Meet Denia, who has spent more than half her life working for change

November 18, 2019
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At just fifteen years old, Denia founded a group that would change her community and the trajectory of her life.

Denia Liseth Palma Murillo (Photo: Martin Settle/SeedChange)

Denia Liseth Palma Murillo is a natural-born leader.

At just fifteen years old, Denia founded a group that would change her community and the trajectory of her life.

She encouraged youth in Las Esperanza, Honduras – including her brother – to join her in creating a farmer-researcher committee, also known by the Spanish language acronym “CIAL.” So why would a teenager decide to start a farmer-researcher committee?

Denia had the idea to start the CIAL after attending a presentation by USC Canada’s Honduran partner organization, the Foundation for Participatory Research for Honduran Farmers (FIPAH), in 2003. FIPAH spoke about about the need to develop resilience and variability in seeds to adapt to climate change. CIAL groups, FIPAH told the attendees, would allow them to learn and develop their leadership skills in farming, while finding solutions to agricultural problems as a team.

Denia recognized these needs in her own community. Many of her neighbours suffered from a lack of well-adapted crops. Climate change makes the weather unpredictable and tough on fields, and drought and rain are hard to predict. Small-scale farmers like Denia who rely on their crops for livelihood are often the first to suffer from inequities in food systems and environmental degradation. Without government crop insurance, they need to find their own strategies to manage risks related to weather conditions.

“[Climate change] has changed my community a lot,” Denia says.

She decided to rally a group of her peers to form a youth-led CIAL, and asked FIPAH to come work with them. Motivated by what she had heard and saw, she felt confident that working collectively would allow the youth to make a positive difference in their community.

As a team, the CIAL in Las Esperanza had the chance to develop their farming skills, including learning about fruit trees and developing better markets for crops such as beans, corn and avocados.

Denia attended high school outside of her community shortly after the CIAL started, leaving her brother to take charge of the group. But even while away from home, she continued to act as a leader for the group, often receiving calls for assistance from other youth members. Her ability to empower and work with others to find creative solutions to problems kept the group working together and moving forward.

After completing her education in 2012, Denia went back to her community and rejoined the CIAL. Since then, the team has accomplished an incredible amount. In 2013, the community and members of the CIAL began a rural savings and loan group called a Caja Rural. In 2015, the CIAL’s loan program was legally recognized and now has more than 25 members.

Denia says she can see the change in her community after years of good work with the CIAL. There is more participation in community programs and more stability in homes, she says, and increased income means families can send their children to school.

Now 34-years-old and a mother to two daughters, Denia continues to work with the CIAL to help farmers in the area. With support from the Honduran government, they are getting a seed-cleaning machine. To strengthen seed production capacity and facilitate seed exchanges, the group networks with three other CIALs in the region.

However, there are still things the community needs to ensure good harvests.

“We need seed storage facilities, because last year, rain caused a lot of loss,” Denia says. “We also need plastic sheets to protect beans from rain, and drying tarps and water tanks.”

Starting at such a young age and continuing to work on behalf of the CIAL and her community, Denia is truly a force to be reckoned with. Her efforts are helping to increase biodiversity in the fields, as well as giving young Indigenous farmers and entrepreneurs opportunities in leading the world towards sustainable agriculture. After all, family farmers hold the key to many of the solutions needed in the food system.

It is women like Denia who are growing seed sovereignty and food security in Honduras.