A unique and enduring relationship: Three decades of seed work with Honduran farmersOctober 20, 2020
“This unique partnership has endured for more than two decades. I can’t overstate how powerful and rare this is.”
By Sally Humphries, Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph and co-founder of the Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers
In these uncertain times I’m drawn to reflect on the importance of the relationships we nurture over our lives. One of the most rewarding relationships of my life started almost 30 years ago.
I was a young international development researcher at the time. My research took me to steep hillside farming communities in Honduras where farmers worked to overcome poor growing conditions.
Despite the attention farmers gave to seed selection and saving, their traditional maize and bean varieties were generally low yielding and farming families invariably ran out of grain before the next harvest. They referred to this period of scarcity as los junios, reflecting the month of June when it typically began.
Constant references to los junios made it clear to me that food insecurity was a serious problem in the Honduran hillsides.
However, it was also clear that farmers cherished their seeds and wanted to improve them. This suggested going beyond seed selection to seed improvement through plant breeding. But it needed to be done in a way that put farmers in the driver’s seat, and built on their traditional knowledge and skills.
It was this desire to engage with farmers as researchers and breeders that became my life’s work. Joining forces with local researchers, we founded an organization to support farmer-led research and plant breeding, the Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH).
SeedChange entered the picture somewhat fortuitously a few years later. The mother of one of my students at the University of Guelph worked for SeedChange, then called USC Canada. A group of donors wanted to support Hondurans in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. One conversation led to another, and soon FIPAH and SeedChange became partners.
“I have absolute faith in the credibility of SeedChange’s work. I know because I’ve measured it, evaluated it. My students and I have devoted ourselves to this work.”Sally Humphries, Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph
This unique partnership has endured for more than two decades. I can’t overstate how powerful and rare this is.
What I most admire about SeedChange’s support for farmers in Honduras is the commitment to build long-term relationships and trust, in an international environment where there is sadly often very little of either.
I spent the last 25 years of my university career working with FIPAH and community partners and I’ve had the privilege of seeing and evaluating the impact of SeedChange’s work over the years. I have absolute faith in the credibility of SeedChange’s work. I know because I’ve measured it, evaluated it. My students and I have devoted ourselves to this work.
I’ve worked directly with many of the farmers SeedChange supports. I’ve seen leaders emerge and courage grow. I’ve seen farmers stand up for their communities, even when it could get them killed. I’ve witnessed the transformations that have been made to their communities and children’s health.
Thanks to this work, crops have become more resilient, while yields have increased and farming families have more food and better lives.
Now that I’m retired, I feel a profound sense of satisfaction seeing some of my former students continue to work in Honduras. Some of them have even recruited students of their own. I like to think of them as my “grandstudents.” Like a grandmother, I’m proud and follow their work with great interest; I want to see it continue.
Today, it is heartbreaking to see communities in Central America grapple with some of the most severe manifestations of the COVID-19 pandemic. But farming communities in Honduras have partners they can count on here in Canada—starting with SeedChange and its supporters.
The enduring relationship SeedChange has with farmers gives me hope that we’ll get through this together.
Sally Humphries is Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph and the co-founder of SeedChange’s partner organization in Honduras, the Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH).