Hydroponics in Honduras: less risk, more food safety

Hydroponics in Honduras: less risk, more food safety

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Guisselle Alemán
Guisselle Alemán
Comunicación  y gestión de fondos | Nicaragua

Las Crucitas is a community located 90 kilometres away from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. There you can find a farm with the same name as the community; its owner, Felix Zelaya, a member of the Vegetales Lencas organisation, is seeing his dream of the last 3 years come true: the installation of a hydroponic system to produce lettuce in his farm.

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants using only water, nutrients, and a growing medium. This system allows the producers to use less water, fewer nutrients and less soil. Furthermore, compared to the traditional cultivation system, it leads to an increase in productivity.

Felix started a pilot hydroponics project in 2019 in collaboration with Rikolto and ADA, a non-governmental organisation that supports small businesses. Together with the Honduras Agrocomercial Consortium, formed by 8 farmers' organisations, they decided to support and develop four farms producing lettuce, three within the organisation Lenca Vegetables and one within the organisation Horta. Both Horta and Lenca Vegetables are part of the Consortium.

This initiative reflects Rikolto's commitment to promote healthy and high-quality food production through inclusive business models in the city and region of Tegucigalpa. Rikolto’s work is geared towards strengthening the Consortium’s entrepreneurial, organisational and production skills and it has already led to great results. The Consortium is currently supplying 92% of products for one of the largest supermarket chains in the country, La Colonia supermarkets.

Felix needed a controlled environment to reduce his losses

Sharing the fate of other vegetables farmers in Honduras, each year Felix was facing the loss of 70% of his crops because of excessive rainfall, pests and diseases. Today, through the hydroponics system, he is hoping not only to maintain his production but to increase it.

His lettuces will grow in a controlled environment inside a greenhouse, fed through a permanent flow of water and nutrients. "We expect to reach new markets and achieve better and fairer prices; also, the implementation of this system reassures me because my crops will be less vulnerable,” says Felix.

Benefits for all: consumers, producers and the environment

This production model brings benefits to all the actors concerned: farmers, supermarkets, consumers and the environment too. In the hydroponics system, plants are not in contact with the soil. This characteristic decreases the post-harvesting and the disinfection costs; furthermore, the risks of contamination from bacteria such as the E-coli and Salmonella is reduced too.

“It is easier to ‘treat’ water instead of the land. We can reduce the use of agrochemicals and obtain safer food," highlights Oliver Galindo, a Rijk Zwaan technician. Rijk Zwaan is a partner company, based in Guatemala, that is currently providing plants and improved seeds that are specially adapted to hydroponic systems.

Cesar Maradiaga, Agrocomercial Consortium’s manager, observes: “our statistics state that, during previous years, up to 50% of our lettuce supply was lost because it was not meeting safety standards.” A great supporter of this new system, he also underlines how hydroponics is a valid ally in reducing the impact on climate change.

Compared to crops growing on land, the amount of water required for irrigation is reduced by up to 50%. Hydroponics is helping fight water scarcity. “The amount of water pumped and consumed is reduced, the plants development cycles are shorter and the number of annual harvests increases along with farmers' incomes.”

Annabell Guzmán, Rikolto Programme Manager in Honduras, hopes to learn good lessons from this pilot project and identify the best practices that could be replicated on a larger scale. The major goal will be applying these practices to crops that are more profitable and less vulnerable to climate change as well.

Rikolto is working on a Food Smart Cities approach on three levels

The pilot is part of a larger initiative of Rikolto: Food Smart Cities programme, that includes the city council of Tegucigalpa, Honduras' capital, and various private, public and NGO actors. Through this approach, Rikolto is supporting city-regions to adopt policies and practices that contribute to sustainable, fair and healthy food systems. In order to achieve that, Rikolto implements a three-tier approach:

  • Level 1: Piloting with cities. Together with our partners, we develop and disseminate innovative and scalable practices at the city region level that contribute to sustainable, fair and healthy food systems.
  • Level 2: Learning cycle. We facilitate the sharing of experience and peer-to-peer learning among cities in close collaboration with strategic allies such as the City Food Network, UNEP and RIMISP.
  • Level 3: Influencing the international agenda. We share the evidence we gather from the field to advance the political agenda in favour of sustainable food systems and inclusive rural-urban food chains. We particularly aim to contribute to discussions on the Milan Plan for Action, the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

At level 1, Rikolto facilitate inclusive business models between urban retailers and peri-urban farmers to ensure that the supply of food is in the form of business linkages that are good for people (farmers, buyers, communities) and the planet.