I’ve spent the past week in Honduras with René Mendoza, a researcher and expert on cooperatives, campesino-led organizations, and social movements. We visited farmers’ co-ops, grassroots micro-finance collectives, campesino-led community stores, and land reform advocates. These organizations are served by EcoViva’s partner in Honduras, Red COMAL.
Red COMAL (the Alternative Community Markets Network in English) works to improve people’s standard of living in Honduras. It’s a network of small-scale farmers, cooperatives, and community micro-finance associations. Red COMAL provides training programs, facilitates access to credit and markets and helps thousands of Hondurans to build a vibrant and equitable alternative rural economy.
Through its concept of “solidarity economy”, Red COMAL places a high priority on community, fairness, women’s empowerment, food sovereignty, and respect for the environment.
After visiting communities in the field we returned to the Red COMAL office to meet with the leadership and technical staff of the organization. René facilitated a series of exercises, one of which was a discussion on the role of Red COMAL in challenging assumptions and myths about their work.
René posed the question, “What myths has Red COMAL dispelled?”
Here’s a short list of some of the myths that our Honduran partners have busted:
Myth: Campesinos aren’t capable of managing a complex organization.
Reality: Red COMAL is a large and complex campesino-led organization that serves thousands of people in eight departments in Honduras. They provide services to a wide range of campesino and indigenous-led organizations. The network consists of 51 community stores, 8 co-ops, 26 agricultural producers, 11 rural community micro-finance associations, 12 associations, 2 bakeries, 8 agricultural services companies, and 4 diversified services enterprises. Red COMAL has the expertise to set up accounting and business systems, navigate business registration processes, and help farmers transition from “conventional” agriculture to agroecological methods.
Myth: Industrial agriculture produces higher yields and benefits farmers.
Reality: In our visits to farmers who made the transition from chemically-dependent “conventional” agriculture, we heard that making the switch to agroecological methods resulted in crop yields that were on par with “conventional” methods.
Myth: Campesinos only produce unfinished goods.
Reality: Not true. The co-ops that are part of Red COMAL produce organic aloe soap and shampoo, preserves, juices, organic raw sugar, roasted coffee and other products and services.
Myth: Only men can be leaders.
Reality: Seriously? There are indeed still people who have this sort of sexist mindset and buy into this myth. Let me introduce you to Ms. Digna López. She is the President of one of the member companies affiliated with Red COMAL. She leads efforts in producing and marketing coffee and other products and is as formidable a community organizer as she is an ethical businesswoman.
Myth: Children of campesinos can’t succeed in university.
Reality: Red COMAL has negotiated agreements with Honduran universities to offer scholarships for the children of the members of the network to go to college. These young people are going to university and learning skills for the next generation of leaders.
Myth: You have to make a choice between economic development and the environment.
Reality: By applying agroecological principles, the farmers that I talked to have been able to achieve comparable crop yields and at the same time save money and protect the environment by using organic fertilizers and bug repellents instead of spraying toxic chemicals on their crops. Avoiding exposure to toxins on the job also means they’re healthier
Red COMAL is busting development myths left and right as it organizes communities to raise rural living standards in Honduras.