Honduras

An image of the country's flag.

Honduras is a lower-middle-income country with substantial wealth and income inequality. Its economy is the most open in Central America. After several years of robust, export-led growth, the global financial crisis and recession reduced GDP growth to only 2% in 2009. The close links to the U.S. economy have resulted in a reduction in remittances, exports and foreign investment, all of which had been growing rapidly prior to the crisis. Poverty in Honduras is dire and the country is highly vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes and other natural disasters. About six in ten Hondurans live below the national poverty line and approximately two-fifths live below the extreme poverty line. While there has been progress in improving living conditions, in 2006 maternal mortality was still above 100 per 100,000 live births and chronic malnutrition affected one in four children aged one to five years.

The extreme poor and the poor in Honduras are primarily farmers and agricultural laborers. Without secure access to land, the rural poor will be unable to increase productivity and earn greater incomes. However, with greater security of access to land and land-based resources, the rural poor would both possess a secure, productive asset in which to invest and benefit from increased access to credit. Achieving a more productive agricultural sector will require a systematic expansion of the land administration program accompanied by rural development programs. The aggregate benefits to be realized from increasing tenure security include a reduction in conflicts, decreased land market transaction costs, increased access to credit and increased investments in the land. These positive outcomes, in turn, would bring about a more efficient allocation of land, increased productivity and a reduction in poverty.

KEY ISSUES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERVENTIONS

USAID and other donors could support the objectives and goals of Hondurans through the following interventions:

  • Strengthen smallholders’ land rights. Smallholders are highly tenure insecure. USAID and other donors should assess the success of the previous programs in providing secure title to smallholders. Based on the findings of the assessment, USAID and other donors could implement regional titling programs aimed at improving security for smallholders. Any such programs could be designed and monitored to ensure a positive net benefit for vulnerable groups, including women and indigenous and minority ethnic groups.
  • Secure indigenous and ethnic groups’ rights to land and natural resources. The land rights of indigenous and ethnic groups are threatened by encroachment and grabs by landless farmers, powerful business interests and government elites. USAID and other donors could work with the GOH to implement communal titling programs for indigenous and ethnic communities, as well as encourage the GOH to abide by ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, to which the GOH is a signatory.
  • Support women’s access to land and inheritance rights. While Honduran women have equal rights to land under statutory law, these rights are not effective in practice. Only 24% of Honduran women are listed as landowners. USAID and other donors could provide legal aid directed toward increasing awareness around women’s land rights, including programs to educate women and girls about their existing rights and provide support for exercising their rights in legal proceedings.
  • Help improve water resource management. While Honduras has extensive water resources, these resources are reduced through mismanagement and inefficient use. USAID and other donors could work with communities to improve community level water resource management. On a broader scale, USAID and other donors could partner with the GOH to upgrade inefficient irrigation systems.
  • Support forest administration to mitigate deforestation from illegal logging. Honduras’ forest resources are threatened by extensive deforestation stemming from illegal logging. USAID and other donors could support the GOH in combating corruption in the forest administration and improving forest protection. One approach could be to train and grant authority to communities with customary rights to forests to patrol and protect forest resources in protected areas.
  • Protect customary forest rights. Indigenous groups have rights to forests on lands that they traditionally inhabit; however, the extent of those rights is unknown. If Honduras continues to seek inclusion in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, USAID and donors could encourage the GOH to conduct an assessment of customary forest rights and encourage the GOH to officially recognize these rights. USAID and other donors could work with the GOH to implement a plan that will grant original users’ rights to and benefits from preserving the forests.

SUMMARY

Honduras is a lower-middle- income country, the third poorest country in Latin America, with approximately 51% of the population living below the national extreme poverty line.

Approximately 30% live below the international poverty line of US $2 per day, while 18% live below US $1.25 per day. Poverty is particularly acute in rural areas, where many households are landless or land-poor. While GDP growth has been strong, Honduras is vulnerable to hurricanes and other natural disasters that make poverty reduction difficult to sustain.

Land distribution in Honduras is highly unequal and the latifundio (large estate) / minifundio (smallholding) complex continues to dominate land distribution. A large percentage of total land is privately owned by a small percentage of the total population. Traditional rights of ownership, including exclusive use and transferability, are generally the province of large landowners and multinational corporations.

Land tenure security in Honduras is challenged by ambiguity of ownership, lack of title and the threat of land invasion. Approximately 80% of the privately held land in the country is untitled or improperly titled. Only 14% of Hondurans legally occupy properties and, of the properties held legally, only 30% are registered. Minifundistas are the most tenure insecure of all farmers, as a large proportion lack title to their land. Invasion of private and ejidal (communal) land has become a common way for the landless to access land. As a result, land rights on private and ejidal land are not completely secure. The unclear nature of land tenure in Honduras renders mortgage and other forms of credit difficult to obtain. The informal land market is strong in both rural and urban areas, as lack of clear land title makes formal land transactions risky and expensive.

Indigenous and other ethnic groups are highly tenure insecure. Many of these groups lack clear title to their land, which fosters encroachment and expropriation attempts by non-indigenous landless farmers, powerful business interests and government elites. In addition, community leaders opposed to land acquisitions have been subject to intimidation and violence. Lands held under communal tenure have also been subject to government expropriation.

Women own only one-quarter of all parcels of land in Honduras. Though women’s property rights are explicitly recognized in the legal codes, these rights are often not recognized in practice. Couples who request it may have their land titled jointly; however, between 1996 and 2000, only 25% of titles granted were issued to women. In addition, men commonly control and dispose of their wives’ possessions and sometimes sell their wives’ land without their knowledge or consent.

Honduras has abundant water resources. Yet, the country has low amounts of water per capita due to mismanagement of and pressure on water resources. In addition, deforestation has significantly increased soil erosion and sedimentation of rivers and streams, dried up streams, reduced the storage capacity of reservoirs and reduced biodiversity.

Honduras has rich forest resources, with the highest proportion of forest cover of any Central American country. However deforestation is occurring at the high rate of 3.1% per year. Deforestation is fueled by forest conversion, forest fires, the collection of fuelwood and illegal logging. Members of environmental movements have been threatened, intimidated and killed for campaigning against deforestation.

The mineral industry, while not a major contributor to Honduras’ GDP, has been plagued by alleged environmental abuses and legislative indecision. In 2006, the Mining Law was declared partially unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice when thirteen articles were invalidated. Reforms to the law prohibited open-pit mining and the use of chemicals such as cyanide, mercury and arsenic. As of April 2010, however, these reforms were stalled in the Honduran Congress.

Published / Updated: April 2011