Poverty Reduction Blog Tag: Honduras
Posted on September 11, 2013 by Sheila Herrling, Vice President of Policy and Evaluation
I travelled to Tegucigalpa two weeks ago for an important milestone in MCC’s relationship with Honduras: the signing of a $15.6 million Threshold Program Agreement. I joined President Porfirio Lobo and Vice President María Antonieta Guillén at the signing ceremony, and both showed excitement and commitment toward the program’s potential to help improve governance and reduce opportunities for corruption.
This new Threshold Program follows MCC’s successful five-year compact, which increased the agricultural productivity of farmers and improved key road infrastructure. The success of the compact was due in large part to the partnership between MCC and the Government of Honduras’ compact implementation unit that set a new benchmark for efficient, effective and transparent project management in Honduras. Now, through the Threshold Program, MCC and the Government of Honduras will take on a new challenge: improving financial management, procurement and cost-effective service delivery throughout the government.
This program in Honduras is the first “next generation” Threshold Program. When MCC redesigned its Threshold Program, we made a clear decision to focus on high-impact policy and institutional reforms. These can be among the most difficult to implement. Unlike building roads or water pumps, policy reforms require governments to look inward and admit weaknesses.
This can be unpopular and even risky for politicians—but having the Honduran government and citizens in full support of the Threshold Program provides a necessary first step for a successful program and helped demonstrate their broader commitment to improving governance and growing the country’s economy.
If this level of commitment can be sustained, when the program ends, we will see:
- The Government of Honduras paying all obligations promptly, increasing bidder interest and competition.
- Government ministries delivering quality services through the most efficient use of staff and resources.
- More public-private partnerships efficiently delivering public services, and Hondurans viewing these partnerships as transparent and efficient.
- A civil society with access to information and constructively using that information to deepen a culture of transparency and government effectiveness.
Now the hard work begins. I look forward to being a part of this exciting and ambitious program. While MCC will provide financial support and technical assistance, the key to success will be the bold leadership of current and future governments to make the tough choices and the necessary policy improvements. And throughout this process, we will need civil society and the private sector to monitor and demand results.
Posted on December 6, 2012 by Howard W. Buffett, Executive Director, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation
The role of philanthropy is changing for the better, and with the October 24th release of its first five impact evaluations, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is helping lead that change. For too long, funding for development – both private and public – has not been held accountable on measuring real impact. There are many reasons for this. It can be challenging, time-consuming and expensive to determine precisely which elements of complex aid packages are reducing poverty, and it can be even more difficult to justify investing in building evidence for what works when resources are scarce and the development need is so great. Any philanthropist constantly faces this tension, and we have found that it becomes tempting to look only at easily measurable activities like farmer training or direct measures of success like improving farmer yields – areas where we can directly observe how we are addressing poverty. The truth is, this approach both inhibits creative solutions and confines long-term decision-making. In the end, until we know what really works and why, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past and run the risk of missing enormous opportunities to build support for the real “game changers.”
I learned firsthand about MCC’s work when I served in government, and I often find myself gaining new insights from their experiences. Their recent release of the analysis of their impact evaluation is one of those moments. In fact, of the five impact evaluations just released, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s interests overlap with four of them: we also do smallholder farming training in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Ghana. Given the scale at which MCC works, we contacted them to learn as much as we could from their experience.
MCC has some important lessons for the development community – other U.S. agencies, donors, multinational corporations working in emerging markets, and philanthropies alike stand to learn a great deal. In the recently released “Impact Evaluations of Agriculture Projects,” part of MCC’s compelling Principles into Practice series, they have identified five key maxims that should be taken into account by all of us:
- Define early the program logic and objectives of the evaluation, and how to integrate the two.
- Engage early and communicate often.
- Foster joint ownership by aligning incentives.
- Match evaluation methodology and program design.
- Focus on long-term impacts but be prepared to show early results.
Gaining these important insights has taken time, expertise and resiliency. As MCC has been bold to admit, in a refreshingly forthright and transparent fashion, it also takes occasional failures. As our foundation has learned, mistakes are unavoidable, but they only truly become mistakes when you fail to learn from them. Our foundation has spent the last 15 years and over $300 million across more than 70 countries, and we have made our fair share of errors along the way. Without rigorous evaluations to understand why goals are not always fully achieved, we can miss out on learning from those mistakes and miss the opportunity to share that learning with others.
MCC’s first set of independent impact evaluations raises some interesting questions about training farmers and how to measure the most important impact we all want to achieve: fostering prosperity and improving livelihoods. For example, in the three projects where MCC’s investments in training and improved inputs led to increased farmer incomes, these increases did not also result in increased income for the household as a whole. How can this be true? MCC has several theories: small farmer households typically derive income from a number of sources and it may be that increased farm income reduces the pressure to produce income elsewhere; it may be a data collection problem where current measures of household income are not accurately capturing reality; or it may be some other reason. MCC does not yet have a definitive answer, but by identifying the question, they can better guide their analysis of existing data and improve the data collection for the pipeline of project evaluations that are in process to find the answer. This will in turn inform program design, which will help all of us investing in farmer training. MCC’s approach and knowledge base has already encouraged our foundation to make a larger investment in agriculture in El Salvador, and it has informed the design of a new initiative that we are beginning in Ghana.
Learning lessons in the absence of a strong evaluation mechanism is a painful, time-consuming and expensive way to learn, but it is not uncommon in development. By focusing on learning as much as we have focused on doing, we can all become smarter, more efficient and more focused on ideas that actually have more lasting impact in the long run. That’s why MCC’s approach is effective: they invest in accountability and transparency upfront so they can learn faster and improve their work more quickly and cost-effectively over the long-run. By sharing that knowledge with all of us, we all have the opportunity to learn.
This transparency and honesty sets an example for our sector, and we all stand to benefit by being more efficient in our investments. MCC’s first five impact evaluations are a landmark step toward smarter, better and more accountable development around the world –and at a time when it could not be needed more.
Posted on May 9, 2012 by Jonathan Brooks, Managing Director for Europe, Asia, Pacific, and Latin America
A community irrigation system created with the help of MCC’s compact with Honduras recently received international recognition—the latest example of how MCC’s investments provide a model for sustainable poverty growth in our partner countries.
The Cosechas de Agua rainwater harvesting project, developed through the compact’s Agricultural Public Goods Grant Facility and managed by CHF International, received the Latin American prize for innovative water management projects in the face of climate change at the World Water Forum in Marseille, France, on March 15.
Cosechas de Agua harvests rainwater for use in irrigation in the arid southern municipalities of Nacaome, Langue, Goascorán, and Aramecina. It captures rainwater and then uses a system of hydraulic works, dams and pipelines to store and distribute the water to fields. The project aims to introduce complementary irrigation systems for 188 agricultural producers over 98 hectares of land, intended to increase their income.
Access to irrigation and other support through the compact was intended to allow farmers to diversify their crops, increase their yields and expand their access to new customers nationally, regionally and internationally.
The $50,000 prize—sponsored by the Mexican national water authority Conagua, the FEMSA Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Water Center for Latin America and the Caribbean—will be used to develop the project over the next three years. Cosechas de Agua officials will also be invited to present progress on the system's economic, social and environmental impacts at the next World Water Forum in March 2015.
The Agricultural Public Goods Grant Facility was part of the $68 million Rural Development Project, which sought to increase the productivity and business skills of farmers who operate small- and medium-size farms, as well as their employees. The project is expected to help more than 357,000 people over the next 20 years and raise their household incomes by $53 million.
Posted on February 8, 2011 by Jonathan Brooks, Resident Country Director for Honduras
The community at Colonia Milenio Pumas has been dear to MCC’s heart. Nestled on a hill about 30 km north of Comayagua along the CA-5 highway, it is the largest and among the earliest resettlement communities set up as part of the highway construction (nearly 30 families). We followed the community’s progress throughout the years as it slowly changed from a group of people linked only by one of the poorest stretches of the CA-5 highway, into neighbors who formed a true community.
January 25th was special. Overcoming some initial difficulties, MCA-Honduras, the Honduran entity which implemented the compact, established a water system to guarantee water access though both the dry and rainy spells of the year. We were invited to join in the inauguration of the water system as well as the naming of the community school. In a touching tribute to one of our colleagues who worked with dedication on the resettlement effort, the community named their new school, “Escuela Jonathan Nash.”
There was much clapping and giggling from the school children who joined in the naming of their new school, and there was even louder applause from the entire community when they witnessed the rush of water that flowed from a faucet in the school yard as part of the dedication. The water flowed into a clay jug which had been set aside for the occasion. As I saw the water line begin to fill the jug, I was reminded of what many Hondurans have pointed to as one of the legacies of the program: the belief that their lives can improve. As I stood and smiled with the community as the water flowed, I realized that they had come to see their own jug as half full.
Posted on September 29, 2010 by Ambassador Hugo Llorens, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras
Hispanic Heritage Month offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the culture and contributions of Hispanic-Americans. As a Cuban-American serving as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, I can appreciate not only the drive of Hispanic-Americans to create a better life for themselves and their families in the United States, but also the determination of Hondurans who are optimizing U.S. assistance to pull themselves out of crushing poverty once and for all. If we need one more milestone to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month, we can celebrate the achievements in Honduras through the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant of $205 million dollars.
This September, Honduras became the very first country in the world to complete a five-year partnership with MCC. This partnership was designed to reduce poverty in Honduras through sustainable economic growth. This is no small accomplishment, given MCC’s performance-based model for economic development that provides the financial resources but also expects, in return, that the recipient country own the process of designing and implementing its own projects. This partnership has been a true commitment to empowerment and accountability—through MCC, Honduras has built local capacity, strengthened institutions, and proved to Hondurans that they themselves can meet challenges they never did before. Honduras effectively addressed their constraints to growth—even in the face of political transitions.
This can-do mentality unleashed by the MCC model has brought about real change and new opportunities for the poor in Honduras. Training programs and access to credit have triggered a new spirit of entrepreneurship, helping farmers transition from the traditional production of beans and maize to the modern production of higher-value crops that generate more income. With more income, Honduras farmers are investing in their land and in their families—homes, schools, healthcare. By taking on projects as their own, Honduras developed new standards in transparent procurement processes, responsible resettlement, and effective gender integration. By including civil society and private sector members alongside government officials on the Honduran-based board of the local entity responsible for managing the implementation of the MCC grant, the Honduran people learned best practices in local decision-making. And, by improving roads with MCC funds, Hondurans have created new opportunities for greater trade and for easier and faster ways to reach markets, schools, and health clinics.
I have seen, first-hand, that farmers along the improved road are getting their fruit to the markets quicker and without the damage often caused by big potholes. These roads are attracting tourists and tourism revenue—improved areas host attractions such as the Lenca Trail (the Lencas form the largest indigenous group in Honduras). A new bus route now exists between San Sebastian and Tomala thanks to the road improvements, which have made it safer for bigger buses to transit frequently. Now, this new route will open access even as far to El Salvador, cutting travel time from three to two hours.
Americans can be proud that their investment in Honduras delivered results and established a platform for growth that Honduras can harness for even greater poverty reduction. This is an efficient use of American tax dollars, creating a more prosperous neighbor in the hemisphere. Having seen the work of MCC, I can say with certainty that there is no more effective way to sustainably reduce poverty and promote economic growth than by empowering countries and their citizens through partnerships that deliver tangible results. Such is the Millennium Challenge Corporation model.
A native of New York, Ambassador Llorens has been serving as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras since 2008.
Posted on September 20, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
On Friday, September 17, I joined Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to celebrate the end of the MCC compact in Honduras. MCC’s press release tells the story of this event, but what the press release can’t convey is the instructive story of country ownership that led to successful program completion. From the poorest farmers to the highest levels of government, there has been an incredible commitment by Hondurans themselves to achieving and sustaining results, embracing transparency, and applying lessons learned throughout implementation.
Hondurans designed the program with an integrated approach to maximizing project impact and sustainability. They knew that farmers trained in new techniques also needed linkages to buyers, access to credit, and improved roads to get their goods to markets while still fresh. MCA-Honduras, the team of dedicated and passionate Hondurans, implemented the projects on a daily basis for five years, with transparency and technical effectiveness. The national congress passed laws in the financial sector, road maintenance, and resettlement to increase the impacts and sustainability of the compact investments. Honduran civil society helped anchor the program with support through three government administrations. Such collective effort means that they all have pride in the accomplishments and a personal investment in continued success.
Azucena Urquia, one of the herb growers I met Thursday, shared her story with us at the compact closeout ceremony. She said she never imagined she would be a farmer, know how to plow a field, or how to sell her goods to big grocery stores. She is very proud of her accomplishments and her community in Cantoral, Honduras.
I also had an opportunity to learn more about the 15 grants that promoted innovation in agricultural technologies; these technologies are now reaching farmers all over Honduras. For instance, three biological pest controls were developed to help farmers fight some of the most critical pests plaguing crops without chemicals. MCC will conduct impact evaluations to understand how these innovations translate into increased incomes and into real learning. I also tasted berry wine that is now being sold in markets. Like the berry wine producers, over 15 other entrepreneurs received intensive training on product development to increase their competitiveness.
As I walked by the stands of the agriculture fair at the closeout event, beneficiaries, private sector, government, and civil society alike greeted me with warm smiles and words of deep gratitude to the people and government of the United States. In addition to their gratitude for the generosity of the American people, they too deserve to feel pride in what they have done with this American investment, and how they have ensured that this poverty reduction grant from the United States will produce real results in the lives of Hondurans.
Posted on September 17, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
It’s not every day that a bowl of soup for lunch is an inspiration. But the “sopa de gallina” that we enjoyed with farmers in Ocotal, Honduras was tremendously inspiring.
I arrived in Honduras yesterday to see the early results of the MCC compact and to participate in the closeout commemoration. On my first day here, I had the opportunity to meet farmers, see their crops, hear about their experiences with MCC-funded technical assistance, and then enjoy a soup made out of the vegetables and herbs (yucca, squash, coriander, basil, garlic, tomatoes, and onions) harvested from the fields we had just walked through.
Mrs. Consuelo, the Honduran woman in the accompanying pictures, prepared the soup using all local ingredients that she and fellow farmers produced. She is part of a group of women who received MCC technical assistance and now grows aromatic herbs, such as basil, coriander, and lemongrass, that are in high demand in supermarkets. The group’s inspiring story shows the power that training and collaboration can have in the daily life of citizens, especially women.
One of the farmers I spoke with, Juan Carlos Urquia, is a successful young farmer in his 20s who is now harvesting six times a year, compared to only twice annually before receiving compact assistance. He told me of Ocotal, “MCC’s investments have revolutionized this area.” He says he never imagined growing crops based on market demand and learning techniques like the use of drip irrigation systems. Some of the farmers also have learned how to use the internet to research markets, new seeds, and methods for protecting crops from infestation.
The stories that Mrs. Consuelo and Juan Carlos shared with me are just samples of early compact results here in Honduras. As project work ends, the results phase is just beginning. And so, we embrace the hope and inspiration of these celebratory days, of the delicious “sopa de gallina” and the success it symbolizes. We move forward committed to carefully monitoring and assessing the results of our MCC investment in Honduras and to sustaining the advancements for years to come.
Posted on August 12, 2010 by Valeria McFarren, Communication Implementation Officer
A four-hour drive through rugged terrain, beautiful mountains, and evergreen forest, brought me to San Sebastian, a small town in northwestern Honduras. I was there to attend the opening of 24.7 kilometers of newly improved rural roads from San Sebastian to Tomala, a town very close to the border with El Salvador. These roads were improved using funding from MCC’s compact with the Government of Honduras. Key government officials presided at the event, and over 200 people attended.
As I walked around talking to people, I met six elementary school girls who were eager to see the pictures I was taking. I explained that I was documenting stories and asked if they wanted to be my assistants and take pictures to show how the road would benefit their community.
View the slideshow from these girls’ perspectives, depicting the importance of roads, particularly in remote villages.
Posted on June 23, 2010 by Patrick Fine, Vice President for Compact Implementation
Earlier this month, I spent three days getting a firsthand look at MCC’s investments in Honduras. The MCC-funded program there will end in September, so most activities are almost finished. In fact, Honduras will be the first country to complete its five-year MCC compact. I was impressed by what I saw both in terms of the development impact and in terms of how the program has been managed toward a successful conclusion.
The program has two principal components: (1) a transport project that is widening and repaving 105 kilometers of the main highway through the country; 68 kilometers of paved secondary roads; and about 500 kilometers of dirt feeder roads; and (2) a rural development project that includes a training program to move small farmers from traditional methods into greater commercial activity by selling high-value horticultural crops.
I particularly liked seeing the direct link between the compact’s investments and increased income. The program works with approximately 7,400 farmers who previously were earning $350-$400 per hectare growing maize and beans using traditional methods. 6,000 of these farmers are now earning at least $2,000 and, on average, $4,000 per hectare per year growing vegetables using modern methods that include drip irrigation. Not only is there a clear and large boost in the income of program participants, but they, in turn, have created new jobs, most part-time, in their communities.
Many participants have used the increased income to improve their farms and homes and buy motorcycles or cars and, in some cases, trucks to haul their produce. Signs of increased prosperity were visible in the communities I visited. These two projects are clearly linked together. Roads are being built in productive areas where many of the farmers are being trained, to facilitate getting their produce to market.
In addition to seeing how the MCC compact program has helped to increase incomes in rural Honduras, I also saw the potential of the program’s CA-5 road project bring lasting and positive improvements to Honduras’ transport sector. The CA-5 highway runs through mountains and the construction is making cuts and fills to create a broad, safe and modern road bed. The new road beds will have a lasting improvement. The paved secondary roads also looked like they would bring long-term improvements to local communities.
A final part of this program worth commenting on is capacity building. Because this tends to be intangible, it is one of the more difficult benefits to convey. From conversations, it was clear to me that the MCA-Honduras staff feel like the program is building on their expertise and institutions. Small grants to local institutions have resulted in impressive work on biological pest control and on developing new strains of coffee (programs also tightly linked to raising rural incomes), and have introduced renewable technology, such as some innovative water wheels used to supply irrigation systems.
Many Hondurans I met noted that the program’s resettlement policies set a new standard in Honduras, and some saw this as "game changingâ€ with respect to future resettlement. It is clear that the processes and safeguards enforced by the program benefited affected communities and provide an example of best practices. Whether this example drives future practice remains to be seen, but authorities seemed impressed by the MCC experience.
Good management underlies most successful programs, and the MCC experience in Honduras is no exception. MCC’s Honduras team and MCA-Honduras enjoy a strong, professional relationship that provides a basis for problem identification and solving. Based on my visit, I am proud of what has been accomplished, and I would describe the program as a success.
Posted on May 3, 2010 by Martin Ochoa, MCA Honduras General Director
On Friday April 23, 2010, MCA-Honduras, the local entity implementing Honduras’s MCC compact, informed several stakeholders about the results from investments made in the Aguan Valley in northern Honduras. The results were shared at the inauguration of one of the three secondary roads that are being rehabilitated with MCC funds. The event showcased the compact’s integrated approach to the links between economic growth and poverty reduction.
The Honduras compact invests in farmer training and development, provides access to credit by following a market-driven approach, and rehabilitates key roads. MCA-Honduras invested over US $13 million in the Aguan Valley alone, benefitting nine municipalities and more than 200 families. MCA-Honduras is also contributing to the eradication of med-fly, a deadly crop disease that is affecting over 350,000 hectares of land.
Farmers at the event were excited about how they are able to produce higher-value crops, such as eggplants, watermelon, and peppers that they can now sell for higher prices. As Celso Alvarenga said, "I am very happy with my irrigation system; my yucca and plantains now have sufficient water to grow quickly. Thanks to the technical assistance received, I produce higher yields, new crops, and am extremely thankful for MCA-Honduras.â€ Thanks to the MCC compact, farmers like Celso throughout Honduras have learned how to use drip irrigation and no longer fear droughts like they did before.
Beyond the investments made in this region, the event highlighted three important facts about the MCC model and MCA-Honduras’s success. First, transparency counts. Second, the program is providing credible tangible results. And, third, this is a country-driven approach to development assistance. These three factors are helping create opportunities for Hondurans all over the country. MCC investments are bringing positive change and hope that Hondurans can improve our lives.
For those of us implementing the MCA-Honduras program, it is a great honor to be among the agents of change.
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