Sustainable Harvest International: Farming Change in Central America

What do YOU look for when choosing a non-profit organization to support?

I look for an organization that actually has a goal of putting themselves out of work by creating and implementing a program that meets the needs of the people and the environment they are trying to serve.

SHI is a charity well worth supporting because its mission isn’t charity at all — it’s empowerment.” – SHI supporter and volunteer.

It is important to me that the people receiving the assistance have ownership of the program and the decision-making power over what happens to their families and businesses.

Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) is one organization that has an extremely sustainable business model and that’s attractive to someone who really values local empowerment, sustainable practices and creative solutions.

In The Beginning

SHI was founded by Florence Reed in 1997. SHI works to provide farmers with sustainable alternatives to current slash-and-burn agricultural practices and addresses the tropical deforestation crisis in Central America.

While serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama, Florence discovered that tropical deforestation has also a severe impact on the rural populations who genuinely want to leave healthy ecosystems for future generations. These desperate farmers longed for practical education tools that would not only help them to protect local forests and restore degraded lands but also allow them to support their families and impact the local economies. Florence extensively researched sustainable alternatives to slash-and-burn farming during her time in the Peace Corp and worked with local farmers to successfully implement these practices.

Since its creation, SHI has established programs in Honduras, Panama, Belize and Nicaragua. What I really like about SHI is that self-sufficiency and sustainability are key elements of their projects. The programs in Honduras, Nicaragua and Belize are independent affiliates which means they are responsible for their own management and funding. They employ local people as field trainers, country directors, field program directors and regional coordinators. These individuals help to educate the farm families and aid them in the establishment of goals as they go through the various phases of the program.

But don’t just take it from me, I’ll let Don Cheyo, a Honduran farmer, tell you exactly how it is:

Another key element of their projects is the long-term plan that is established to ensure the program takes roots in the community. The projects are typically 3 to 5 years in duration. The selection of communities is also a key part of their success. They use a varied approach in selecting and working with communities, including choosing communities based on social, economic and environmental conditions and the communities’ level of interest.

Once a community is selected, SHI’s local field trainers work with families and individuals to establish projects such as organic vegetable gardens, rice paddies and tree nurseries and build utilities like bio-digesters, Eco-toilets, wood-saving stoves and chicken coops.

Phasing in social change

They emphasize a five-phase approach to all their programs. These phases are in place to ensure that each project is on the path to success from the start. How each of the phases progresses is dependant on the family as they have an important part of the process. It’s this multi-phase approach that makes SHI’s work in these communities very successful, as they recognize the intricate nature of working in complex cultural and environmental situations.

And what success they have had!

Sustainable Harvest Success Numbers

Want in?

If Sustainable Harvest International’s mission and their project successes inspire you, there are a number of ways you can participate in their program.

Besides making a donation on their website at, you can also purchase a “Gift of Hope”. This allows you to select how you would like your donation spent. You can support the families in building a bio-digester or vegetable garden, by purchasing necessary project equipment such as wood stoves, or by contributing to the establishment of a rural loan fund.

SHI also offers a number of volunteer opportunities within the organization and also the opportunity to travel to the project sites to work alongside participant families on a wide range of initiatives.

Check out this video to get a feel of what it is like to volunteer with SHI:

Send us your thoughts on what organizations like SHI are doing in today’s world and how they could make their programs even more better, comprehensive and attract more recognition in today’s tech savvy world.

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