In the early 1990s, the Honduran government decided to import cheap rice from the United States. Almost overnight, rice production in Honduras fell 86 percent. The number of rice producers fell from 25,000 to fewer than 2,000. Employment from rice dropped from 150,000 to fewer than 11,200 jobs. And in spite of the massive imports, the price of rice in Honduran markets went up 12 percent.
According to Eduardo Benitez, a farmer in Guayamán, the changes were designed to profit the powerful by driving peasant farmers out of business.
"The millers and the politicians benefited . . . they made a big profit and we small producers lost."
In recent years, Benitez and other farmers have taken their struggle to the streets, protesting in Honduras and neighboring El Salvador the process of negotiations that led to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Over the coming years CAFTA will remove the limited trade barriers that still exist to protect Honduran farmers and millers.
Free trade has increased immigration to the north. “Working in the countryside is difficult,” says Benitez. “Young people ask why they should kill themselves working for nothing. So they escape to the north. It’s hard to convince them to stay.”