Blog Post

Stakeholder Workshop Insights: Research progress in the beans and maize value chains of Honduras and future research opportunities

Common beans and maize are an important part of the diet of Hondurans and are the two main staple grains consumed in the country. A team from the Rethinking Food Markets Initiative hosted a half-day workshop with stakeholders in Tegucigalpa on November 29, 2023, to present research progress on two components: the production and marketing component, and the food processing industry component.

The workshop "Advances in the research of innovations for inclusive growth and sustainability in the value chain of basic grains in Honduras" had five objectives: (1) share progress on a scoping study implemented in corn and beans, focused on the food processing industry; (2) share progress on the pilot study being implemented on beans, together with two producer associations; (3) present preliminary results of the baseline survey of bean producers; (4) share the local partners' experience in the implementation of the pilot study; and (5) co-design and prioritize innovations for the food industry, co-design scaling strategies for the innovations being studied in the pilot, and prioritize future research.

Thirty-two participants attended it, representing public and private sector institutions, research & extension, academia, regulatory institutions, agroindustry, financial institutions, NGOs, donors, and producer associations. The workshop was organized and facilitated by the initiative’s team members from both the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT (Byron Reyes, Mirian Colindres, Andres Espada, Federico Ceballos-Sierra, and Jenny Wiegel) and CIMMYT (Meliza Peña and the consultant Miriam Rivera), and received the support from the initiative’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Impact Assessment and Scaling Preparedness and Actions (MELIA & SPA) team at IWMI (Mirja Michalscheck).

In the first part of the workshop, participants listened to and commented on three presentations related to each of the first three objectives described above. The key findings of the food processing industry research were presented organized in four dimensions and opportunities to innovate: (i) the supply of raw material (90% of companies use processed corn flour); (ii) the formulation of products with natural colorants, to change the color and flavor of snacks and tortillas; (iii) production processes (incorporating equipment and machinery, usually under concession); and (iv) marketing (selling thru supermarkets and their own distribution networks). One additional notable finding is that the bean processing industry in Honduras is smaller than the corn processing industry, and only a small group of small and medium enterprises specialize in the preparation of cooked whole beans and refried beans, generally selling them frozen.

The presentation about the bean pilot study provided details about its design, innovations being evaluated, how the initiative team identified two partner associations for its implementation, and the state of activities. We are evaluating the effect of (i) the use of phone messaging via WhatsApp to reinforce knowledge about key production and post-harvest practices that could influence bean grain quality; and (ii) providing market (price) information plus carrying out on-farm grain quality testing (in front of producers); on the quality of the grain they produce and their decision on whether to sell to the farmer association and how much to sell to the association. Further, we will evaluate the effect of these innovations on producers’ income. This study includes two treatments plus one control group and incorporates a cluster randomized controlled trial design, where groups of producers are assigned to one treatment/control group.

The preliminary results of the bean baseline survey (needed for the evaluation of the innovations previously described) showed that 76% of producers interviewed were men; with an average age of 49 years, 23 years of bean growing experience, and only 5 years of formal education completed. The majority (94%) of producers have a cell phone, and about 80% of them had a smartphone. Of the producers with smartphones, most use WhatsApp to communicate. In the last season when they produced beans, 61% of producers sold beans, and few sold to the farmer associations (and many did not know they were selling to collectors who work for the association). Although one of the main factors affecting quality is grain moisture, most producers use an artisanal method (i.e., tooth testing) to determine this, which lends to variability and subjectivity.

In the second part of the workshop, Mirian Colindres moderated a dialogue with representatives (the manager and one technician) of the two partner associations who are implementing the bean pilot study. The moderator opened the dialogue with the following sentence: "I do what you cannot, and you do what I cannot; together we can do great things," quoting Mother Teresa of Calcuta, alluding to the importance of collaboration between organizations to achieve common goals. The dialogue was framed by questions aimed at knowing the associations’ perceptions about the benefits of the innovations being evaluated, not only for the association itself, but also the producers they support; the challenges they are facing during the implementation of the pilot study; and any early positive aspects about the pilot study they have observed from producers. The panel members mentioned that some of the challenges they have faced are the resistance from producers to change their crop management practices and use new technologies, and in changing their mentality to accept and adopt new knowledge. They further recognized the value this evaluation is adding to their work, as it allows them to provide technical assistance to producers, increase the focus on certain activities, identify problems and increase the participation of women and youth. Further, one participant from the audience commented that the study is important because it generates information that does not currently exist, and that is relevant.

Mirian Colindres moderating the dialogue with representatives from ARSAGRO and CECRUCSO associations.
Photo: Courtesy of ARSAGRO

In the third part of the workshop, participants worked in groups to (i) prioritize innovations in the food processing industry for further (and future) study; and (ii) co-develop scaling strategies for each of the two innovations being evaluated in the pilot study (one group for each innovation). The group that discussed innovations in the processed bean and corn foods found at 3 main innovations to study: new corn tortilla chips combined with new mixtures (nutritional value or improved product quality); new flour formulations (evaluation of characteristics with domestically-produced corn grain and/or a mixture with bean flour); and new packaging for refried red beans (tetrapack-type vertical bags) as an added value, as this type of packaging has greater acceptability by consumers. The other two groups that co-designed scaling strategies for each of the innovations used a tool developed by CIMMYT for this activity and found that there are common factors that could threaten the success of the scaling strategies identified for the innovations, and that relate to value chain aspects, financing, and public sector governance. However, they also identified common actions that could be worked out to strengthen those factors and enable the scaling environment in Honduras.

The last part of the workshop focused on identifying and prioritizing a future research agenda, identifying new innovations, potential partners for research, and how we could increase inclusion of women, youth, and minority groups into this research agenda. Among the research topics identified were financing, markets, seeds, climate resilience, and packaging. Participants identified other innovations being implemented to solve bottlenecks in the bean value chain, including adding value to products, access to markets, new or improved processes, new seeds, and new packaging. They listed many potential partners, but one stood out—participants stressed the importance of increasing the government’s involvement in this research agenda, as they have the potential to scale results to generate impact. Finally, to increase inclusivity, participants suggested supporting entrepreneurs in their endeavors, implement workshops with topics that are of interest to these groups as an entry point to promote specific aspects of the research agenda, provide training to these groups, among many other.

The initiative’s team committed to the following next steps post-workshop: sharing the information presented in the workshop (you can find it here), including a workshop report (here), finalize the pilot implementation (in progress, until early 2024), carry out the end-line farmer survey (in 2024), complete the study evaluation (in 2024), design a pilot evaluation for innovations in the food processing industry and implement it (in 2024), and socialize the results of the evaluation with stakeholders in the country (in late 2024).


About the initiative’s team members who organized and implemented this workshop:

Mirian Colindres is a Senior Research Associate for the Food Environment & Consumer Behavior Research Area at the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT.

Byron Reyes is a Scientist in the Foresight and Applied Economics for Impact Area at the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT.

Andres Espada is a Research Associate in the Foresight and Applied Economics for Impact Area at the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT.

Federico Ceballos-Sierra is a Postdoctoral Fellow for the Food Environment & Consumer Behavior Research Area at the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT.

Meliza Peña is a Research Associate - Seed Markets and Value Chains at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Miriam Rivera is a Consultant from UNAH for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Jenny Wiegel holds a joint position as Sub-Regional Manager Central America and Scientist for the Food Environment & Consumer Behavior Research Area at the Alliance Bioversity-CIAT.

Mirja Michalscheck is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Innovation Scaling at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).