Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Cross-Sector Approach Needed for Violence Mitigation and Development Success in Central America

This blog post was written by Rebecca J. Williams from the University of Florida.

“Data is now emerging to confirm the common-sense understanding that violence has a devastating impact on a poor person’s struggle out of poverty, seriously undermines economic development in poor countries, and directly reduces the effectiveness of poverty alleviation efforts” (Haugen & Boutros, 2014, p. xiii). A recently released book by Haugen and Boutros (2014), entitled The Locust Effect, outlines this convincing argument that violence is the greatest threat to development, both preventing and undermining development efforts. Often, violence alleviation efforts focus on conflict and post-conflict countries. However, even in countries that have not experienced a recent conflict, violence can have a significant impact on development efforts. This is clearly seen in Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where violence has become the “new normal.”

Take Honduras as an example. For seven continuous years, Honduras has been ranked first in the world for intentional homicides per capita. In 2013, there were 84 murders per 100,000 people. The second largest Honduran city of San Pedro Sula saw an incredible 193 murders per 100,000 people in the same year. To put this in context, in 2014 in the United States, the state of Louisiana had the highest homicide rate at 10 per 100,000 people—and this was the homicide rate for the entire state. Unfortunately, this issue is not relegated to the drug trade and gangs. It is far reaching, crossing socio-economic status, urban and rural geographies, racial and ethnic identities, employment sectors, and more.

In the energy sector, the murders of indigenous protestors, culminating in the high-profile murder of the prominent indigenous Lenca leader Berta Cáceras, have resulted in the Dutch development bank, FMO, freezing all projects and funds in Honduras. On the issue of land tenure, arguments over highly sought after lands along the northern coast have resulted in frequent murders and land grabs that have had devastating impacts on the indigenous Garifuna communities and their tradition of family agriculture. In the education sector, there are significantly more females in secondary and tertiary education than males, giving Honduras the most female-biased gender equality scores in the world. This result is largely attributed to a perception of education as a female pursuit, with males choosing to leave education early for more “macho” pursuits—often resulting in male participation in violent endeavors. In the agricultural sector, the fear of crime in urban and peri-urban centers has led to reduced access to markets, particularly for rural smallholders and women who fear becoming victims of crime. Poor police, judicial, and social systems lead to relative impunity for crime and violence, which also has severe gendered consequences with Honduras boasting high levels of domestic violence and one of the highest femicide rates in Latin America, along with El Salvador and Guatemala.

How can development succeed in an environment with such levels of violence and corruption? Can any single-sector development effort succeed without expressly addressing the underlying crime and violence affecting the community, state, and region? Even when violence mitigation is included in development projects, how can it adequately address an issue that crosses so many sectors and domains?

For the agricultural education and training (AET) sector, any efforts at improving AET systems are unlikely to succeed without addressing violence. What good is it to train farmers to increase crop yields if they cannot take their produce to market for fear of violence? Similarly, AET projects addressing violence are more likely to succeed by collaborating and learning from projects in other sectors facing the same problem. Violence in Latin America must be addressed if development is to succeed, AET projects or otherwise. Any development efforts in countries suffering from such high levels of violence must address it through a concerted, collaborative, cross-sectoral approach.

Rebecca J. Williams is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Florida in the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Her specialization is in Tropical Conservation and Development with a focus in gender and development. From 2009-2011 she served as a volunteer in the United States Peace Corps in Honduras in the Water and Sanitation Program. Her dissertation research was conducted in Honduras on women’s time poverty. She also researches youth violence and masculinities in Central America.  She is a contributor to the Feed the Future project, Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE) funded by USAID.


  1. Berkman, H. (2007). Social Exclusion and Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (No. 613) (pp. 4–36). Washington, D.C.
  2. Eguizabal, C., Ingram, M.C., Curtis, K.M., Korthuis, A., Olson, E.L., Phillips, N. (2015). Crime and violence in Central America’s northern triangle: How U.S. policy responses are helping, hurting, and can be improved. Washington, D.C.: The Woodrow Wilson Center.
  3. Haugen, G.A., and Boutros, V. (2014). The locust effect: Why the end of poverty requires the end of violence. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Heinemann, A., & Verner, D. (2006). Crime and violence in development: A literature review of Latin America and the Caribbean (No. 4041) (pp. 1–26). Washington, D.C.
  5. Jha, J., Bakshi, S., and Faria, E.M. (2012). Understanding and challenging boys’ disadvantage in secondary education in developing countries. Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012, Youth and skills: Putting education to work. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
  6. Jutersonke, O., Muggah, R., & Rodgers, D. (2009). Gangs, urban violence, and security interventions in Central America. Security Dialogue, 40(4-5), 373–397. doi:10.1177/0967010609343298
  7. Moestue, B. H., Moestue, L., & Muggah, R. (2013). Youth violence prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean: a scoping review of the evidence. Norway: IGARAPÉ.
  8. Moser, C. O. N., & McIlwaine, C. (2006). Latin American urban violence as a development concern: Towards a framework for violence reduction. World Development, 34(1), 89–112. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2005.07.012
  9. Prillaman, W. C. (2003). Crime, democracy, and development in Latin America (No. Volume XIV, Study 6) (pp. 1–33). Washington, D.C.
  10. Reisman, L. (2006). Breaking the vicious cycle: Responding to Central American youth gang violence. SAIS Review of International Affairs, 26(2), 147–152. doi:10.1353/sais.2006.0041
  11. Rodgers, D. (2009). Slum wars of the 21st Century: Gangs, mano dura and the new urban geography of conflict in Central America. Development and Change, 40(October 2007), 949–976.
  12. Serrano-Berthet, R. (2011). Crime and violence in Central America: A development challenge (pp. 1–36). Washington, D.C.: World Bank. doi:10.1037/e600092012-001
  13. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). (2012b). Understanding and challenging boys’ disadvantage in secondary education in developing countries. Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012. Youth and skills: Putting education to work. Monitoring Report 2003/2004.
  14. USAID. (2014). Education's role in preventing youth crime and violence in Latin America. Washington, D.C.: USAID
  15. World Bank. (2016). Intentional Homicides (per 100,000 people) [Data file].