Friday, November 2

Honduras: From Banana Republic to Remittances Republic to Failed State

After Hurricane Mitch wrecked the banana plantations the Honduran government decided it could make a mint by making Honduras a Coffee Republic. Daniel R. Reichman, today Associate Professor, Chair of Anthropology at University of Rochester (U.S.), chronicled what happened next. In so doing he also chronicled the whistle stops on the Honduran branch of the express train to disaster in his prophetic book, The Broken Village: Coffee, Migration, and Globalization in Honduras (Cornell University Press, 2011).

In 2013 he used excerpts from the book for an article at the Migration Policy Institute, ominously titled Honduras: The Perils of Remittance Dependence and Clandestine Migration. "Ominous" because by 2013 nothing much had changed since 2011 beyond the size of various statistics. Even by 2011 it was clear the country was on track for disaster.

Nobody listened to Professor Reichman -- at least nobody in a position with the will and power to stop a runaway train. Governments, the United Nations, development banks, the International Financial Community -- of them had gone gaga for remittances. Why, with a virtually borderless world in the age of globalization, people from the poorer countries were going to work in richer countries and send a big chunk of their earnings home. And then -- and then, the world was going to see a Golden Age, with the poorer countries righting themselves through remittances receipts.

In December 2015 the World Bank burbled that international migrant labor and the remittances that went with it were at an all-time high -- remittances dwarfing the amount of foreign aid to all countries combined. The Bank updated their good news earlier this year, reporting Record high remittances to low- and middle-income countries in 2017 with Honduras coming in at number 10 on the list of countries most dependent on remittances (19% of Honduran GDP).

No word yet from the World Bank on the Honduran migrant caravans. 

However, the rise of industrialized remittances is a symptom, not the cause, of the Honduran disaster. Underneath all the Honduran government's failed policies is the inexorable extinction of the country's indigenous societies. The same is happening in many nations. 

In case after case these societies have been going under because they aren't self-sufficient in food production. They aren't self-sufficient because they never modernized subsistence farming or never knew how to do genuine subsistence farming when they switched from hunting-gathering to farming.

Solve that problem and apply the solution and you've prevented civilization from crashing; as a bonus you've saved indigenous societies. Oh but that's right; somebody already did solve the problem. It was Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Beep this is a recording. 

The means now exist to modernize subsistence farming to the point where the small-scale farmer can be fully self-sufficient in food production, and without making it a choice between subsistence and commercial farming. The modern era runs on money, so farmers do need to raise enough produce to sell. And yet the key is one of timing. First establish the firm base of food self-sufficiency, then establish a network with other self-sufficient farmers to branch into commercial enterprises.  

The person who worked all this out and successfully applied it was King Bhumibol. And he did it without turning his back on the modern era. To save Thailand's rural peoples and help them preserve their way of life, his majesty deployed all manner of modern technologies (and his own inventions) to modernize subsistence farming. This allowed the thousands of Thai farming villages that adopted his 'New Theory' of agriculture to become remarkably self-sufficient. 

The villages did need help from government in certain respects; e.g., the building of dams and reservoirs to bring water to small ponds that are the centerpiece of New Theory farms, at least for Thai weather patterns and how this affects the staple crop of rice. But essentially New Theory farmers can raise enough produce/livestock to be completely self-sufficient in food for themselves and their families. 

And as I've explained before, his majesty figured out how to do this with less than six acres of land to work with -- six acres being the average size of a small-scale farming plot in Thailand, but which must also hold the farmer's home and buildings for livestock.

Of course a natural disaster along the lines of Hurricane Mitch would require villagers getting outside help, but NT farms are built to bounce back quickly from natural disasters.   

In short, small-scale farmers have to stop the self-defeating practice of trying to raise enough commercial crops to be able to afford to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families. 

From Daniel Reisman's 2013 article:
The rise of Honduran migration to the United States in the past two decades is evidence of the inability of Cold War-era development policies to bring about meaningful reform and economic stability in Honduras. After decades of agrarian reform, state-led development programs, and billions of dollars of foreign aid spent on international development schemes, remitted wages from people working in the United States have become the most important source of income for many rural communities.
Before they work for income, they might try putting the horse before the cart and work for food self-sufficiency. After all, they've already tried everything else. 



Mark said...

No comments? I found this very helpful. Someone more intelligent than I and with something worthwhile to say should comment, but sense they haven't, I volunteer to at least express my appreciation. Thank you!

Pundita said...

[smiling] You're welcome.