Mayday” is a call of distress and an urgent expression of need of help. Every day this month is a May day.
Three times in conversations in the last week I have mentioned the example of Abraham in Genesis when he was called to pack up and move without a clear idea of the destination. As you know we have been on a rather unusual journey for the past few years. The last few months have been very eventful.Winning a 2015 national competition for a good new business idea has led to some support from the Tegucigalpa Chamber of Commerce. It has required multiple trips and consumed time, but with benefits.
We have been working on developing processing equipment and procedures, legal and financial documentation and reporting systems, marketing materials, etc. and now the 2016 harvest is upon us. It started last week in the Intibuca Department. They started this week in Paraiso and here in Santa Barbara. It looks like it will be a bumper crop.
So why mention May days? Last year the total harvest that we managed to purchase was in the order of 10,000 pounds of whole fruits, which translates into about 5,000 pounds of the soapy fruit husks. In 2015 the harvest was very poor here in Santa Barbara for reasons that are not clear.. Most of the trees we knew about simply did not produce.
But 2016 is going to be different. There is going to be a bumper crop in many areas of the country, Furthermore, we have been talking to people about finding product in other areas of the country including two areas related to ethnic groups, the Lenca and Miskito peoples.
There are two major things going on that we had not counted on. The first was the March closing of the national tax service offices and the inability to find anyone to answer questions about how to handle the harvest accounting. On the one hand we were told that there was a way to keep books that would allow us to write off the harvest expense as a business expense. Others say that raw material purchases are not going to be allowed as a business expense. We have not received an answer to our formal letter requesting clarification that was turned in on Feburary 16th, a month before the office was closed. So by faith we are proceeding to buy because we had promised to do so, but it may not be a tax deductible expense.
The second matter is that Honduras is is differing levels of crisis on several points. Political turmoil includes the purging of the National Police which has been described as a “mafia.” On the economic side, when we purchased 7,000 pounds last year in Paraiso Department, it was collected in 12 days in a situation that was described as a “humanitarian crisis.” The situation this year is described as significantly worse than last year. No rain for some 9 months, no harvests, no work and an abundant soap berry harvest means that the word has spread and people have found hundreds of “new to us” trees. The only cash income work option in the next six weeks before the rain starts is the soap berry harvest. We may be looking at more than 30,000 to 50,000 pounds of harvest from that one area.
The economic and social bad news is impacting Santa Barbara as well and where the harvest here last year was only about a ton, in 2016 we may have another 20,000 + pounds of fruits harvested within a radius of about 50 miles around our house. The national survey on finding production has been a huge success. The economic crisis is making the harvest the hope of a lot of folks who are literally only eating once a day. We are potentially looking at a 500% to 1000% increase in production and frankly are not ready for it. This was not in the plan or budget.
Extreme circumstances have put folks into a situation of desperate need and “our” product is the one “hope option” on the horizon at the moment. It was not in our work plan to be a single handed solution to a humanitarian crisis but we seem to be in a unique position this year and as in the case of Abraham, we are not at all sure where this is headed or where we will end up.
For several consecutive days, when we have been here at the house, neighbors who have never talked to us before, have come by and asked if we are buying soap berries. Another six trees here, four trees there, etc. and in the bank today the manager came over to me and told me that he as a friend 20 miles away with a dozen trees who hopes to sell to us. When should we say NO? It may be that the rains will start earlier than last year and that will diminish the harvest in a significant way. But maybe they won’t.
Of course if we are able to purchase that amount of product we need to be able to sell it. Significant lines of investigation are promising. Local sales are picking up. Two recent inquiries about possible purchases up to a total export of 12,000 pounds are encouraging, but we need other contacts and purchases. Our son Luke and associates have just put the Toucan Trader web site on line as of last week to promote sales. So pieces are falling into place even as we are walking, like Abraham, by faith.