The Quesungual System: changing lives in Honduras

In Honduras, up to 78 percent of land used for agriculture is on hillsides. Because of dry spells and seasonal water scarcity, secure water provision and soil erosion are major problems facing the region.  These problems are exacerbated by climate variability and change. For generations, this had a direct impact on livelihoods, food production and the environment in the area. 

When the system was developed in Lempira, in southwestern Honduras, most farmers in the region were using the traditional slash-and-burn method of farming. They cleared a part of the forest by slashing the vegetation and burning the debris. Crops were grown on this cleared plot for one to three years until the yields fell, due to declining moisture and fertility. Then farmers had to move to new plots and clear, burn and plant all over again.

This type of farming was not suited to a region where most of the fields are situated on hillsides and where soils are fragile and acidic. These unsustainable practices were increasingly affecting  resources and food security in the region.

To tackle these issues, nearly twenty years ago, FAO and local small-scale farmers developed the Quesungual agroforestry farming system which was tailored to the biophysical and socio-economic conditions of the region.

An example of how sustainable soil management can deliver results

In Central America the system is used to grow corn, beans and sorghum (a grain grown in many areas of the region), in addition to vegetables and soybeans.

Farmers now manage vegetation clearing it by hand. Trees, which were previously cut and burned, are preserved as good sources of fruit, firewood, and wood for furniture as well as providing a fresh microenvironment for their crops.

A typical plot of one to three hectares consists of 20 large timber and fruit trees and hundreds of smaller trees and shrubs. These are pruned regularly to let the light in and allow a recovery period to boost growth. This means crops can be grown throughout the year on the same plot without the need to constantly relocate.

By improving soil quality and management, the Quesungual system has increased production, resilience and sustainability in the region. The yields have almost doubled; less labour is required to establish and maintain the plots; the soil retains moisture better, humidity levels have been bosted by up to 20 percent, enabling crops to withstand the regular drought that afflicts the area and minimizing the risk of erosion and landslides.

The low-cost system has also caused greenhouse gas emissions to drop and increased carbon sequestration.

Ultimately, this project has changed people’s lives. Farmers are getting more for less as well as eating better, more nutritious foods.  Sustainable land management has delivered results in Honduras.

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