creates. The World Food Program, sponsored by The World Bank, has already started improving education including nutrition to decrease the amount of people with malnutrition by setting up funds for schools, let's continue this trend in Honduras. This trend can only continue if more students in the U.S and other developed countries learn about their situation and become teachers and advocates for helping out people in need of education to better their lifestyles.

Works Cited

  • "The World Factbook: HONDURAS." Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
  • "Honduras." Countries and Their Cultures. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
  • "Honduras[34]." Honduras[34]. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
  • "Honduras."​ ​World​ ​Food​ ​Program​ ​USA.​ ​N.p.,​ ​n.d.​ ​Web.​ ​30​ ​Mar.​ ​2017.
  • "Honduras." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. Encyclopedia.com, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
  • "Honduras." Feed the Future. N.p., 19 Jan. 2017. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
  • "Malnutrition in Honduras." The Borgen Project. N.p., 24 Oct. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
  • "Effects of Malnutrition." Richmond Vale Academy. N.p., 13 June 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
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