Blue Harvest activities take place on a contiguous set of mountain ranges in the departments of Lempira, Intibucá, and La Paz on the southwestern area of the country, near the border with El Salvador.
These areas are recognized by the specialty coffee industry for high quality, export coffee. Marcala, for example, is a trademarked source of origin for specialty coffees.
The work focuses on the management and restoration of critical protected areas that nearby mountain ranges:
- Opalaca Range Biological Reserve
- El Jilguero Biological Reserve
- Montecillos Reserve
- Mixcure Reserve
- Celaque Reserve
These areas are the headwaters for major tributaries to the Lempa River and the source of water for hundreds of communities in Honduras, representing a population of about 100,000 people. These are also the sources for irrigation systems in the valleys between these mountain ranges. Additionally, activities in these areas that impact the Lempa River, affect hundreds of thousands of people downstream in El Salvador.
CRS has been active in this area for the past twenty years, facilitating the construction of water systems for nearly 250,000 people. CRS initiated its work in 2008 with a project funded by the Howard G. buffet Foundation. CRS implemented Bridges (Keurig Green Mountain), and is now implementing a large, multi-year USDA funded school nutrition program within the same region.
CRS and its partners have been successful in fostering social and political processes in these areas linking water resources management and conservation to water supply for urban and rural communities. In about a dozen municipalities in these areas, watershed councils have been formed in coordination with municipal governments. In many locations, water user associations and municipal governments have purchased critical watershed land within and near the reserves. In the areas of La Paz and Intibuca, much of the focus has been on better agricultural management practices to improve watershed performance (increase infiltration and water recharge), with coffee being the major crop. In Santa Ana (La Paz), for example, CRS facilitated a three-way agreement between the municipal governments, coffee cooperatives, and national government agencies (Honduras Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) and Forest Conservation Institute) to co-finance the renovation of farms in ways that protect water resources. Each of the municipal governments have contributed funding for these activities since 2011. One co-investment was a commercial nursery managed by a coffee cooperative located on municipal land. After three years, this nursery is generating $15,000 gross income from the sale of high quality coffee plants and timber/shade trees.
In the area of San Juan (Intibucá), CRS partners facilitated collaboration between the Forest Conservation Institute, the local watershed council, and the municipal government to legally declare their water sources and recharge areas as protected areas. The municipal government is replicating the success of this process to have its own watershed declared as a protected area. Leaders in government agencies (Forest Conservation Institute and the National Water Commission) have highlighted this work as a potential model for other parts of Honduras, and we feel there is potential for replication in other parts of Central and South America.
Coffee productivity in these regions is persistently low, with yields averaging about 10 quintales per hectare or less. Coffee rust hit many of the smaller, resource-scarce farms extremely hard, further reducing yields and making it much harder for farmers to invest in renovation. Relief from the government and donors has been limited. This situation will make it much harder for cooperatives and other stakeholders to carry out activities within the watershed management plans.
IHCAFE charges an export fee of about $15 per quintal of coffee. This fund is used to invest in the coffee value chain. The fund is provided to coffee cooperatives or to municipal governments to fund projects. Over the past few years, this fund has increased significantly. In many cases, this fund translates to hours of tractor time to improve secondary and tertiary farms in coffee producing areas. The problem is that these roads are often very poorly built and contribute to erosion, gullying, and landslides in extreme cases. This damages farmland as well as downstream infrastructure and property, such as roads and homes. The IHCAFE fund should be invested more strategically, including improving the way small roads are built and maintained.
Coffee milling is decentralized in much of Honduras, with most producers carrying out washing and de-pulping activities at small scale nearby their farms and homes. While this small scale processing is generally less harmful than large scale mills, the aggregate impact can be much worse as few farmers apply any kind of treatment to wastewater. Streams and rivers throughout this region are severely contaminated during the harvest season.
Several large towns and rural communities depend on streams and rivers from this region for their water supply. For example, the town of Marcala draws its water supply from a large stream. In the harvest season, the water is sometimes so contaminated with coffee wastewater that they have to shut down the water system, despite having a large water treatment plant.
Farmers in the Jesus de Otoro valley depend on water from coffee growing areas in Montecillo and Opalaca for irrigation. To date, irrigation management has been somewhat crude – diverting water from streams directly onto farms for flood irrigation. One problem with this is that irrigators are now competing with community demands for potable water. As demands for both uses expands, supply diminishes as a result of poor land use management in the highlands.
See map below to get to know Blue Harvest Honduras intervention zones, farms, and water sources.