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The on-going Rural Development Project for Southern Lempira (PROLESUR) began in 1988. The project is implemented in the southern part of the Department of Lempira, covering 20 out of 28 municipalities. It covers approximately 127,700 inhabitants living in the project area.

Operational funds

Since starting in 1988, the following financial contributions have been made:

Objectives of the project

Initially, the objective was to improve the quality of life of the rural population through organized participation in support of new productive opportunities, creation of employment opportunities and coordination of institutional actions, within the framework of sustainable agricultural and rural development policies and with the aim of strengthening mechanisms of intervention and development. In 1996, that objective was modified to focus on family units who were improving their living conditions and their natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Project impact

No information is available on the nutritional impact of the project. Maize yields have increased from 10 quintals58 per manzana 59 in 1995 to 24 quintals per manzana in 1998, as a result of the adoption of a technological agricultural package based on the Quesungual farming system60, now increasingly adopted by the population. Beans, not previously planted in the area, are now showing significantly larger yields. PROLESUR had an impact on the decision to draft the legislation on the National Programme for Sustainable Rural Development (PRONADERS) affiliated with the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG).

In the area of education, since November 1998 five secondary schools were converted into Technical Institutes for Agricultural Training in the PROLESUR area of influence, with the financial and technical support of the Secretariat of Education.

Community participation

PROLESUR has made substantial efforts to promote the widespread adoption of the technological package based on the Quesungual system, which has changed the dynamics of maize and bean production in the entire project area. However, participation has been largely functional, with participants carrying out project activities, but with minimal input into the selection of these activities. The social community component requires strengthening and coverage of components such as healthy households and income creation has to be extended.

Lessons learned

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, constraints/threats (SWOC)






PROLESUR enjoys considerable political support and its achievements in the field of food production ensure the continuation of this support. The application of the Quesungal farming system has been a recognized success and this in itself is likely to continue. However, there is considerable room for improvement in coordination at all levels and in its relationship with local government in particular. Another threat to sustainability is the limited engagement of the participating communities in decision-making.


The Republic of Honduras is located in Central America, with a surface area of 112,492 km2. It borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua which allows it to play a key commercial role in the area. It is also favoured with access to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Its population in the year 2001 was estimated to be about 6.6 million (UN Population Division, 1998).

The population is predominantly young; according to estimates for the year 2000, 63.1 percent are under 25 years of age. The Human Development Index report for Honduras 2000 gives the nation a rating of 0.653 and locates the country among the lowest five in the continent. One of the country’s greatest difficulties has been its economic growth. According to a 1997 report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the growth rate of the gross domestic product (GDP) between 1965 and 1980 was 1.1 percent. The GDP per inhabitant (PPA 61 in US dollars) is reported to be US$ 2,433, one of the lowest in Central America and not even half of the GDP of Costa Rica and Panama. The per capita income in 1996 was estimated to be US$ 700. According to the indicators presented in the UNDP Human Development Report 2000, using data from 1998, and the 1999 National Report (UNDP/INDH,1999) in relation to the Human Development Index for Honduras, the deprivation in human development for health is 26 percent, for education 32 percent and for income slightly over 70 percent.

On the basis of the UNDP Human Development Reports, an evaluation of the situation of Honduras locates it in a group of countries that in spite of their low income, have made important strides in recent decades, especially in the areas of health and education. It also shows, however, that its economy faces serious problems for the future. The 1999 Human Development Index data state that the economy has become more vulnerable given the weakness of the social safety nets and the absence of an established and independent judicial system. The consolidation of democracy faces the serious challenge of mitigating an historical social debt, in addition to facing difficulties for establishing a transparent system of accountability and a high degree of shared social responsibility, necessary for a developing society.

The estimated national fertility rate, according to the 1995-1996 National Epidemiology and Family Health Survey (ENESF) was 4.9, 6.3 in rural areas and 3.9 in urban areas. The birth rate per 1,000 population was 33.4 in 1996. The main ethnic groups are the Garifunas, Misquitos, Xicaques or Tolupanes, Lencas, Pech or Payas, Tawhakas or Sumos, Chortis and Hohaos.

The level of poverty in Honduras is high. In 1996 the percentage of poor families was estimated at 72.2 percent using the poverty line criteria and did not change significantly throughout the decade. The situation became more acute when in 1998 Hurricane Mitch devastated agricultural production and destroyed a good part of the social and economic infrastructure of the country. This affected the unemployment level, especially in urban areas, with an increase from 4.6 percent to 5.2 percent. Agricultural and economic production was seriously affected in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, with reductions of 8.7 percent and 6.3 percent respectively. Table 1 presents a summary of Honduras’ health indicators.

Table 1: Basic health indicators




Life expectancy at birth



Infant mortality per 1000 live births



Incidence rate (per 100,000 inhabitants):






Vaccination rate in children under 5



Population without access to water



Population without access to sanitation



Source: UNDP Human Development Report, Honduras 2000

The two indicators that best reflect national health care conditions are the infant mortality rate and life expectancy at birth, both of which have improved. Improvements health infrastructure, basic health care, sanitary conditions, availability of safe water and the implementation of a system of latrines have made important contributions. However, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of AIDS and tuberculosis cases. Rates of stunting have decreased since 1987 in the group aged 1-5 years, from 43.9 percent in 1987 to 36.7 percent in 1996, but the prevalence remains high. The most serious nutritional problems are found in the western rural areas of the country. This situation is closely related to the high poverty levels (96.1 percent) in that area (PAHO, 1998). As far as specific data on nutrition for the Department of Lempira, several documents simply mention that the situation is critical especially for boys, girls and women, but no quantitative data are given.

There has been an increase in the nationwide literacy rate from 68.6 percent in 1990 to 72.1 percent in 1999. This achievement has not been evenly spread: in some departments illiteracy stands at over 50 percent. The indicator of years of school attended showed some gains at the pre-school, primary and secondary levels, with an increase in average schooling from 3.0 to 4.8 years at the national level between 1990 and 1999 (Table 2).

Table 2 : School attendance in Honduras
















Source: UNDP Human Development Report, Honduras 2000

In spite of these gains, the national educational system is still far from making education a right for all. In 1999 there were 1,635,608 school age children that did not have access to the educational system, almost 50.7 percent of the total population between 5 and 24 years of age. It is in this setting that the Rural Development Project for Southern Lempira (PROLESUR) is situated, aimed at the southern part of the Department of Lempira.

The Department of Lempira is in the southeast of Honduras, covering an area of 4,228 km2, with 253,689 inhabitants and a population density of 60 inhabitants per square kilometre. Most of the department borders El Salvador. PROLESUR is working in an area of 2,178 km2, which corresponds to 50.8 percent of Lempira’s total surface area, with 127,700 inhabitants in 20 municipalities. The population density for the area is estimated at 190 inhabitants/km2. The terrain where PROLESUR works is rugged and mountainous, with elevations ranging from 140 to 2,200 metres above sea level in the space of 40 km. Agriculture is predominantly on slopes, with traditional methods used for raising maize, beans, fruit, vegetables in small garden plots, coffee on the larger plots and cattle raising. Communications are still insufficient, with only one road connecting the municipalities and little transportation on that road. Telephone communications are limited and there are only three telephones in the entire project area.

The area of the project is categorized by the Human Development Report 2000 as a poor peasant area consisting of small landholdings (minifundio) and precarious land ownership, in that most people do not own the land but lease it either by year or by harvest. Yearly rental fees are in the range of 100 to 200 lempiras62 per manzana. If the calculation is done by harvest, the landowner requires up to one load (equivalent to 2 quintals) of maize per harvested manzana.

Nutritional and food security issues have been targeted by the Healthy Home Programme, covering sanitation, nutrition and reproductive health, and by the agricultural sector, the diversification of productive activities, combining various traditional cultivation techniques, discouraging damaging customs in preparing land for planting, introduction of other products that could be marketed in the area and financial support to the farmers as an alternative in their search for resources.

No baseline information nor trends data on the nutritional status were found for the most vulnerable groups (children and women) of the project’s target population to describe the nutritional problems they had at the beginning of the programme or any subsequent changes. This is largely due to the fact that the initial objective of the project was the improvement and saving of natural resources through the use of agricultural technology and an increase in production of basic grains (maize and beans).


The PROLESUR began in 1988 in response to an emergency identified by the local leaders who warned authorities of the severe drought that had put the population in a precarious food security situation. This alert led to a long-term cooperation between the then Ministry of Agriculture (now the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It began with an emergency project called “Rehabilitation of agricultural activities (1988-1990)” 63 aimed at restoring the productive capacity of the area, emphasizing protection and better use of water resources, creating awareness of the effects of the productive systems and the management of natural resources. The technical analysis came to the following conclusions:

Between 1992 and 1995, the area entered a new stage of relation between productive systems and the environment (management of farms and small watersheds), with a focus on food security and natural resources management and the active participation of local organizations. It was at this point that agricultural investigators discovered in the village of Quesungual a unique process for farming plots. The trees were not cut at the stump level but at a certain height (between 1.20 and 1.80 metres), and the stubble accumulated down hill. This gave rise to what is now called the Quesungual farming method (see Appendix 1 for details) which has revolutionized production in the area, especially of maize. It has given momentum not only to the production of basic foodstuffs but has led also to improving watershed management techniques because of its reduction and control of erosion and regulation of water flow.

Between 1995 and 1999, the focus shifted from one centred on farm and watershed management, to one that incorporated the family and community as its central axis. In summary, the first phase lasted a little over a decade (1988-1999) and focused on improving availability and accessibility of basic foodstuffs for the population, turning survival strategies into sustainable rural development strategies. The project began in earnest in 1992 given that the initial years were devoted to responding to the emergency, including food and technical assistance and training of community leaders.

The initial long-term developmental objective of the PROLESUR was to improve the quality of life of the rural population by means of its organized participation in the creation of new productive and employment opportunities and the coordination of institutional actions, within the framework of sustainable agricultural and rural development, with the aim of strengthening appropriate mechanisms of intervention and development. In 1996, that objective was modified to improve the living conditions and natural resources of family units in a sustainable manner. The specific objectives that were initially established were also modified as the central objective of the PROLESUR changed.

In the first phase of the planning and implementation of the project, there was no implicit or explicit monitoring of the nutritional aspects of the project population. However, as the objectives were modified, some actions were aimed at the diversification of food production and nutritional education, though nutritional monitoring was still not included. For example, when the Healthy Homes component was started, mention is made of the availability of family plots, processing and marketing, nutrition education, reproductive health and leadership.

The strategies defined to sustain and accompany this process of change included the following:

The principal components defined by the PROLESUR for making the proposed objectives and strategies operational are:

The PROLESUR has always aimed to develop technical know-how at the local level and since the beginning has incorporated technical and theoretical training for participatory planning and administrative management. This has promoted agricultural technological implementation in order to achieve the initial objectives, as well as those relating to the rehabilitation and conservation of natural resources and to increased agricultural production.

In order to reach these goals, participation of the rural population was supported, along with the development of human resources and of the local and regional infrastructure. Funding came from national institutions and the international community. Financial and technical support came from the Government of Honduras through the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG) and, to a lesser degree, the Secretariat of Education. External support came from the Government of the Netherlands through FAO as follows:

In terms of the project’s target population, it was decided that the beneficiaries would be the families of small farmers and/or those landless rural men or women that belonged to rural organizations and had to lease land every year. In practice, work has also been done with livestock ranchmen engaged in mid-sized activities, who own more land. According to a 1988 evaluation, the fact that no differences were made between the family farmer and the middle-sized livestock rancher did not help in establishing better objectives and having better impact with either of the groups. This was the case at the very beginning of the emergency phase of PROLESUR as well as since 1992; PROLESUR did not discriminate among groups but worked with anyone interested, particularly if they were organized in local groups. There was the advantage of previous experience in the 1980s of the Rural Development Project for the Western Region (PRODERO) with the National Agricultural Development Bank on the one hand and the Swiss Cooperation on the other, where organizational aspects were strengthened with credit and the introduction of silos, respectively. This helped to identify groups with certain levels of experience and some of the credit failures provided learning experiences which the PROLESUR took into account with its new proposals. In the case of silos it was decided that instead of delivering them readymade, installation skills would be developed to generate income locally.

The PROLESUR area of influence has increased as well. Initially, the project began in 1988 in 13 municipalities; it has been extended in the past five years to cover 20 municipalities, with an estimated participant population rising from 80,000 inhabitants to the present 127,700.

From the beginning, the project has had a focus on agronomy using the participatory methodology as the base for its consolidation. At first, there were 13 technical teams in three operation centres: Guarita, Candelaria and La Campa. Later, as the geographical coverage increased, personnel was increased and 20 technical teams were formed to cover an equal number of municipalities. It is worth mentioning that in 1988, as part of the PROLESUR efforts to begin a technology transfer process, with the approval of the Secretariat of Education five high schools were transformed into Technical Institutes for Agricultural Training with an agricultural and animal husbandry focus. It is still an experiment, but one which the Secretariat of Education might use as an example beyond the area of Lempira. The number of technical and professional personnel supporting PROLESUR activities has risen from 52 in 1992 to the present figure of 162. The current staff includes:

PROLESUR has had most impact in the area of agronomy, with some impact in education; in other areas, efforts are still being made to test methodologies and consolidate processes. Project impacts in the areas of agriculture, local organization and municipal management, a local self-managed credit system and nutritional status are documented in project reports and evaluations. These are described in the subsections that follow.


Between 1995 and 1998 there was proof of the benefits to maize yields resulting from the training provided to groups of farmers and including training in the Quesungual system (see Appendix 1). The actual yield per manzana grew from 10 to 24 quintals. The Quesungual system has been widely adopted, not only because of its promotion by PROLESUR technical staff, but also because of its demonstrated impact on soil conditions and thus crop yields, thereby encouraging its adoption by neighbouring farms. The change in the landscape has also been noticeable and that attracts the attention of farmers who have not yet applied the system. Many farmers do not call it “Quesungual” but rather “raw planting” (see Appendix 1 for more details).

The use of almost 5,031 metal silos (18 quintals per silo) by an equal number of families resulted in an increase in the storage capacity of maize since at least 1995 and in the last three years the level of storage has been higher. This has given the farmers in the PROLESUR project area a certain security by increasing the availability of maize and beans during the difficult summer period. Neither the drought resulting from El Niño in 1987-88 nor Hurricane Mitch ten years later disturbed agricultural production in Southern Lempira. During the summer of 1999 more than 5,000 silos installed in the area since 1995 had been full. The municipalities in Southern Lempira exported food (about 800 quintals’ worth) to areas damaged by Hurricane Mitch, something that had not happened in many years.

However, it is worth noting that the majority of farmers in the area do not own their own land and cannot adopt the Quesungual system because many landowners do not authorize them to do so and instead ask farmers to use traditional fertilizers (which the majority of farmers still use for maize production). This situation was also noted in a 1998 evaluation of the project65. One of the beneficial aspects of the Quesungual system is the elimination of slash and burn techniques, a change the farmers are coming to accept as positive.

Baseline studies compiled through interviews with families in the PROLESUR project area demonstrated that between 1995 and 1998 there was a huge increase in families’ use of silos and of improved kitchen stoves (from 12 percent to 56 percent usage). Maize was commonly stored in the kitchen ceiling and is now being deposited in a silo. Cooking used to be done over an open fire that consumed a great deal of wood and produced much smoke, but the new stoves use less wood and have a metal surface for cooking, resulting in much less smoke in the kitchen. This is of great benefit for the eyes and respiratory tract. The Candelaria health centre reported that respiratory tract illness was the most frequent motivation for children and adults to seek medical attention, followed by diarrhoea.

Water. In more than 5,100 hectares where measurements have been taken, it is reported that through the use of the Quesungual method, the soil’s capacity to retain moisture increased from 8 percent to 11 percent between 1993 and 1996. This represents an availability of about 60,000 litres of water per hectare during the driest month of the year (15 March to 15 April).

Soil fertility has improved during the past five years, especially in its content of organic matter, reaching levels as high as 4 percent in the first 15 centimetres. In comparison, there is only 2.5 percent organic matter in plots where burning is still used.

Local organization and municipal management

PROLESUR works with 89 Communal Development Councils (COMUDE) providing general training, including methodology transfers, the running of second-level integration organizations with a higher degree of autonomy, and the creation of an association of municipalities. Coverage of organization and community participation is progressing, as recognition of PROLESUR personnel and familiarity with the technical experts’ agendas improves.

A positive aspect is the impact PROLESUR has had at the central level in the development of the National Programme for Sustainable Rural Development (PRONADERS), adjunct to the SAG. The PRONADERS achievements have been the result of intense work with the PROLESUR and there are important lessons learned which are now used to guide other foreign cooperation projects and to improve the nature of relations between the Government and external cooperation.

Local self-managed credit system

There is a system of alternative credit operating in the communities, which supports small and medium-sized producers by means of community banks (in 67 of 90 PROLESUR communities), as well as the strengthening of three cooperatives in the area. A study carried out in May 2001 (Zelaya and Reardon, 2001) with the purpose of identifying markets for what has been called rural non-farm employment, makes clear that PROLESUR needs to do more work in at least five areas in order to have better market penetration. Problems of product quality, limited quantities and low accessibility to roads means that small groups are tied to the local and municipal urban markets and have limited access to a wider market. The potential markets are dairy products, tin work and other metal products, construction materials, improved traditional crafts and lumber-related work such as sawmills and carpentry. Of the five areas mentioned, the study sees most potential in dairy products, tin work and construction materials, given the fact that the groups have gained experience in purchasing inputs, accounting, work skills and market research. There remains the need for better techniques related to product volume and quality.

Nutritional status

The impact of the project at the nutritional level is difficult to assess due to the absence of recorded information. Because of the was strong emphasis on the agricultural and livestock activities, no nutritional monitoring system was established. Other areas, such as Healthy Homes, did not record any relevant information.

Data obtained in the Health Centres come from the child growth monitoring system. However clinic attendance is poor and many children come to the health centre for the first time when they are ill. In some communities there are groups of women volunteers who have been trained to measure and weigh children and interpret the data, and recently the new management of the health centre is trying to revive that work. The non-governmental organization CARE used to give out food to the mothers who brought their children to the health centre and at that time there was more frequent use of the centre.

The health centre directors report an apparent tendency for there to be fewer underweight children in 2001, but there is no explanation for the phenomenon. The records are very uneven and it is unclear if the same children are being followed. The turnover of personnel and the fact that one of the health centres was without a doctor for a long time has limited the quality of the records. PROLESUR gives the impression that initially it focused all its energies on improving basic food needs and raising the level of local incomes, and that only once the process was well advanced did it concern itself with other components that have been incorporated gradually.


Project actors

The former Ministry of Agriculture, now the Secretariat of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG), together with FAO, undertook the task of supporting 13 municipalities in the Department of Lempira after being made aware of difficulties by the rural leaders and mayors. They spoke of adversities such as a drought since 1987 and the war in El Salvador which affected the border situation: the 13 municipalities had traditionally enjoyed fluid cross-border relations with the neighbouring country. In 1998 the Secretariat of Education initiated the Technical Institutes for Agricultural Training, providing salaries for teachers in the institutes.

The SAG designed a tripartite coordination and decision-making structure for PROLESUR in which Government of the Netherlands, FAO and the SAG itself participate (see Appendix 2 for organizational chart of PROLESUR). In addition, government support has included providing legal statutes, financial and technical support, legal and institutional counsel, follow up and evaluation. The Government has signed a tripartite agreement between two government secretariats and a FAO representative.

Coordination between PROLESUR and the ministries at the central, departmental and local levels is good. However, coordination between the project and the municipalities is not yet strong enough, due to the fact that most mayors are not familiar with PROLESUR and to the very low budget assigned to the municipalities by the central government. On some occasions, there has been coordination with NGOs and institutions that have worked in the area for some time. This has been useful from the standpoint of information exchange, training and, in some cases, infrastructure for the communities.

Because of distance and difficult access roads, very few institutions work in Lempira. There has thus been an effort to forge inter-institutional relations with those that do work in the area, such as the Honduran Social Investment Fund (FHIS) and the Ministry of Education. PROLESUR in conjunction with the FHIS have encouraged the introduction of new cropping techniques, latrine projects, improved kitchen stoves, water supply and the use of irrigation systems that have resulted in increased basic grain production, and improving the availability of grain through the use of metal silos. This is a major accomplishment: cropping techniques that avoid harming natural resources and help conserve the soil, the main resource for people in the area.

The projects supported by the governmental institutions in the area are very specific and short-term. For example, the FHIS focuses only on mini-irrigation projects of limited duration and does not guarantee any ongoing presence in support of the local organization. The Secretariat of Education has supported the change in the mission and status of the Technical Institutes for Agricultural Training, but the administrative part is not efficient66. In addition, there is no agreement with the Ministry that would incorporate the Technical Institutes for Agricultural Training definitively into the structure of the Ministry of Education.

In the 90 communities across the 20 municipalities in the southern area of the Department of Lempira, there are community groups that PROLESUR knows and supports, the majority of which (60 percent) have been created by PROLESUR for the purpose of responding to its offer of assistance. Some groups already existed at the time of BANADESA and CARE. Their role today is that of recipients of the project benefits, but some have achieved a certain economic autonomy, for example by being the builders of the metallic silos, and conducting their own management, monitoring and decision-making.

Project activities

The SAG, with the technical support of FAO, identified five main problems that affected the area, based on meetings with the rural leaders and mayors of the 13 municipalities. These were:

Since the beginning of PROLESUR, technical staff from the SAG, the Ministry of Education and FAO have been in charge of the planning process. Community participation in the process has been very low, generally only in problem analyses. In most cases the community problem analysis has contributed little to the institutional planning process. This situation is also confirmed by previous evaluations.

Technical staff from PROLESUR, the SAG and the Ministry of Education have been in charge of the process of implementation, technical assistance, technical support, monitoring and evaluation; the purely operative field work has been carried out by different technicians from the institutions, together with organized groups in the communities. The role played by the organized community groups in designing diagnostic tools, planning, monitoring and evaluation is still very limited.

In addition to funding from the Government of Honduras and the Government of Netherlands (through FAO), organizations such as the Honduras Social Investment Fund, CARE, the Directorate for Agricultural Science and Technology and the National Institute for Professional Training have made specific contributions, and have been administered by them in support of the communities. Hence the management of funds has remained at the institutional level. There are some experiences with microprojects at the organized community level (silos, communal banks) but they are still in the process of consolidation.

Monitoring and evaluation

The project has had a formal monitoring and planning unit since 1999. The unit is in charge of running the planning process, with an annual activity cycle starting with the participatory community analysis running through the annual operative planning of the project. The process has been used since 1995, and is appropriate for a project focused on what PROLESUR can provide, since it facilitates the empowerment and the creation of local planning, monitoring and evaluation capacities. However, the method used, directed towards the annual implementation of planned activities rather than planning in the medium and short term, makes it difficult to use as a management tool to detect critical points or unforeseen results. There are no defined indicators for immediate objectives but only goals for the activities, which results in a limited understanding of gains made toward achieving immediate objectives and the higher purpose of the project.

Community participation in the establishment of monitoring indicators, review of advances, and evaluation is still very new, and is limited to what is done by some community banks and the artisans’ association which builds silos. Project evaluations done in recent years have been useful and a few suggested corrections have been taken into account, such as strengthening the monitoring and evaluation system, increasing women’s participation, and other recommendations made by the evaluation missions of April 1998 and October 2000.

Development of local capacities

Since the start of the project, the established objectives have clearly been the protection of natural resources and the transformation of livestock, agricultural and forestry practices. PROLESUR has managed to introduce clear changes in productive and conservation practices, and in some cases agricultural transformation in areas devastated in ecological and agricultural terms, as well as in vulnerable communities. Another aspect of building local capacity is the creation of the technical institutes and adult education, with the participation of youth and community leaders.

The founding of a cooperative has been important for the local community. While its formation grew out of the presence of technical advisers from outside Lempira, 90 percent of the cooperative members today are from the project area which clearly shows a process of local ownership. There are two other cooperatives that have been formed for the purposes of granting credit and offering services; these have played an important role for their beneficiaries.


The process of modernization and decentralization of the state aims to provide a higher degree of efficiency and less concentration of the administration of natural and human resources at the centre, with higher levels of responsibility for the local municipal governments. On the other hand, Article 48 of the Municipal Code allows for local organizations to take part in the municipal governments’ decision-making processes through the municipal development plans. A constitutional framework thus exists for better relations between government and community.

According to the National Programme for Sustainable Rural Development (PRONADERS), this will take time to be adequately implemented, given the role that many international cooperation institutions and organizations have played for some years, which has been to drive processes under the name of community participation, while carrying on without consulting the grassroots. That experience offers some lessons in what mistakes to avoid.

In the case of PROLESUR, it is noteworthy that more than three governments from different political parties have come and gone without altering PROLESUR. Perhaps the poverty of the area, difficult access and distance from the capital city are some of the factors that allowed it to continue. In addition, the role of higher level government officials has been important for obtaining such impressive results (for example, the increase in basic grain production).

Since 1988 Honduras has been going through a series of stabilization and economic adjustment programmes involving fiscal austerity measures that have had a strong effect on the economy and the social environment. In 1997, a large percentage of households had barely enough to satisfy their basic needs (65 percent of urban households, 35 percent of rural households). The Government adopted a major structural adjustment programme from 1988 and in the early 1990s whose purpose has been to control inflationary pressures, fiscal imbalances and foreign trade as well as to liberalize and gradually privatize the economy so as to increase savings and promote steady development. Different poverty relief programmes have been implemented with the purpose of mitigating the effects of the adjustments on vulnerable groups and to structurally promote social development.

Some examples are the Social Fund created in 1990; the Rural Development Plan for the Western Region (PLANDERO) in 1995; the Lempira Regional Development Project; COHASA II in 1996; the Food Security Project COHASA III; “Intibucá” in 1997 and others, among them PROLESUR. These reflect a preference for working on rural development strategies and poverty alleviation. Recently the creation of PRONADERS as part of the SAG is seen as an initiative that could serve as a reference point for methodologies of technology transfer, since it could have a monitoring unit for the whole country.

Undoubtedly many gains were achieved in the areas of health and nutrition during the 1990s. For instance, life expectancy at birth rose from 60 to 69 years and infant mortality fell from 50 to 40 per thousand live births. At the departmental and municipal level, there are a series of actions aimed specifically at different aspects of nutrition, and included within the overall objectives of the SAG and the Ministry of Health. The best levels of concrete inter-institutional coordination is at the field level. The level of coordination at the national, departmental and municipal levels is still weak but on its way to becoming stronger. In the specific case of the PROLESUR, the coordination at the local level between the Secretariat of Education and the SAG is quite strong and only beginning between the Secretariat of Health and the SAG.


The project is a response to a proposal made by local community leaders and mayors of 13 municipalities who presented their acute crisis appeal following the drought of 1987. Both harvests were lost due to lack of rain from August 1987 onward. In the face of this situation, the SAG and FAO executed an emergency project for two years aimed at exploring possibilities for water management in the area, and establishing small agricultural production systems for lessening the food crisis. Food assistance was also introduced to the affected area which in some cases was converted into cash to cover the costs of transporting the food supply. A training course in agricultural issues and community organization was designed and the number of area leaders increased from 30 to 260.

From 1990 to the end of 1991, the project activity slowed considerably. Soon after, in February 1992, the Government of the Netherlands approved a pre-project of assistance to prepare for the rural development of Southern Lempira, covering 30 communities in the original 13 municipalities. This preparatory phase focused on the leaders formed in the emergency phase. This was a key element for continuity, and lasted three years. It was in 1992 that the method of agricultural production known today as the Quesungual system was discovered in the village of that name. Following the preparatory stage, a four-year formal project was implemented from 1995 to 1999. The project is now in a new phase of implementation with a three-year project to last from 2000 to 2003, whose focus will be governance.

As far as participation is concerned, the project is of a hybrid type. The community’s opinion was adequately taken into account by the Government of the time and sustained financially and technically by the Government of the Netherlands through FAO. PROLESUR has received strong agricultural technology transfer and in that sense there has not been much room for very active community participation. One evaluation finds certain contradictions between PROLESUR local planning and the planning process of the CODECOs and interest groups, since PROLESUR has clearly defined its main objectives and the CODECOs aim at addressing other types of needs that go beyond the purely productive. In certain cases the PROLESUR has become a strong mediator and has obtained important results such as the opening and improvement of roads by the government authorities.

At present, many of the organized groups in PROLESUR communities draft plans related to the project’s interests. The Quesungual system is used in a wide geographical area, and is used more consistently, although not everyone knows it by that name. In many cases the transfer by the technical staff to the farmers of the techniques of the Quesungual system has not been very strong. Apparently, the successful copying of the system by one farmer from another has been working and this has been the factor that has spread the system and brought with it the positive results of increased production of maize and beans. The productive activities carried out by organized groups in PROLESUR areas are given in Table 3 .

Table 3: Groups that generate rural non-farm employment (2001)


No. of communities

Dairy products


Silos/tin metalwork




Cinder block production




Production of straw mats


Sawmill and lumber




Source: Case Study, May 2001. Carlos Zelaya and Thomas Reardon.
FAO/Michigan State University.

The most successful economic activities have been the construction of metal silos, cinder block production and carpentry. All the groups have the backing and technical assistance of the PROLESUR, even those that rely on their own resources via credits.

In relation to the impact of small businesses, documented in the case study mentioned above, there were 161 non-farm jobs that have been directed primarily towards the local market and have been expanding into nearby markets in the area, which is a positive step and not common in rural development projects. It must be recognized that there are a limited number of participants in the groups that generate employment, the market coverage is very local, and the volume and quality must improve substantially.

It is still not clear how the technical experts conduct institutional planning. It is assumed that they begin with plans developed by the community development committees (CODECOs), but there is a difference between these and the plans that PROLESUR executes, which are wider and more specific. The participatory analyses and the prioritization of demands, which are done locally in each community, are being underutilized as reference points for evaluating the advances made by PROLESUR activities and changes (effects or impacts) related to the beneficiary population.

Monitoring PROLESUR is done almost exclusively by the project technical staff who gather a great deal of information and record it in diaries and in the reports issued for every three weeks of work, but no mechanisms exist to respond to the observations of PROLESUR monitoring.

Increasingly serious efforts are being made to design local instruments that can be used by the communities, but they remain a challenge. To date there have been two instruments designed for use by the community for local evaluation of how the work plans are carried out but no results are available as yet. The participation of the project population still relies on facilitators, and participation is not guaranteed should the project end.


At present, the project is carried out by different state entities: the SAG, the Secretariat of Education and the National Agrarian Institute all of which contribute to maintain the channels of communication in the area. FAO, with the Trust Fund contribution of the Government of the Netherlands, finances the specialized technical assistance, and the field operations of the project. At the field level, PROLESUR has worked with grassroot organizations through interest groups; in the latest phase, PROLESUR has strengthened the Committees for Community Development and the Council of Municipal Development.

The Government, through SAG and PRONADERS, has guaranteed institutional monitoring of the development process that PROLESUR has been encouraging. There is a memorandum of understanding with the central government which requires it to:

It is worth noting that the past three governments have given their unconditional support to the development of PROLESUR, a political commitment that has encountered no limiting obstacle at any point. It is likely that the difficult circumstances of PROLESUR area, including critical human development indicators, distance from the capital city and poor roads, are factors that have prevented PROLESUR from becoming politicized.

Even though PROLESUR lacks a strong nutritional component, there have been policies aimed at the creation of professional nutritional units, and nutritional goals are implicit though not explicit in the documentation. Improvement in the nutritional situation of the most vulnerable population, in this case children and women, is likely given the nature of the activities. Many of the agricultural and forestry actions are aimed at increasing production and productivity of basic grains, with some influence on agricultural diversification.

The level of participation is strong at the Secretariats of Agriculture and Education. With the Secretariat of Health, participation is barely beginning and has been primarily via infrastructure in the construction of a hospital in Gualcince, and the development of miscellaneous training activities in nutrition education, hygiene and health, especially in Candelaria. The level of PROLESUR coordination with other organizations such as the Central Committee for Watershed Management and Integrated Development of the Department of Lempira, municipalities and Councils of Municipal Development (CODEMs), can be classified as only fair: evaluations and reviews about PROLESUR do not mention them in any consistent manner.

It is important to recognize the synergy existing between the adoption and practice of the Quesungual system and the increase of basic grain production and the improvement in soil sustainability. There is general agreement by the participants about this effect. The same could be said about the educational process that has been set up and is working through the Technical Institutes for Agricultural Training. These activities are likely to be sustained.

Other components of PROLESUR, such as Healthy Homes, organization, management, leadership and communication, have limited coverage. The Healthy Homes project includes vegetable gardens, processing and marketing of food stuff, nutrition education, preventive family heath care, reproductive health and leadership. These activities reach approximately 18 percent-22 percent of the participating families. PROLESUR recognizes that one of its weakest points is consistent coverage of the complete package of its activities.

In overall terms, the sustainability of the project will depend on at least the following:


FAO. 2000. A Rural Development Success Story in Honduras. FAO, Focus 2000.

Ministry of Health. 1996. National Survey of Epidemiology and Family Health (ENESF-96). Final Report. Ministry of Health, ASHONPLAFA, USAID/Honduras, CDC.

PAHO. 1998. Health in the Americas (1998 edition). Vol II, p. 336.

UNDP. 1997. Human Development Report. Honduras, 1997. United Nations Development Programme, NY, USA.

UNDP/INDH. 1999. Informe sobre Desarrollo Humano. Honduras. Noviembre de 1999.

UNDP. 2000. Human Development Report. Honduras, 2000. United Nations Development Programme, NY, USA.

United Nations Population Division. 1998. World Population Prospects. The 1998 revision. Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs. New York, USA.

Zelaya, Carlos Andrés & Reardon, Thomas. 2001. Incorporating Rural Non-farm Employment Promotion into Development Projects: A Case Study of FAO Lempira Sur Project in Honduras. Case study for the RIMISP DFID/UK funded project on “Best Practices and Strategies for Promoting Non-farm Employment Creation in Rural Development in Latin America”, Honduras.

Appendix 1

The Quesungual system in Honduras 67

The system is used on plots between 200 and 900 metres above sea level and involves growing the maize, sorghum and beans interspersed with trees. Instead of burning, farmers clear old vegetation by hand with a machete. The tallest trees, which earlier were cut or burned down, are now kept, as they are good as a source of, fruit, timber and wood for furniture, as well as providing shade for the crops underneath. A typical plot of one to three hectares consists of approximately 15-20 large timber and fruit trees and numerous smaller trees and shrubs.

Every year the trees and shrubs are pruned to a height of 1.5 to 2 metres in order to eliminate the branches so light can reach the crops. Larger branches are used for firewood; smaller ones are left on the ground to help revitalize the soil. This enhances soil fertility for the maize, beans, sorghum, coffee and other crops that are grown on the ground between the trees.

There are many advantages to the new farming system: The yields have almost doubled; less labour is required to establish and maintain the plots; the soil retains moisture better, enabling crops to withstand the regular drought that afflicts the area and minimizing the risk of erosion and landslides.

Appendix 2

Organizational chart of the Rural Development Project for Southern Lempira (PLS)

58 Editor’s note: 1 quintal = 100 kilograms.
59 Editor’s note: 1 manzana = approximately 0.7 hectares.
60 Editor’s note: This agroforestry farming system is called Quesungual after the village in which it was first developed. This system allows small farmers to cultivate their land on steep slopes continuously while regenerating it. They are able to control soil erosion through growing crops interspersed with trees. See Appendix 1 for more details.
61 Paridad de poder adquisitivo (purchasing power parity).
62 Editor’s note: Lempira whose name means “gentleman of the mountains” is the Honduran currency (HNL): 1USD = 15, 3 HNL (2001)
63 Editor’s note: FAO Technical Cooperation Programme. Project: TCP/HON/7851.
64 An interactive radio programme that delivers instruction in basic subjects.
65 FAO evaluations and tripartite (FAO-donor-government) missions were carried out in April 1998 and October 2000.
66 Teachers’ pay is often delayed, for example.
67 Editor’s note: Source: FAO, Focus. 2000. A Rural Development Success Story in Honduras.

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