The total land area of Honduras is 11.2 million hectares, of which a scant 1.7 million hectares (about 15 percent) are well suited for agriculture. Most land in Honduras is covered by mountains, giving rise to the country's nickname, "the Tibet of Central America." Nevertheless, the Honduran economy has always depended almost exclusively on agriculture, and in 1992 agriculture was still the largest sector of the economy, contributing 28 percent to the GDP. Less than half of Honduras's cultivable land was planted with crops as recently as the mid-1980s. The rest was used for pastures or was forested and was owned by the government or the banana corporations. Potential for additional productivity from fallow land was questionable, however, because much of Honduras's soil lacks the thick volcanic ash found elsewhere in Central America. In addition, by 1987 about 750,000 hectares of Honduran land had been seriously eroded as a result of misuse by cattle ranchers and slash-and-burn squatters who planted unsuitable food crops.
The Honduran government and two banana companies--Chiquita Brands International and Dole Food Company--owned approximately 60 percent of Honduras's cultivable land in 1993. The banana companies acquired most of their landholdings in the early twentieth century in return for building the railroads used to transport bananas from the interior to the coast. Much of their land remained unused because it lacked irrigation. Only about 14 percent of cultivated land was irrigated in 1987. Most land under cultivation in 1992 was planted in bananas, coffee, and specialized export crops such as melons and winter vegetables.
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