October 20, 2015

Tablet in Hand and Drone in the Sky, EcoAg Evaluates On-farm Conservation in Honduras

Lee GrossEcoAgriculture Partners

Ocotepeque, Honduras is not just a quaint, picturesque town in the foothills of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas.

Tucked against the Salvadoran border and close to the border with Guatemala, Ocotepeque’s elevation and unique biogeography lends itself to a high diversity of tropical vegetation and wildlife and high-quality coffee production. Between the years of 2009-2014, the area was a beneficiary of CAMBio (Mercados Centroamericanos para la Biodiversidad), a Global Environment Facility and United Nations Development Program project that cooperated with the Central America Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE) to support producer adoption and maintenance of biodiversity-friendly production practices.

Did CAMBio truly make a change?

CAMBio was a $30 million program that put money in the hands of local banks. Doing so de-risked lending to farmers and allowed each locality to determine how best to provide financial resources for the implementation of biodiversity-friendly practices on farms. Through financial intermediaries, 10,000 farmers across Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica received some sort of capital for biodiversity conversation.

CAMBio Project countries

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica were the five countries that received funding for on-farm biodiversity activities. Photo sourced from GoogleMaps.

Now that the program has reached its conclusion, it is time to assess whether or not this model was successful in incentivizing best practices, and what impact these adopted measures had for biodiversity on farms, and in the wider landscape.

EcoAgriculture Partners is the lead evaluator of this project

With the team from BCIE I traveled to Honduras to pilot our methodology for assessing the effectiveness of investments across a range of variables (e.g. agroforestry practices, water management, forest protection and agrochemical usage) resulting in positive or negative impacts on biodiversity in two selected cluster sites, primarily of coffee producers. After our pilot, this methodology will be applied in five more cluster areas across the five CAMBio countries and in three additional production systems (cardamom, silvopastoral and organic horticulture).


The EcoAgriculture Partners assessment began with a survey of agroforestry coffee farms to look at farming practices, water management, forest protection and agrochemical usage and how changes, if any, impacted biodiversity.

Loans, Gifts, and Technical Assistance in Honduras

In Honduras, the financial intermediary was the Banco de Occidente, a local banking system prominent in the western reaches of the country. The Banco de Occidente chose to distribute these funds to cooperatives that would then give financial resources directly to the farmers.

The cooperatives designed three mechanisms for lending to smallholder farmers:

  1. Préstamos: Spanish for ‘loans,’ money was provided to pay for annual investment in production costs. This included buying inputs and paying for crop and shade canopy maintenance labor. In many cases farms were simply replanted to recover from the Roya. As a loan, both annual interest rates and repayment were conditions of the agreement.
  2. Biopremios: Spanish for ‘biopremium,’ money was provided to the farmer either in the form of a reimbursement to cover costs inquired that year related to payments of audits and inscription in coffee certifications program (e.g. Rainforest Alliance) and/or for other on-farm improvements, such as increasing shade trees and investing in machinery. As a grant, not a loan, interest rates and repayment were not conditions of the agreement.
  3. Technical Assistance: An expert from the financial intermediary or cooperative would provide the farmer with technical assistance either through group workshops, or on-farm assistance, related to improved agroforestry practices, organics or soil and water management. This assistance was free of charge.

Beneficiaries received financial assistance, through financial intermediaries, in the form of loans (préstamos), grants (Biopremios) or technical assistance.

The power of technology in conservation assessment

Linking farm-level practice adoption to landscape-level impact is no easy task and a challenge that many conservation and agricultural certification organizations still struggle with today. Our mission here was to test different methods for capturing data on improvements in biodiversity at multiple scales through the use of best available technology.

To generate an understanding of impacts at the farm-level, I traveled to coffee farms in Ocotepeque to administer a tablet-based survey on the experience of the farmer in accessing financial assistance and in investing in their farms. Our surveys sought to understand what access to capital meant to the farmers in regards to their livelihoods, production practices and comprehension of the linkages between agricultural production and forest protection. The tablet populates data (including pictures and video) on the benefits of CAMBio, the farm’s location, and the practices implemented into a Google Maps database where we can create a geographic display of the proximity of these farms to areas of High Conservation Value, including protected areas and other important biogeographic features.

Googlemaps Database

Survey data was collected on tablets, which loaded information on the farm’s experience and location in to a Google Maps database. The database creates a visual of how close these farms are to areas of high biological significance.

In addition, aerial drones were utilized.  Besides just being cool, the drones allow both land managers and evaluators to get an aerial view of changes throughout the entire landscape (including the farm and adjacent woodlands) in regions that lack robust data for forest biodiversity. EcoAgriculture Partners will be matching the footage from our drone surveys to the georeferenced farm locations in our database and deeper GIS analysis to formulate a more complete picture of the current status of these landscapes in relation to the changes they have experienced over the past few years.

Next stop: Guatemala

Follow our evaluation of the CAMBio Program as we travel across Central America to delve into our evaluation of CAMBio’s impacts. Featured next week on the blog will be my updates from visits to Guatemalan cardamom farms in the Quiché province.
Learn More

CAMBio evaluation: Connecting Farm to Landscape for Biodiversity Conservation

New Project: Evaluating the $30 million CAMBio program

Fly Over a Honduran Smallholder Coffee Farm

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