By: Libby Arcia and Cecilia Gonzalez
Published: 2018-02-22


At ECHO’s International Agriculture Conference last November, Andrea Suarez, a Food Science student at Universidad Nacional de Agricultura (UNA, National Agriculture University) of Honduras, presented a workshop titled, “Fortifying local foods with leaf powder to combat child micro-nutrient deficiencies.” This article shares about Andrea’s experience and the importance of green leafy vegetables and powders for nutrition in Honduras.

Honduras, located in Central America, is a country rich in natural beauty, history and people.  It has a population of more than 9 million, who primarily speak Spanish, and other Amerindian languages. It has borders with Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Caribbean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. In the tropical rainforest near Guatemala, we find the Copan Ruins, which was an important city and center of art in the Mayan Civilization ─like the Paris of today. Through their stone-carved hieroglyphics, we have learned much about the Mayan way of life.  Their Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea are part of the 1,000 km-long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a world-renowned diving destination (Google Maps 2018).

LACN4 Figure 1

Figure 1. Andrea Suarez, Kathy Bryson and Cecilia Gonzalez (left to right) during the ECHO International conference workshop. Source: Andrea Suarez

On the other hand, Honduras also faces challenges. According to World Bank data, more than sixty-six percent of the population lives in poverty, while in the rural areas one out of five live in extreme poverty (World Bank 2017).  One-third of child deaths are due to malnutrition, primarily from increased severity of disease. Extreme weather, prolonged droughts, and hurricanes affect the food security of its most vulnerable people. One in four children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Nearly one third of preschool aged children and pregnant women are anemic due to iron deficiency and 14% of preschool aged children are deficient in vitamin A (World Bank 2015).

Gratefully, innovative solutions to food security and nutrition are evolving from young Honduran citizens. One of them is Andrea Suarez, a Food Science student at Universidad Nacional de Agricultura (UNA, National University of Agriculture). She want to use her education to address malnutrition in her country. Andrea recently completed an internship with Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT), a training center for meeting basic human needs with an extended training ministry through campus programs, international mission teams, seminars, and conferences (SIFAT 2018). She currently works with fellow students, members of the Asociación Hondureña de Egresados de SIFAT-UNA (AHESUNA, Honduran Association of SIFAT-UNA Alumni), which mission is to contribute to sustainable development through appropriate technology and empowerment to improve the quality of life of Honduran communities (AHESUNA 2018). 

With the goal of reducing childhood malnutrition and mortality, these students go directly to the most vulnerable communities through a program they call Sábado Verde (Green Saturday).  This public education event promotes the use of green leaf powders. Green leaf powders are derivatives of plants such as Moringa, Katuk, Chaya, and other green leafy vegetables, which are rich micronutrients, such as iron and vitamin A ─which are deficient in the Honduran diet.

During Sábado Verde, participants learn to integrate green leaf powders into staple foods, such as tortillas. In addition to community education, the group succeeded in convincing the university to add green powders to some of the foods and drinks they serve in the cafeteria. The group is now working towards the goal of launching a business to sell food products fortified with green leaf powders, such as pastas and cookies, to influence diets across Honduras.

To highlight innovative uses of green leafy vegetables, ECHO hosted its own Sábado Verde at its International Agricultural Conference in Florida. Andrea led an afternoon workshop called, “Fortifying local foods with leaf powder to combat child micro-nutrient deficiencies.” The workshop included a step-by-step demonstration on how to dry Moringa, Katuk, Chaya, and other nutritious green leaves. Andrea prepared smoothies made of orange juice, fresh fruits, and Moringa powder. Tasting this concoction convinced workshop participants that children would readily accept this tasty drink.

Andrea’s leadership of this workshop and participation in the conference was an important stepping-stone in pursuit of her calling to improve the health and nutrition of Honduran children. She commented, “Participating in ECHO’s International Conference, at such a young age and almost concluding my student career, has been of great importance. It is an emotional achievement and an inspiration to the professional calling I wish to pursue. I value the attention received from all of ECHOcommunity and I appreciate the space which allowed me to be filled with knowledge and to grow as a person and as a citizen of my country where I will put into practice all I learned.”

We, at ECHO, are privileged to partner and learn from people like Andrea, leaders and change agents of the communities we want to impact.  We are also pleased to share about what individuals, communities, and organizations are doing to promote nutrition in practical ways, such as Sábado Verde, something inexpensive and easy to replicate.

Please see our resources section for helpful information on green leafy vegetables, including:

ECHO Technical Note #12 by Dr. Martin Price reviewing various uses of Moringa leaf and powder.
Leaf for Life resources, such as 21st Century Greens: Leaf Vegetables and Sustainable Agriculture are available at Leaf for Life's website, including resources in English and Spanish. The Leaf for Life Handbook is available at the ECHO Book Store.
Edible Leaves of the Tropics by Martin, F.W.; , Ruberte, R.M. and Meitzner, L.S.; available at the ECHO Book Store.

References

Asociación Hondureña de Egresados de SIFAT-UNA (AHESUNA). 2018. “Página de Facebook de AHESUNA” 2018. https://www.facebook.com/pg/Asociación-hondureña-de-egresados-de-SIFAT-UNA-1228524227255681/about/?ref=page_internal.
Google Maps. 2018. “Honduras - Quick Facts.” 2018. https://www.google.com/maps/place/Honduras/@15.1813036,-90.7063319,6z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x8f6a751a73b731cf:0x7ed1de82b6fb8264!8m2!3d15.199999!4d-86.241905.
Servants in Faith & Technology (SIFAT). 2018. “SIFAT.” Accedido el 14 de febrero de 2018. https://sifat.org/.
World Bank. 2015. “Honduras: Nutrition at a Glance,” 1–2. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/NUTRITION/Resources/281846-1271963823772/Honduras.pdf.
World Bank. 2017. “Honduras: Overview.” 2017. http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/honduras/overview#1.c