Enterprising leaders who tackle big problems like world hunger can learn from Alexis Mejía and Kurt Schneider, two pioneers inspired by the same vision to reduce postharvest loss with metal silos in Honduras.
Building the airtight cylinders started as a part-time business for Mejía. During the planting and harvest seasons in Nacaome, a rural town near the Pacific coast of Honduras, he managed a family farm. But as demand grew for the grain storage units, his small workshop expanded.
By 2008, he had six employees. “Nowadays, this activity is the sole source of income for my wife, seven children and me, and we are doing quite well,” Mejía says.
The success story is one of thousands across Central America since the 1980s, when local tinsmiths began manufacturing and selling the silos to protect crops from insects, rodents and fungi. Developed markets already had the technology, but it was revolutionary in Nacaome and surrounding communities.
Smallholder farmers no longer had to rush to sell their corn and beans after harvest, when heavy supply drove prices down. Perhaps more importantly, they no longer had to buy back their own produce to eat later in the year when prices were high. Skeptical customers quickly saw the value. They could wait and go to market on their own terms, while storing enough grain at home to last an entire year.
Market growth hinges on entrepreneurs like Mejía, but lack of infrastructure in places like rural Honduras can stifle enterprise. To truly make technology stick in difficult terrain, entrepreneurs need help from innovators like Schneider, a project leader with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation