The Supermarket Revolution Moves Into Honduras Small farmers in Honduras are increasingly selling their crops to Paiz, a chain owned by Wal-Mart. It's helping to fuel the economy. But farmers face a challenge creating facilities that meet Wal-Mart's safety standards.
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The Supermarket Revolution Moves Into Honduras

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The Supermarket Revolution Moves Into Honduras

The Supermarket Revolution Moves Into Honduras

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Small farmer, meet Wal-Mart. This week, we're reporting on the global food crisis and the response of one country, Honduras. With food prices souring and more people going hungry, many third-world countries are trying to boost their food production. But it's not enough to grow more food. Farmers also need better ways to sell it. Dan Charles has the second report in our series.

DAN CHARLES: Here's a question. If somebody says third-world food market, what comes to mind?

Unidentified Man #1: (Spanish spoken)

CHARLES: Maybe a street like this one in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. It's lined with people selling pineapples, vegetables and everything else. But another kind of market is taking over in Honduras: the supermarket.

(Soundbite of music)

CHARLES: This one, called Paiz, is as bright and clean as any in the U.S. It's one of two supermarket chains in Honduras owned by Wal-Mart. They're growing fast. Supermarket sales in Honduras have been increasing by about 20 percent a year. Luis Alfonso Andino, who's in charge of vegetable shipments at this store, says it's because people know the food here won't make them sick.

Mr. LUIS ALFONSO ANDINO (Produce manager, Paiz): (Through translator) I think the most important thing is food safety, because we give them quality.

CHARLES: The supermarket revolution, the rise of national chains selling food with machine-like predictability is an old story in the U.S. and in wealthier Latin American countries. But Mark Lundy, a researcher at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia, says in the U.S., that revolution took 40 or 50 years.

Mr. MARK LUNDY (Researcher, International Center for Tropical Agriculture): In the countries where this is occurring now, that time frame is compressed incredibly down to 10 years, maybe 15 at the outside.

CHARLES: It's happening in China, India and elsewhere, driving big changes that reach all the way back to small farming villages. Increasingly, the key to the success is selling to supermarkets, which means farmers have to meet some tough new standards.

Mr. VICENTE SANCHEZ (Farmer): (Spanish spoken)

CHARLES: High in the hills nears the town of Lepaterique, Vicente Sanchez ticks off the crops that his farmer's cooperative grows: carrots, lettuce, cauliflower…

Mr. SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

CHARLES: They all go straight to Wal-Mart. It's part of a deal that his cooperative signed with the supermarket chain with the help of a Swiss aid organization, Swisscontact. Sanchez says, it's a good deal.

Mr. SANCHEZ: (Through translator) It's a benefit because whatever we plant, we know that it's already sold before we plant it. We used to plant things without know whether we had a buyer. And we used to lose out.

CHARLES: But, they have to be careful because Wal-Mart rejects vegetables that test positive for bacteria or high levels or pesticides. Ivan Rodriguez, who grew up in a small Honduran farming village himself, is in charge of Swisscontact's programs in Honduras. He says the safety standards can be a big problem, especially for small farmers.

Mr. IVAN RODRIGUEZ (Manager, Swisscontact Honduran program): They have difficulties here to meet those standards because it's - they need specific facilities. For example, to package product here, there is a way to be having the kind of small warehouse with protective walls against flies. You know, but here, we don't have that.

CHARLES: So Swisscontact may help these farmers build a clean, fly-proof packaging room. It's an example of an increasingly popular development strategy helping small, isolated farmers by connected them to expanding markets. Edward Bresnyan is an agricultural economist at the World Bank Office in Honduras.

Mr. EDWARD BRESNYAN (Agricultural Economist, World Bank Office, Honduras): What we're working much more on today is not only productivity, but productivity for what? For the market.

Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)

CHARLES: For the farmers in Lepaterique, it's working pretty well so far. Some of them have just arrived at the Wal-Mart supply center in the outskirts of Tegucigalpa driving a pick-up truck loaded with broccoli, green beans and carrots. The Wal-Mart manager here, Gabriel Chiriboga, looks pleased.

Mr. GABRIEL CHIRIBOGA (Wal-Mart Manager): Is that good?

CHARLES: It's good.

Mr. CHIRIBOGA: Yes, it's good because it's fresh cut.

CHARLES: Within 24 hours, shoppers will see those vegetables on supermarket shelves. And some of the money they spend will flow back to the village - a small, but well connected village.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Charles.

MONTAGNE: We'll hear tomorrow why Honduras encourages farmers to plant genetically modified crops.

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