This farm survived two devastating storms using agroecology

March 18, 2021

Bennis Margarita Castro’s agroecological farm survived two devastating storms in 2020, Eta and Iota, while her neighbours’ farms did not. How?

This farm survived two hurricanes using agroecology. This photo shows a woman with a notebook looking at a dozen bowls full of red bean seeds. A young kid stands next to her looking at the seeds too.
Here, Bennis is selecting seeds of a line of the Pueblo Viejo bean variety. (Photo: Paola Orellana/FIPAH)

Picture a farm. Maybe you’re imagining an expanse of gently waving wheat or a large grassy plain dotted with cows.

Now turn that image 45 degrees and put it on a mountain. Add trees, shrubs, a smattering of boulders and a whole bunch of diverse kinds of crops spread across different elevations. Picture a thin layer of soil holding on to the mountain’s bedrock below.

That’s where Bennis Margarita Castro and Odir Palma Murillo farm in La Esperanza, in the Yoro department of Honduras.

It’s a lush, healthy ecosystem—so healthy, in fact, that it recently withstood two back-to-back hurricanes while many neighbouring farms did not.

Bennis and Odir’s farm survived two devastating tropical storms using agroecology.

Back in the 2000s, when Bennis’s husband, Odir, went to meetings with other family farmers in the region, Bennis admits she was sceptical about what the benefits were. Odir was part of a local agricultural research committee (which we’ll refer to using its Spanish acronym, “CIAL”).

In spite of her hesitancy, Bennis started participating here and there in some of the CIAL’s activities with Odir. And as she learned through the CIAL about the importance of protecting the environment on which the livelihoods of her farming community depended, her scepticism began to dissolve.

Bennis in one of the plots on the family farm. (Photo: Odir Palma)

In 2011, Bennis formally joined her local CIAL and dove into learning everything she could about the practices of Earth-friendly farming: agroecology.

Using agroecology to grow a climate resilient farm

With training through the CIAL, Bennis and Odir built the resilience of their farm. They deepened their knowledge of crop diversity, contour planting, soil conservation, using trees in an agroforestry system, living barriers, and making and using organic inputs. As Bennis and Odir learned more techniques through the training supported by SeedChange and our local Honduran partner, the Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH), they implemented them on their steep hillside farm. And as their farm’s resilience grew, so did their family: they’re now parents to four kids!

In November 2020, the resilience of their agroecological farm was tested.

This farm survived two devastating storms using agroecology - Two photos of damaged crops on hillsides.
Photos of damages to farms in Yoro send to us by our partner organization, FIPAH.

In the middle of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Central America was hit by two back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota. By the time Eta and Iota made it to Honduras, they’d slowed slightly to tropical storms. This meant days and days of strong winds and torrential rains, leaving massive devastation in their wakes. Many rural communities were flooded and had their roads washed-out. Heavy rainfall saturated soil and drowned crops. In Bennis and Odir’s community alone, 112 hectares of crops were destroyed by rain and landslides.

But Bennis and Odir’s farm held together. In Bennis’s words, this is thanks to the use of agroecological practices on their farm.

When other farmers visit Bennis and Odir’s farm, they look on with admiration as there was no damage.

Inspiring their neighbours through agroecology

Bennis and Odir’s experience has reassured and convinced other farmers in the area that agroecological management is a real option to cope with climate change.

And in Central America, it’s getting more and more urgent for farmers to be able to cope. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active ever recorded, with more than double the average number of yearly storms. This resulted in one of the wettest October to November periods since 1981 across parts of Central America, according to ReliefWeb.

Bennis is part of a women’s microenterprise making aloe vera shampoo, through her local CIAL. (Photo: Paola Orellana/FIPAH)

Bennis has also taken her experience to the next level and now helps run a side business with a small group of women. Besides her environmentally friendly and climate-resilient farm, Bennis is treasurer of a seven-women aloe processing enterprise that makes aloe-based shampoo.

It has been a long road, but Bennis and Odir’s commitment to agroecology has made their farm incredibly resilient.