What do coffee and gold have in common? In the El Paraíso region of Honduras, both commodities are closely tied to the history of the locality Las Selvas.
About 90 km southwest of Tegucigalpa in Honduras lies the region of El Paraíso. After a difficult ride full of twists and turns through the thick jungle we arrive in Las Selvas. This place has not always been known for its coffee plantations.
Karina Iveth Chacon works here as a technical assistant for the PROGRESA project, which is implemented by Swisscontact and financed by the EU. A team of technical assistants is providing advanced training in new business models to managers and farmer collectives. By improving competitiveness and sustainability of the coffee, cocoa, and cashew nut value chains, the project can address poverty and food insecurity for SME producers and agricultural workers.
Photo: Karina Chacon and her colleagues train farmers in coffee planting on-site.
Once upon a time, Emilio Chacon Osorio took his granddaughter Karina aside and told her the story of Las Selvas. He comes from Danlí, in the region of El Paraíso. “Back when I was a young man there were coffee and cocoa plantations but no ‘Las Selvas’. People used to mine for gold in this region. I, too, worked in the goldmine. It was difficult and dirty work.”
Some of the oldest mines were located around Danlí, Tegucigalpa, Gracias, and Santa Rosa. The first time people really mined for gold in Honduras was back in 1509 when the first Spanish discoverers colonized the area.
damage. First, stone is dynamited and crushed. Next, the stone is sifted and mixed with a cyanide solution for a week, which frees tiny traces of gold from the rock. It is estimated that every year 182,000 tonnes of cyanide are used in goldmines worldwide. Modern goldmining leaves behind deserted landscapes, long-term environmental damage, and social problems.
In the 1960s many goldmines were shut down in Honduras, including in the region of El Paraíso. Emilio Chacon Osorio and other miners had no income anymore and could no longer feed their families. “The soil is fertile though – what can we plant?” thought Emilio. He was a man of action and founded the town of “Las Selvas” deep in the Honduran jungle. Former goldminers and their families settled there and began planting coffee. Now they could reap what they sow and sell their harvests profitably. Thus was born a new source of income for the people in the area around El Paraíso.
The granddaughter of “town founder’s” Emilio, Karina, is now walking in his footsteps. Along with coffee farming in El Paraíso, where 51,200 hectares of coffee plantations provide 20% of all local harvests, cocoa and cashew nuts offer real alternatives. There is considerable demand for both crops domestically and internationally. That means significant economic, environmental, and social development potential for the country’s south.