Last week, EcoLogic sat down with Warren Darrell, an EcoLogic Ambassador. Warren had previously spent time journeying around Honduras to places like Copán, Lempira, and Colón where he observed the prevalence of hillside agriculture and soil degradation, as well as emerging conservation strategies such as soil-conserving agroforestry. Warren told EcoLogic that over the years, through his travels and interests, he learned that the key to successful development and conservation projects is involving local people and their community organizations and helping them enact the change they want to see. In his own words, Warren supports organizations that have an approach to their work that align with his international aid mantra that “supporting the right people and organizations is more important than the amount of support,” and after visiting Honduras, he says EcoLogic’s work confirms that.
EcoLogic: From your perspective, what was the most significant thing that you saw, that happened, or that you experienced during your visit to Honduras?
WD: Well, I would say the most significant thing is the teamwork between EcoLogic and its partners. At least organizationally, because that I think is the most key point in getting anything done in this kind of sustainable development work. So, I would say organizationally and in terms of people, definitely the partnerships with what appeared to be good local organizations. As far as physically, the two things I’d mention would be that the water councils—and I saw more of the El Pino council than I did of Los Coyoles—they appeared to physically have a pretty good water infrastructure. The small reservoirs in the mountains and then bringing it down to their big storage chlorination tanks. They appeared to be pretty well organized. Physically, the stove program is a great program, period. So what was impressive to me was the strength of the partnerships organizationally, and physically the water systems and the stove programs were particularly significant to me.
EcoLogic: So I know you’ve mentioned this a bit, but why do you think these things stood out to you specifically, why are these things particularly significant to you?
WD: Well, organizational partnerships as I said are really the key to getting things done. You need money, but I’ve found that in shorter supply than money is people in-country to actually manage and to integrate and combine what the people in the country want with the goals of an international sustainable development organization. So, to me the most key thing is if you have good, confident people in-country organized, who are doing good things in integrated conservation and development projects; where you have a local entity to get the money for. I’ve been in situations where the missing link has not been trying to get the [funding], the missing link is who you are getting it for. Who is going to spend it? How are they going to spend it? How are you going to control it? So I think that is the single biggest key factor.
The other thing that I want to add is that in Honduras, and I am sure this is common, the government does less for the people than the government here in the United States. I mean government on all levels. In terms of things like water and everything, so the people themselves, nongovernmental organizations like these water cooperatives, they and the people themselves voluntarily partner to do what is done on a more organized government structure here in the United States.
Some of the things I’m talking about, like protecting these watersheds, the El Pino water council is in Pico Bonito National Park, the people who are out there walking the watershed boundaries looking for illegal logging or whatever else may threaten watersheds, those are community volunteers or a very thin staff of the community-paid water council employees, who are typically few. That is exactly what I mean by the people doing for themselves what here you have the National Park Service and National Park Rangers doing to protect our resources. But we don’t have that in Honduras, so the people are out there with no or little support from the government.
Another example of this would be on the other side of the mountains in Los Coyoles microcuenca, where it is a drier climate in the Nombre de Dios Range, they have their own volunteer fire brigade. They don’t have any equipment apart from their own machetes. No government, no paid fire department, no airplanes dropping fire retardant, the people themselves are taking it upon themselves to do what nobody else is doing for them. To me that’s a strong point, because it also has a counter to, how do I say, some people in the United States have the impression that people in Latin America aren’t trying or it’s their own fault and that kind of thing, and that attitude is countered a little bit by the fact that you see these people banding together themselves voluntarily to improve their communities. People like to help people who help themselves, who are doing what nobody else is doing for them. People who organize and mobilize to do what is best for them and their communities.
Founded in 1993, EcoLogic empowers rural communities to restore and protect tropical ecosystems in Central America and Mexico. EcoLogic identifies landscapes in Mesoamerica with a combination of high biodiversity, significant threats, and high levels of community participation and support. We develop long-term partnerships with local community-based organizations and, together, we initiate landscape-wide efforts to reduce major threats to biodiversity. By emphasizing the critical role rural communities play in the provision of environmental services (water, clean air) we help ensure they can play an active leadership role in and beyond their own villages.
EcoLogic began working in Honduras in 1998, in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which completely disrupted water delivery mechanisms throughout the region. Our work has involved providing technical and financial assistance to community-based organizations working to manage their local water supply at the village and household level. This has included building the capacity of individual village-level water committees to stabilize water catchment areas and watersheds through reforestation, strategies to reduce human pressure on forested areas, and land use planning.