Project looks to horticulture value chain to improve outlook for Honduran women

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Impoverished families in western Honduras stand to benefit from a new project aimed at improving access to that country's markets for high-value horticultural crops.

Researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences have received a nearly $1.4 million grant to perform a gender-based analysis of the Honduran horticultural value chain, with an eye toward reducing barriers to participation for women and other marginalized groups, while enhancing family income and nutrition.

The funding was awarded by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture, which is based at the University of California, Davis. The program is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

"Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and the western highlands area is among the poorest regions of the country," said principal investigator Janelle Larson, associate professor of agricultural economics.

"It's a remote area with limited roads and infrastructure," she said. "Many people there are subsistence farmers who work on very small parcels of land. There are high levels of malnutrition and low levels of education and literacy."

Larson noted that the market for horticultural crops is seen as one avenue for reducing poverty in developing countries because these products have greater potential for added value, require more labor and often bring higher prices. Growing fruits and vegetables also can lead to healthier and more diverse diets for small-scale farmers. But many families -- and particularly women -- face barriers to participating in this sector of the agricultural economy.

"The idea is to raise incomes across the board, but with a focus on women because they often have limited access to resources -- such as land, inputs, technical assistance and credit -- and face cultural barriers to being active in the horticultural value chain," she said. "In addition, there is a high rate of migration in some of these regions as men move to urban areas to find work, leaving many female-headed households."

Increasing women's participation in the horticultural economy will empower them to enhance the health and well-being of their families, according to Larson.

"Research has shown that when women's incomes rise, these additional resources often go toward purchases that may improve their children's nutrition, education and overall well-being," she said.

By surveying households and conducting focus groups across the horticultural value chain, the researchers will learn what crops households currently are growing, the roles women are playing in various types of agricultural production, their access to resources, and their involvement in marketing channels, such as cooperatives that can help growers achieve higher prices for produce. They also will identify policies, regulations and cultural norms that limit the participation of women and other marginalized groups.

The research team then will partner with local nongovernmental organizations, microfinance institutions and women's groups to develop training, technologies and financial tools for delivery to producers, private enterprises and educators.

"We hope to enable participants to identify areas where women can enter the value chain -- whether it's in production or as wage laborers in processing, marketing or other roles -- and to help lower the hurdles for women to participate in horticultural markets," Larson said.

The Office of International Programs in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences also is supporting the initiative. The office's director, Deanna Behring, added that the project team will work with other researchers conducting projects as part of the Horticulture Innovation Lab to help them incorporate similar methods into their work.

"Part of our longer-range goal is to create a model for gender-sensitive analysis and interventions that can be adapted and applied globally," Behring said. "We believe the College of Agricultural Sciences is well-positioned to lead this critical area of research in new and more integrated directions."

Members of the research team from Penn State include faculty with expertise in agricultural economics, rural sociology, horticulture, demography, women's studies and international agriculture. Researchers in nutrition and economics from the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, in Honduras and Tuskegee University also will participate in the project.

Media Contacts: 
Last Updated July 28, 2017