Planting systems of change in Honduras, Belize and Panama with Sustainable Harvest International
Sustainable Harvest International mitigates environmental degradation and rural poverty by encouraging the adoption of regenerative farming practices . Currently, their programs in Honduras, Belize, and Panama equip low-income, smallholder farmers with the knowledge, skills and tools to implement alternative methods to chemical inputs and “slash-and-burn” agriculture - an unsustainable method of farming whereby forest areas are burned and cleared for planting.
Collecting data to measure, analyze, and communicate program impact is fundamental to the nature of Sustainable Harvest International. In order to facilitate this process, they partnered with Akvo to create a data ecosystem designed to gather information on target indicators, examine results over time, and share insights. The database generates dialogue between Sustainable Harvest International and its stakeholders while allowing the organization to continuously monitor their work and make decisions based on evidence.
 Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density.
Above: Preparing a vegetable nursery in San Luis, Belize. Photo by Sustainable Harvest International.
The challenges Sustainable Harvest International face relate to beliefs and practices intrinsically tied to conventional agriculture systems. As Elliott Powell, Director of International Programs at Sustainable Harvest International, states:
“Conventional agriculture perpetuates a system that contributes to deforestation, a poverty cycle for small-scale farmers, and land degradation. With respect to deforestation, farmers employing conventional agriculture practices use large amounts of chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides that are unhealthy for humans and the environment. Additionally, farmers often remain in a cycle of poverty, in part because inputs, seeds, and materials required to produce a harvest are expensive, and farmers cannot afford them. Thus, farmers manage to generate only a small income needed to survive. Lastly, farmers have limited access to education about alternative farming methods. This is where Sustainable Harvest International comes in: partnering with farmers and their families to incorporate sustainable farming practices.”
Sustainable Harvest International’s five-phase methodology is designed to counter the conventional agriculture system by creating lasting relationships with small-scale farmers and supporting them in becoming community leaders in sustainability. Akvo advances this process by providing the tools and services to measure the success of the program and allow for adaptive management.
Above: The Chi family in San Luis, Belize. Photo by Salt to Clay Photography.
Before using Akvo Flow, Sustainable Harvest International conducted surveys using pen and paper. The time saved using Flow, which captures data digitally and generates reports immediately, allows project staff to spend more time communicating with the participant families. Furthermore, the local field trainers can access all of the previous surveys online, allowing progress to be monitored over time.
Today, Sustainable Harvest International uses Akvo Flow to conduct all surveys as part of their internal monitoring and evaluation (M&E) program and to fulfill reporting requirements for various funders. In a typical year, they conduct baseline surveys, bi-annual monitoring surveys, endline assessments, and end-of-phase evaluations in order to investigate farmer behavior and conventional agriculture practices, including the use of agrochemicals and slash-and-burn techniques. Sustainable Harvest International also captures data relating to their five impact areas when information is needed during program interventions. Akvo Lumen is used to make this data tangible and to understand how the program contributes toward sustained land for future generations, reversed effects of tropical deforestation, increased access to healthy food, and the creation of self-supporting communities through small business development.
Since teaming with Akvo to streamline M&E processes, Sustainable Harvest International more effectively gathers data regarding farmer behaviors and farming techniques, and is able to target programming to ensure the families and communities incorporate regenerative agriculture practices. Using Akvo's tools and services, they are able to strategically adapt programming, remain flexible, and communicate messages quickly to everyone involved, from the families themselves to staff and donors. What's more, Sustainable Harvest International monitors how roots of change grow within the communities and participant families. By planting new perspectives on farming within the communities, and allowing those perspectives to grow by introducing regenerative farming techniques, sustainable farming practices can take root and flourish.
With an efficient and dependable M&E system in place, Sustainable Harvest International can monitor their work better by addressing identified root causes of the problem, and ultimately influence deeper impact.