Honduras: It Takes a Computer to Export Fresh Tomatoes
November 5, 2013 - Stuck on the border between Honduras and El Salvador in sweltering 40 degree heat, all Ricardo Melgar could think was that his tomatoes were slowly rotting. His truck carried eight tons of tomatoes from Comayagua and he needed to deliver them to markets in San Salvador pronto. But a simple mistake in the hand written export documents was costing him time and money. He would have to spend the night at the border, waiting for the customs office to reopen in the morning to straighten it out.
“One single mistake would cost us eight to ten hours. This meant having to pay the driver an extra night and would often make the whole shipment go to waste”, says Mr. Melgar, who coordinates paperwork for 17 Honduran small exporters and has spent countless sleepless nights camped out on the border due to bureaucratic hurdles.
All this changed in September when IFC, with suport of Norway, and the government of Honduras launched a program that connects three new computer systems which are streamlining the export permit process. More than 700 Honduran companies selling abroad may now obtain export permits in one day, as opposed to waiting three days. By helping government agencies connect more efficiently, the new system is reducing bottlenecks and excessive delays that limit trade flows. Improving trade logistics and facilitating economic integration means a lot in Honduras, where over 59 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
“It’s a new world”, says Lorena Facusse, president of Grupo Vesta, a Honduran logistics corporation handling over 2,400 trucks a month. Until a month ago, her company needed a small army of clerks to deal with three different government institutions. They would process their export permits by hand, often taking up to three days for a single shipment. “I did not think I would ever see these three governmental institutions working together, we are now saving up to $30,000 per month,” she admits.
In addition to reducing time and costs for exporters, the new process is also more secure and transparent, since the institutions can share and process export information in real time. Honduran exporters now enter information for customs or environmental and veterinary health into a single form instead of filling out multiple documents.
“I digitize all shipment information on my computer and all institutions involved receive the data instantly,” Melgar explains. “This removes most uncertainties, as there is no margin for human error anymore.”
The agencies that have started sharing real-time information are: The Electronic System for Foreign Trade of Honduras (Centrex), the Automated System of Customs Revenue Office (DIA) and the systems of the Department of Agriculture - National Agricultural Health Service (Senasa).
Mayra Alfaro Moran, IFC Senior Operations Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, recalls "it took a great effort to match three different agendas and work cultures, but they demonstrated a lot of commitment to achieve this integration.”
IFC is providing technical assistance on several fronts to further integrate the Central American countries in the regional trade flows. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, IFC is helping to simplify and automate the processes for registering food and beverages. For Alfaro, "this project has sparked a new spirit of reform within the country that will lead to improve its competitiveness"
Though there are still a few paper documents that need to be presented in person, Mr. Melgar says the new system has made a big difference. His tomatoes now arrive fresh, on time and at a competitive price at El Salvador’s central market. His partners’ businesses are growing and hiring new people; and he can finally get some sleep at night.
For more information, contact Adrià Alsina (firstname.lastname@example.org)