Discovering "mass food production" in Honduras

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      Tegucigalpa, Honduras—Things are not always as you imagine them to be. I have generally assumed that if a snack comes in a neat little package, it was wrapped in a large warehouse somewhere probably very far away from where I am eating.

      But today on a trip through El Paraiso province in Honduras, I stumbled on a snack food manufacturing facility that really proved me wrong.

      I was roughly 100 kilometers east of the capital, very close to the Nicaraguan border. A European NGO named SwissContact had been generous enough to lend me a car and driver for the day and we had just finished up a long round of interviews and were on our way back to the capital city.

      Earlier in the day, at SwissContact’s Honduran headquarters in Tegucigalpa, Ivan Rodriguez, a director for the group, told me that SwissContact has been active in Central and South America for nearly 50 years. He described the group as a private-sector foundation that assists small and medium enterprises with growth and development.

      For example, Rodriguez told me, SwissContact has helped groups of subsistence farmers in Honduras band together and cooperatively operate as a bloc to access larger and international markets.

      Rodriguez emphasized that importance that SwissContact has always placed on education and empowerment over handouts.

      That was what I saw in action in El Paraiso province in a very small town outside the city of Danli.

      We stopped to pick up chips, I was told by SwissContact’s driver. As it turned out, we had stopped to pick up a whole lot of chips–the equivalent of a small crate.

      The small, three-room cement building was the sole manufacturing and packaging facility for Tajaditas de platano’s Del Racimo banana chips. The entire operation consisted of three deep fryers, four staff members (at the time that we dropped by), and a couple of primitive packaging devices.

      As I waited for my driver to collect his large bag of the "warehouse’s" product, two women and a young man busily crammed banana chips into tiny bags stamped “Del Racimo”, sealed them in a single motion, and tossed the bags into large boxes, ready for delivery.

      “I think they make a lot of money,” Brenda Morales, another staff member of SwissContact, later told me. “These sell for three lempira [roughly 20 cents] a bag.”

      Morales explained that years ago, SwissContact had helped Del Racimo establish its small manufacturing facility and connect with national distributers.

      Today, while the company’s staff still barely exceeds a handful of local people, Del Racimo banana chips can be found on store shelves throughout Honduras.

      It made me wonder who made the Kellogg's Special K bar that I munched on during the ride back to Tegucigalpa.

      Travis Lupick was in Honduras as a recipient of the Seeing the World Through New Eyes fellowship, funded by the Jack Webster Foundation and CIDA.

      Read more stories from his trip:
      Doctored crops stir Latin American debate (April 16, 2009)
      B.C. aid helps Honduran kids (March 26, 2009)
      Exploring Peru in the shadow of the financial crisis (February 17, 2009)
      A walk through the poverty of Honduras (February 12, 2009)

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