Helping Honduras' Forest Products Industry Recover from Hurricane Mitch

Linda Benedict, Vlosky, Richard P.  |  3/4/2011 10:59:31 PM

Michael A. Dunn and Richard P. Vlosky

Because of the significant impact of Hurricane Mitch in October 1998 on the entire agricultural sector in Honduras, representatives of the LSU AgCenter contacted Honduran President Carlos Flores to offer assistance to and collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

In February 1999, the LSU AgCenter was invited to send a team of faculty for assessment purposes. In addition, the LSU AgCenter joined the Louisiana/Honduras Alliance, which was formed in April 1999. This alliance was a comprehensive economic development partnership that brought together the resources of Louisiana State University, Tulane University, Loyola University, the University of New Orleans, and the Honduran public and private sectors in a united effort to rebuild Honduras.

The forest-sector project, primarily a technical transfer effort, focused on areas including forest products utilization and processing, economic and rural development, marketing and business development, and value-added wood processing. To accomplish this, the LSU AgCenter assembled a team of specialists to work with counterparts in Honduras in each of these areas. The primary objective of the forest-sector project was to empower people from many stakeholder groups to better utilize forests in a productive and sustainable manner that would contribute to local economic development.

In May 2001, the LSU AgCenter forest-sector team began working with the Fundacion para la Inversion y Desarrollo de Exportaciones (FIDE) to help craft a set of strategic recommendations for forest sector investment and development. FIDE is a private, nonprofit institution created in 1984 to promote investment in Honduras and encourage development in the export sector. The foundation also works closely with the government to create and advocate legislation aimed at improving the Honduran business climate. Today, FIDE’s mission is to promote sustainable development in Honduras by strengthening investment and exports through constant improve ment of the country’s international competitiveness.

The first step was to review forest industry documents generated by FIDE over the past five years. These documents were generally consulting studies that examined different aspects of strategic and investment opportunities in the Honduran forest industry. The recommendations and major conclusions contained in each document were translated into English and compiled into a comprehensive list, which was further categorized by major area or issue and then narrowed to 25 priorities.

The next step was to conduct a multi-stakeholder prioritization exercise facilitated by the LSU AgCenter team. The top 25 recommendations submitted by FIDE were the starting point.

However, participants at the meeting had the opportunity to add to the list. This process had two components. First, the group prioritized the recommendations and, second, ranked them as to probability of being accomplished (“doability”). (Figure 1)

The top-ranked recommendation was to conduct market research that could help to identify market opportunities for Honduran wood products producers. Second-ranked was the need to develop a comprehensive national marketing strategy and implementation plan.

The third highest ranked item was the need for government involvement in forming the foundation for industry development at the national level. This was followed by the recommendation to form a national forest-sector development council that would have representation from all key stakeholder groups including industry, government, academia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international consulting support.

Beyond identifying priorities for forest sector development, it was also critical to identify which recommendations were feasible and had a high probability of successful implementation. There was general agreement between what was a priority and what was do-able. The recommendation with the widest gap was “identification of market opportunities,” where implementation potential exceeded priority (although this was first-ranked for both). On the other hand, there was a perception that “marketing strategy development” was more easily implemented than its ranking in the prioritization exercise.

When people participate in the recommendation prioritization session, they are most likely to express their concerns as problems. The first step for action planning then is to convert problems into goals.

The next step in the strategic planning support process for the Honduran forest sector will be to break the overall goal into smaller objectives that are reasonably achievable and measurable. Structured planning procedures should produce working plans for addressing issues by goals, objectives, action steps, resources, timeframes and contacts. These working plans should become the foundation of a forest-sector strategy for the next three to five years. They are also the foundation for cross-agency collaboration.

Regardless of the underlying motivation (rural development, adding value, employment enhancement), the recommendation prioritization process is but the first step in a planning framework that can help develop sustainable strategies. For success to be achieved, many stakeholders – including local development organizations, industry members, academic institutions and state and local economic development agencies – must be involved to move from baseline analysis to program implementation.

The ultimate ambition of this project is that the information generated in this first step in forest-sector development planning will be used by legislators and other policy makers in Honduras to provide resources to develop programs that will further forest industry stability and sustainable growth. Whether or not the Hondurans take this next step is up to them. To move forward, they must maintain the momentum developed in this first stage so that they can move their forest-based economy forward in a sustainable manner. 

Michael A. Dunn, associate professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, and Richard P. Vlosky, professor, School of Renewable Natural Resources, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge,

(This article appered in the winter 2005 issue of Louisisana Agriculture Magazine.)

 

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