Farmers know best what they need to survive

With FIPAH, Honduran highland farmers research and  develop seed suited to their unique growing conditions.

Sally Humphries started working with Honduran farmers eighteen years ago. She understands the challenges they face trying to grow crops organically.

“We can’t talk about organics in the same way that we do for other places. It’s far more complicated than that,” insists the Director of International Development Studies at the University of Guelph, whose pilot research project in 1992 gave birth to the Honduran NGO, Foundation for Participatory Research with Honduran Farmers (FIPAH).

Most of the farmers in the highlands of this Central American country rent small plots of land, and cannot spare the resources to invest in an uncertain future.

“This is a poor country, with almost no middle class,” she points out. “There are no premiums, and no market for organic products. We need to look, instead, at agro-ecological agriculture as a means of achieving food security for families.”

One of the greatest challenges they face is access to plant varieties suitable to their growing conditions.

 “They are on steep hills at higher altitudes, and the varieties developed by the government simply don’t work here.”  Supported by USC Canada, FIPAH engages them in research and crop improvement so they can develop and adapt seeds for their own particular needs. “Until farmers have the right seeds adapted to their area,” insists Humphries, “it’s very hard to do organic agriculture.”

As an undergrad, Humphries had little idea what she would do with a degree in Anthropology and Latin American Studies, until she started working with farmers in Mexico. That experience set her on a path toward a post-doctorate Rockefeller Social Science Fellowship in Agriculture, and work with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (Columbia).

“It was pure chance that I ended up working with these people in Honduras who have been such close collaborators.” After eighteen years, she is still actively engaged with FIPAH, and in email contact on an almost daily basis. 

Humphries and other presenters will share their experiences from around the world at the 30th Annual Guelph Organic Conference on Friday Jan. 28, 9am to 12pm.

This half-day interactive workshop – Participatory Development and Agro-Ecological Farming for Food Security- International Perspectives –  will be of interest to anyone wanting to promote self-reliant, sustainable food systems in the global south. 

To learn more about Sally Humphries’ work, contact her at 416-461-7202 (