"The project has taught me a lot, mainly how to prepare the land for agriculture," says Mr Canales. "It's already 3 years that I have the finca (farm) well organized, not like it was before in the traditional way."
Initially Mr. Canales and the other farmers in the area burned, cleared and replanted new plots of land every two to three years. This method degenerated and dried out the soil on the steep hillsides of the Lempira Sur area. But three years ago Mr Canales replaced the slash-and-burn method with a sustainable intercropping agroforestry system called Quesungual, after a local village. The system was developed by local farmers and the Lempira Sur extension workers.
Now Mr Canales plants the same plot every year, but as he is growing his crops on terraces interspersed with trees, the soil retains its moisture, minimizing the risk of erosion and landslides. He grows tall trees for their timber and fruit. Beneath the tall tree crowns are smaller trees whose branches are used for firewood. These trees are pruned regularly providing nutrients for the soil. At the ground level Mr Canales grows his maize, beans and coffee. And after the crops are harvested, he brings in his cattle to eat the remains.
Mr Canales' yields of maize and beans have gone up almost 50 percent and his coffee harvest has doubled. Such increases in yields are not unusual in Lempira Sur.
In the village of Olosingo a group of women who needed funding to start a dairy products business received a loan from the newly established cooperative bank. The women's group is now processing milk into cream and cheese.
It is the second time Ms Santos and the other women have tried to make dairy products. Their first try didn't succeed, as the cows didn't produce enough milk in the dry season and it was too expensive to buy milk from other villages. Having analysed and identified the problems, the women started to make nutritious feed for the cattle. This has had a double advantage: the women both sell the feed, which adds to their income, and feed it to their cows, which enables them to produce milk throughout the year.
"Now we are starting again from the beginning," says Ms Santos. "What we hope is to keep working and to achieve better results."
Already the results are improving. The cattle are producing more milk and the women have a surplus of cream and cheese to sell on the nearby market -- a good way of generating much-needed income.
Margarita Castillo is making tortillas -- but she is no longer shut into a small, dark, smoky room, making tortillas over an open fire. Instead she has moved the kitchen outside under a roof, where a new enclosed stove has been constructed with a pipe to vent the smoke.
"Before we used a stove that produced a lot of smoke," she says. "That made the kitchen very dirty. I met a girl from the project who was teaching people to build this new types of stove, and she came to teach me," says Ms Castillo.
Introduction of the new stoves into almost 1 000 houses has reduced consumption of firewood and the incidence of respiratory problems.
María Amparo Meléndez is chairwoman of the local farmers' association and one of the people making the new crop storage silos that have been introduced.
With the increase in grain production in Lempira, a safe storage place for the crops place became essential. Traditionally grains were stored in a loft above the fireplace in the kitchen. Here the smoke helped to keep the maize and beans free from pests. But this system was not very effective -- every year 20 percent to 40 percent of the cereal harvest was lost to rats and other pests.
"The silos are a great thing because the grains are stored under cover," says Ms Meléndez. "In the attic, mice or beatles could eat it. We have learned that in the silos grain is preserved much better so we don't lose as much of it now."
All the silos, which are as tall as a man, are produced within the communities from materials provided by the project and brought in from Guatemala. But the local people want to be independent. "We are learning how to do this, because when the project ends in one or two years we need to organize the buying of the material ourselves," says Ms Meléndez.
Elmer Ramos is one of 100 staff employed by the Lempira Sur project.
"I started with the project in March 1997," says Mr Ramos, who is from the Lempira Department. "Our work is mainly to give technical assistance to farmers in the rural zones. What I like the most is dealing with people, the feeling that we help them, that we see the results."
The extension teams include agronomists and community development experts. Most of them come from the region and know the people. Their job is to make sure that families, communities and municipalities are at the heart of the development process. This ensures that the result is lasting change.
The Lempira Sur area covers almost 2000 km2, and so do Mr Ramos and his colleagues. The distances between communities and the lack of roads and bridges makes the job challenging.
The main goal of Mr Ramos and the other extension workers is to become dispensable. They want the villagers to take full responsibility for their own planning and activities. When this happen Mr Ramos will feel he can move on to other areas to help more people participate in building a sustainable future.
To read more about the new farming system, click here