In August, rows of corn plants dotted the rural landscape in the Honduran department of Lempira. From afar, nothing looked amiss in these small farms. Yet it hadn’t rained for the previous 40 days, and the corn cobs tucked inside the husks were small and kernel-less. Across Honduras, an unpredictable climate has made this situation increasingly common. Droughts have wrecked crops, and changing weather patterns have created additional challenges for millions of Honduran farmers. To survive amid the bad harvests, rural families are looking elsewhere to supplement their incomes: to different sectors, nearby cities and north to the United States.
A caravan with thousands of migrants has been making its way through Mexico after setting out three weeks ago from Honduras, which holds the distinction of being one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change. Over the past four decades, the country’s average temperature has risen, and it has borne the brunt of ever more frequent severe weather events. These climatic changes are on a collision path with the country’s weather-dependent workforce and economy. Today, 1 in 4 Hondurans continues to work directly in agriculture, and bananas and coffee continue to be two of the top economic drivers.
The effects of a changing climate go well beyond droughts and floods to include the dreaded coffee leaf rust. Honduras’s coffee sector is one of the largest rural employers, with more than 96,000 small coffee producers and a million workers. A warming climate has allowed the coffee rust to spread to plants in higher elevations, and farmers have to invest in medicines to keep their plants healthy. However, these extra costs contribute to making Honduran coffee more expensive to grow than farmers can sell it for on the global market. And in response, the sector has seen layoffs, bottomed-out wages and an exodus of rural workers.