Bringing technical support to isolated ethnic groups in the Mosquitia region of Honduras

By Eduardo Hidalgo, Project Scientist, CABI South America

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The Mosquitia is a territory of 16,997 km², located on the Caribbean coast of Honduras and inhabited mainly by the indigenous Miskito, Tawahka, Pech, and Garífuna ethnic groups. Of the 100,000 inhabitants, 36% are Miskitos who depend mainly on agriculture and fishing. The Mosquitia is one of the last virgin regions of Central America and one of the biologically richest areas of the planet, housing the Reserve of the Biosphere of Platano River, classified in 1982 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Mosquitia is considered the poorest region of Honduras. As there are no roads, the only way to access the area is by air or by boats locally called pipantes. These isolated conditions make it difficult for the population to access basic public services, including agricultural assistance.

Some organizations such as MOPAWI (Agency for the Development of The Mosquitia) have contributed to the development of sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, encouraging crop diversification and providing training and technical assistance for cocoa, bananas, basic grains and family gardens. Despite the efforts and progress made, the farmers are claiming for sources of local technical assistance to improve agricultural production.

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The access to Wampusirpi, the town where training of plant doctors took place, takes 5 hours in ‘pipante’ (boat) or 25 minutes in small plane traveling from Puerto Lempira. The itinerary of flights of the plane varies according to the demand and the climatic conditions.

Plantwise and Help in Action Foundation

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‘Pipantes’ are the official means of transportation of people and goods in La Mosquitia

A presentation of the Plantwise programme actions in Honduras made to the Food Security Board of the G16 group in 2017, opened the door to a new partnership between CABI-Plantwise and Help in Action Foundation (AeA), a Spanish NGO that is implementing the Prawanka program to improve living conditions in the Mosquitia.[1]. Prawanka means ‘encounter’ in the misquita language. An MoU was then signed between CABI and AeA for implementing plant clinics in this region.

Given the importance of agriculture in the area and the limitations to access technical assistance, Plantwise was seen as an excellent option to provide assistance to families in the region, allowing farmers to have access to regular technical advice from local ‘plant doctors’ who are connected to national and international networks of experts. AeA seeks to create a culture of consultation and learning in the Misquito farmers to guarantee the productivity of their crops, thus ensuring their food security.

Training of local plant doctors

A group of sixteen technicians from municipalities, Territorial Councils, personnel associated with the Prawanka program and leading farmers from the communities of Ahuás, Brus Laguna and Wampusirpi, participated in the course “How to become a plant doctor “, taught by Eduardo Hidalgo from CABI, in the community of Wampusirpi, in June 2018.

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Learning to observe the details in the symptoms presented by the crops was one of the activities that most helped participants to improve their diagnostic capacity

The participants were taught to recognize the symptoms of the main groups of causal agents of plant health problems: fungi, bacteria, nematodes, viruses, phytoplasmas and nutritional deficiencies in various plants. The course prepares the technician to perform quick diagnosis and give a practical and effective recommendation for the control of the phytosanitary problem, such as black palm weevil, red ring nematode in coconut and other pests that limit the production of basic grains in the region. The participants also learned to use tools such as the Plantwise factsheet library (a free application available in Google Apps) and the diagnostic tools available on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank platform.

At the end of the training, the 16 new plant doctors joined the WhatsApp national support network consiting of 30 plant doctors and SENASA (National Service of Agri-Food Health and Quality) specialists in other regions of the country.

The knowledge of local technicians combined with the new tools and methodologies learned during the course provide the new plant doctors with the opportunity to become a much needed source of regular technical assistance to farmers in the region, backstopped and guided by the diagnostics network (WhatsApp group), CABI-Plantwise and Prawanka.

Next steps

At the end of the course it was agreed to establish 3 plant clinics to be located in the municipalities of Ahuás, Brus Laguna and Wampusirpi, and run by the plant doctors of each community. The participants were trained in the use of an application that will allow them to register the farmer queries online in order to generate a database of the main phytosanitary problems in The Mosquitia. This will guide the preparation of suitable extension materials and the planning of management strategies focused on the priorities of the area.

The accompaniment of Prawanka to improve access to technical assistance in the region is essential and will contribute to the development of a regional support network to improve agriculture and welfare of farmer families in The Mosquitia.

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New plant doctors from The Mosquitia, Honduras

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[1] In collaboration with the Mennonite Commission for Social Action (CASM) and financed by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

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