No. 9. My internship to Study Inga alley cropping Part 1
By Romy Krueger | Newsletter No. 9 February 2009

Part 1. Impressions of Honduras

During the months of June and July 2008 I spent 7 weeks at the northern coast of Honduras surveying different Inga alley cropping sites to establish an inventory of potentially harmful insects, diseases, and nematodes. The report on the research will be in Part 2.

Honduran beach

 Coast, Northern Honduras. Photo by  Romy Krueger 2008.

I am a graduate student at the University of Florida studying to become a Doctor of Plant Medicine (www.dpm.ifas.ufl.edu). This relatively new program is a multidisciplinary doctorate, which trains students in all aspects of the prevention, diagnosis, and management of plant health problems (entomology, nematology, plant pathology, nutrient deficiencies, weed science). Students are required to complete 120 credit hours. 90 are reserved for course work and 30 for internships. Internships are intended to supplement the academic curriculum with practical experience. In general students choose their internships according to their interests and future employment goals. Although there is no official specialization in sustainable/organic agriculture within my program, I am doing everything I can to select classes and internships accordingly.

Cloud over rainforest

Cloud over rainforest. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

During my time in Honduras I worked with Dr. Guillermo Valle, who is a professor at CURLA. CURLA is part of the National Autonomous University of Honduras and acts as a regional center for the northern Honduran coast. It is located in La Ceiba.

 

 Local store

Local store.(Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

The university's goal is to conduct research in areas such as agroforestry, agriculture, economics, and ecotourism that will help the rural people of that region. Their research concentrates on improving traditional systems without changing them entirely, because farmers are in general reluctant to adopt new approaches. Furthermore CURLA is committed to do so in a sustainable way. Dr. Valle's research focuses on the alley cropping system. Curla's campus is very large, which makes it possible to accommodate many research projects. I visited seed orchards that were established in the 1990's and are part of a seed gene bank. I also got the chance to see the on-campus Inga study sites, which were in the process of being planted with corn (mid-June).

However my research took place in the Inga plantations on facilities provided by FUNAVID.

FUNAVID is an NGO that was established in 2004 and concentrates on helping Hondurans in the rural areas in the department of Colon. Some of Dr. Valle's research sites are located at the property of FUNAVID. Its facilities are located in the small village of Lucinda, which is near Balfate. FUNAVID promotes sustainable agricultural techniques that will help to preserve the natural areas of that region. The foundation provided the sites for the alley cropping research as well as monetary support.

What it is like

This was the first time I traveled to a third world country. It made me appreciate what I have, but also made me realize how unknowing the society I live in is about people in other countries. I expected most things, but being really there and seeing it was still different.

There are the police checkpoints, which although meant to ensure safety, always made me feel uncomfortable. (Probably also because I only speak 30 words of Spanish.) The driving is very interesting too. No one really seems to follow any rules and no one seems to care either, unless of course you look like you do not belong there, meaning you are white. Not necessarily because of racism, but because the color of your skin is associated with your social status and if you have money or not. I gathered that not too many people trust the police. And a simple little traffic accident results in an appointment at the police, which sounded somewhat serious.

Then there are the walls around houses.

Expensive Homes

Expensive homes. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

As soon as your house looks better there will be a 7 feet high wall around it with barbed wire on top of it. Generally windows of every house have iron bars. It made me feel rather unsafe, but after a few weeks it did not bother me that much anymore, it just became part of the daily life. It seemed like where other people need super green lawns in their front yard, there everybody wants walls, barbed wire and iron bars.

House with fence

House with fence. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

Another aspect to get used to are the machine guns. Policemen carry machine guns and security personnel at banks have them too and I sort of expected that. But I was a little bit surprised to see them everywhere. Basically anybody who sells something or protects something worth stealing has them too, maybe not a machine gun, but certainly some sort of firearm.

Dirt road

Dirt road. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

 

While I was in Honduras I spent part of my stay at FUNAVID and part in La Ceiba. FUNAVID is located in a rather poor part of the country, about 30 mileseast of La Ceiba. The rural communities are small. The paved road ends about half way between La Ceiba and Lucinda (where FUNAVIDis located).

Cow

Cow. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

In my opinion, rural areas like the one I stayed at are really why Honduras is called a third world country. Real houses with windows and doors are on the rise, but there are still houses that are mud houses or wooden shacks. Other houses, although made out of stone, have no doors or windows. But the lack of windows and doors is also convenient considering the heat. The houses are small and there does not seem to exist much privacy among family members. Running water, flushing toilets and refrigerators are often absent.

The water cannot be drunk. Neither in the city nor in the countryside, even though people say it is probably safer in the country, especially when coming directly from a spring. Therefore people buy 5-gallon water containers or soft drinks. In the countryside power outages happen about once a week for several hours. In the city they last usually under an hour. Life in the city is modern. However there are still horse drawn wagons on occasion.

Wooden Shack

Wooden shack. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

Horses

Horses on the shore. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.

La Ceiba has an extensive bus system. The buses are all old US school buses and are always packed. There are movie theaters, malls, McDonalds...The contrast between country and city life is apparent.

The food is good, but usually consists of beans, rice, corn tortillas, and cheese. Often plantains are added and different kinds of fried meat. Often people prepare their own juice, made from pineapple, melon, and other locally grown fruit. After a couple of weeks I was craving some variety and after getting back home, I could not eat beans and rice for several weeks. Except when eating at trusted restaurants and westernized restaurants, like Quiznos or McDonalds, non-local people should not eat local food such as food sold by street vendors, unless it is unprepared vegetables or fruit that will be washed later with "trusted" water. I ate at the university just one time and got pretty sick. I was better two days later, but it was not much fun.

People are in general very friendly, but I think it can be a little uncomfortable for white women, because you  stick out. I never really had problems, because most of the time I was with somebody, but people did tend to stare. On the few occasions I was by myself I was constantly approached by men asking me something like if I was married. In addition speaking the language can make it more comfortable. I tried, but if you are a beginner at any language it is always hard. I was okay, because I was with people that spoke English, but even for me it was at times difficult and it made me feel rather lonely.

Honduran landscape

Honduran Landscape. Photo by Romy Krueger 2008.