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Families, land and videos in northern Uganda January 14th, 2018 by

Enyang Bua Philips grew up in the remote Lira District of northern Uganda, an area which is only now emerging from the poverty and violence brought about by the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Philips studied agriculture in High School. Then he went on to earn a diploma in marketing. In 2016 he was one of the co-founders of the Lango Family Farmers’ Association, which he organized to help farmers with land, marketing and technical issues. The association has four staff and 569 members, including 333 women.

I asked Philips recently how he was able to encourage so many women to join the association. It wasn’t hard, he explained. The women were already organized in village-based, self-help groups, and when he told them about the advantages of belonging to a larger association, all of these groups and their members signed up.

Land grabbers are a serious threat to family farms in Uganda, where rural people are easily swayed by the promise of money. The land grabbing companies take land, strip it of its fertility by growing export crops, and then abandon the community. Philips and his colleagues teach the groups that they have the right to reject the land grabbers, who come to the villages promising money. ‚ÄúThe land grabbers come in disguise,‚ÄĚ Philips explains to the groups, telling them ‚ÄúThere are no benefits, no money. (Not only do they make false promises), but when they go the land will be degraded and useless.‚ÄĚ

Another way to protect the land is by ensuring that family farmers can benefit from it.

In March 2017, Philips read an article in the Farming Matters online magazine about the videos hosted on www.accessagriculture.org. He downloaded over 20 videos and has shown 10 of them to the members of the association. He takes his laptop to the villages. There is seldom electricity, so he uses his battery to show the video to groups of about 30 people. He starts by introducing the video; afterwards he explains and discusses it with the members.

Philips recently shared the video on managed regeneration of forests with several villages. Many of the local people were amazed to see crops growing among the trees. ‚ÄúHere people cut down all of the trees before planting a garden,‚ÄĚ Philips told me over the phone.

While some of the Ugandan farmers still doubt the wisdom of growing trees and crops together, other local people have started experimenting with the idea. In each community, the Association helps people set up a demonstration plot, where they can try out innovations shown on the videos.

The farmer groups loved the videos on maize, on striga biology, and the one on mucuna, or velvet bean, a hardy legume that can be planted as a cover crop to regenerate degraded soils (such as the ones stripped by the land grabbers).

Mucuna seed can be hard to find in Northern Uganda, but these observant farmers quickly spotted wild mucuna growing on the edges of their fields. They are now gathering seed so they can plant it in damaged fields during the next rainy season, to see if they can bring some of their land back to life.

The internet is quickly spreading, but it will be a while before most farmers in Lira District are online. Meanwhile, a grassroots community organizer finds useful videos online, and shares them with groups of village farmers. That is one way that videos from the internet are reaching the most remote places.  This farmers’ association is not only helping farmers learn from videos, but also to understand the potential of the Internet as a source of knowledge.

Other blog stories about mucuna

The big mucuna

The big, bad beans

Other blog stories about northern Uganda

Winning the peace, with chilli and videos

Late night learning

The sesame cleaner

Watch videos in Luo

Luo is the language spoken in Lira and surrounding areas of Uganda and Kenya. Access Agriculture hosts 38 videos in the Luo language.

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Food for outlaws December 24th, 2017 by

A law can have unintended consequences, as I learned recently at the national meeting of ‚ÄúProsumidores‚ÄĚ (producers + consumers) held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This was the second annual meeting, to promote healthy, local food and family farming. The meeting brings together farmers and concerned consumers, and it was held in a grand old house in the city center. Half a dozen groups of organized farmers sat at tables in the entrance way, selling fresh chillies, local red apples, amaranth cookies, and some delicious whole wheat bread, little flasks of apple vinegar, among other unusual and wonderful products. A few had labels, but none had a list of their ingredients or nutritional qualities.

When the presentations started in the main room, most of the farmers stayed outside where potential customers were still looking at the goods.

Inside the large hall, one of the talks was by a government lawyer. She gave a helpful explanation of law 453, on the consumers‚Äô food rights, signed in 2013. And while it has been the law of the land for four years, many consumers are unaware of it. Law 453 is a complex piece of legislation which aims to promote safe and healthy food and includes interesting bits such as ‚Äúpromoting education about responsible and sustainable consumption.‚ÄĚ But the lawyer caught the most attention when she explained that the law required all food to have a label, listing the ingredients and the nutritional characteristics of the food.

That is when a perceptive woman from the audience rose to make a statement. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm opening a shop to sell agro-ecological foods, but if I adhere strictly to this law I won‚Äôt be able to buy products from the kinds of people who are selling just outside this door.‚ÄĚ

There was a moment of stunned silence, because it was true. Few smallholders can design and print a label listing the nutritional qualities of their products. (For example, I bought some fresh, delicious whole-wheat bread at the meeting. Many people could write a list of ingredients in a home-made product like bread, but would not know how to list the calories or other nutritional qualities of the food).

The more food is regulated, the more difficult it will be for small producers to meet well-meaning standards. At this event, lawyer was unable to answer the storekeeper’s question. It seemed as if no one had noticed the potential legal difficulties for smallholders (even organized ones) to sell packaged food.

This law was written to keep consumers safe, and it was certainly never intended to prevent smallholders from selling their produce directly to consumers; organized peasant farmers are a key constituency of the current government. The anti-smallholder bias was simply an unintended consequence of the law, a bit of thoughtlessness.

In Bolivia many people still sell food on street corners and in open air markets. Bolivian laws are often statements of high ideals, but enforcement can be light, which in this case is a blessing in disguise. This law may yet have time to evolve so that it protects farmers as well as consumers.

Further viewing

Watch some videos that encourage farmers to produce safe, healthy food for market:

Turning honey into money

Making fresh cheese

Managing aflatoxins in groundnuts

Keeping milk clean and fresh

And many others on www.accessagriculture.org


Una ley puede tener consecuencias imprevistas, como aprend√≠ recientemente en la reuni√≥n nacional de “Prosumidores” (productores + consumidores) celebrada en Cochabamba, Bolivia. Esta fue la segunda reuni√≥n anual para promover la comida saludable y la agricultura familiar local. La reuni√≥n re√ļne a agricultores y consumidores interesados, y se llev√≥ a cabo en una gran casa antigua en el centro de la ciudad. Media docena de grupos de campesinos organizados se sentaron en mesas en la entrada, vendiendo aj√≠ fresco, manzanas rojas locales, galletas de amaranto y un delicioso pan de trigo integral, peque√Īos frascos de vinagre de manzana, entre otros productos inusuales y maravillosos. Algunas ten√≠an etiquetas, pero ninguna ten√≠a una lista de sus ingredientes o de sus cualidades nutricionales.

Cuando las presentaciones comenzaron en la sala principal, la mayoría de los agricultores se quedaron afuera, donde los clientes potenciales seguían mirando los productos.

Dentro del gran sal√≥n, una de las charlas fue realizada por una abogada del gobierno. Dio una explicaci√≥n √ļtil de la Ley 453, sobre los derechos alimentarios de los consumidores, firmada en 2013. La ley si tiene cuatro a√Īos, pero muchos consumidores no la conocen. La Ley 453 es una ley compleja que tiene como objetivo promover alimentos seguros y saludables e incluye elementos interesantes como ” informar o difundir programas de educaci√≥n en consumo responsable y sustentable”. Pero la abogada m√°s llam√≥ la atenci√≥n cuando explic√≥ que la ley exig√≠a que todos los alimentos tengan una etiqueta, con los ingredientes y las caracter√≠sticas nutricionales de los alimentos.

Fue entonces cuando una mujer perspicaz de la audiencia se levant√≥ para hacer una declaraci√≥n. “Estoy abriendo una tienda para vender alimentos agroecol√≥gicos, pero si yo sigo estrictamente a esta ley no podr√© comprar productos de como de las personas que est√°n vendiendo justo afuera de esta puerta”.

Hubo un momento de silencio at√≥nito, porque era cierto. Pocos campesinos pueden dise√Īar e imprimir una etiqueta que enumere las cualidades nutricionales de sus productos. (Por ejemplo, compr√© un pan fresco y delicioso de trigo integral en la reuni√≥n. Muchas personas podr√≠an escribir un listado de los ingredientes de un producto casero como el pan, pero no sabr√≠an c√≥mo enumerar las calor√≠as u otras cualidades nutricionales de la comida).

Cuanto m√°s se regulen los alimentos, m√°s dif√≠cil ser√° para los peque√Īos productores cumplir con esos est√°ndares bien intencionados. En este evento, la abogada no pudo responder a la pregunta de la mujer que abrir√≠a una tienda. Parec√≠a que nadie hab√≠a notado las posibles dificultades legales para los peque√Īos agricultores (incluso los organizados) para vender alimentos empaquetados.

Esta ley fue escrita para la seguridad de los consumidores, y por supuesto nunca pretendi√≥ evitar que los peque√Īos productores vendan sus productos directamente a los consumidores; los campesinos organizados son un electorado clave del gobierno actual. El prejuicio contra los peque√Īos propietarios era simplemente una consecuencia involuntaria de la ley, un poco irreflexiva.

En Bolivia, mucha gente a√ļn vende alimentos en las esquinas de las calles y en mercados al aire libre. Las leyes bolivianas a menudo son declaraciones de altos ideales, pero la aplicaci√≥n de la ley puede ser leve, lo que en este caso es una bendici√≥n disfrazada. Esta ley a√ļn puede tener tiempo de evolucionar para proteger tanto a los agricultores como a los consumidores.

Para ver m√°s

Vea algunos videos que alientan a los agricultores a producir alimentos seguros y saludables para el mercado:

Producir tarwi sin enfermedad

Manejo de aflatoxinas en el maní

Guardemos bien el maíz

La miel es oro

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The joy of business July 16th, 2017 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

On the 29th of June in Cochabamba, I watched as 39 farmers’ associations met with 183 businesses, in a large, rented ballroom, where tables just big enough for four were covered in white tablecloths and arranged in a systematic grid pattern.

cacao y árbolesAll day long the farmers and entrepreneurs huddled together, in 25-minute meetings, scheduled one after the other, for as many as 15 meetings during the day, as the farmers explained the virtues of products like aged cheeses, shade-grown cacao, and bottled mango sweetened with yacón (an Andean tuber). Some businesses had come to buy these products, but others were there to sell the farmers two-wheeled tractors and other small machines.

mango en alímbar de yacónEach association or business had filled out a sheet listing their interests and products. The organizer used computerized software to match up groups by interest, and set a time for the meetings. The time was tracked by a large, computerized clock, projected onto the wall.

At the end of each of the 25 minute meetings, each table filled out a one-page form stating if they had agreed to meet for another business deal (yes, no, maybe), and if so when (within three months, or later), and the amount of the probable deal. By the end of the day, the farmers and the business people had agreed to do business worth 56 million bolivianos, equivalent to $8.2 million.

Business representatives came from five foreign countries: Belgium, Peru, the Netherlands, Spain, and Argentina, to buy peanuts and other commodities. But most of the buyers and sellers were from Bolivia and only 6% of the trade was for export.

The meeting was self-financed. Each farmer’s group paid $45 to attend and each entrepreneur paid $50. This is the ninth annual agro-business roundtable, so it looks like an institution that may last.

Business is a two-way street. For example, one innovative producer of fish sausages made deals to sell his fine products to hotels and supermarkets, but he also agreed to buy a machine to vacuum pack smoked fish, and another deal to buy trout from a farmers’ association.

la boletaWith over 400 people lost in happy conversation on the ballroom floor, I barely noticed the three staff-members on the side, sitting quietly at a table, typing up each sheet from each deal, using special software which allows the statistics to be compiled in real time. This will also help with follow-up. Two months after the roundtable, professionals from Fundaci√≥n Valles will ring up the group representatives with a friendly reminder: ‚ÄúYou are near the three month mark when you agreed to meet and buy or sell (a given product). How is that coming?‚ÄĚ

Miguel Florido, facilitator, explained that in previous years the roundtable brought in $14 million in business, but that was mostly with banks and insurance companies, signing big credit deals, or insurance policies. Now the money amount has dropped a bit, but people are buying and selling tangible, local products, which is what the farmers want. It can be difficult and time-consuming for smallholders and entrepreneurs to meet each other, but with imaginative solutions buyers and sellers can connect.

Acknowledgment: this roundtable was organized by Fundación Valles and Fundesnap.


El 29 de junio en Cochabamba, observ√© mientras 39 asociaciones de agricultores se reunieron con 183 empresas en un sal√≥n de eventos, lleno de mesas que eran el tama√Īo perfecto para cuatro personas.

cacao y √°rbolesTodo el d√≠a los agricultores y empresarios se juntaron, en reuniones de 25 minutos, hasta 15 reuniones durante el d√≠a, donde los productores explicaban las bondades de productos como quesos a√Īejos, cacao producido bajo sombra, y frascos de mango endulzados con yac√≥n (un tub√©rculo andino). Algunas empresas vinieron para comprar esos productos, mientras otros estaban en plan de vender motocultores y otras peque√Īas m√°quinas a los agricultores.

mango en al√≠mbar de yac√≥nCada asociaci√≥n o empresa hab√≠a llenado una hoja detallando sus intereses y sus productos. El organizador us√≥ software computarizado para juntar los grupos seg√ļn sus intereses y fijar una hora para sus reuniones. La hora se controlaba con un reloj grande y computarizado que se proyectaba a la pared.

Al final de cada una de las reuniones de 25 minutos, cada mesa llenaba un formulario indicando si habían quedado en volver a reunirse para hacer negocios (sí, no, tal vez), y cuándo (dentro de tres meses, o más tarde), y el monto probable del trato. Al fin del día, salió que los agricultores y las empresas habían fijado tratos por un valor de 56 millones bolivianos, equivalente a $8.2 millones.

Asistieron empresas de cinco pa√≠ses extranjeros: B√©lgica, Per√ļ, Holanda, Espa√Īa, y la Argentina, para comprar man√≠ y otros productos. Pero la mayor√≠a de los vendedores y compradores eran bolivianos y solo 6% de la venta era para exportar.

La reunión era auto-financiada. Cada asociación de agricultores pagó $45 para asistir y cada empresa pagó $50. Esta es la novena rueda anual de agro-negocios, así que parece que es una institución duradera.

El negocio es una calle de dos sentidos. Por ejemplo, un productor innovador de chorizos de pescado quedó en vender sus finos productos a hoteles y supermercados, pero también compró una máquina para embalar su pescado ahumado al vacío, e hizo un acuerdo para comprar trucha de una asociación de productores.

la boletaCon m√°s de 400 personas felices, bien metidas en charlas en el sal√≥n, pasan desapercibidos tres miembros del equipo a un lado, sentados en una mesa, pasando a m√°quina las hojas escritas a mano en cada una de las reuniones. Las tres personas usan un software especial que permite compilar las estad√≠sticas ese rato. Los datos ayudar√°n con el seguimiento. Dos meses despu√©s de la rueda, profesionales de Fundaci√≥n Valles llamar√°n a los representantes de los grupos para hacerles recuerdo: ‚ÄúYa casi son tres meses desde que quedaron en volver a reunirse para comprar (o vender) su producto ¬Ņc√≥mo van con eso?‚ÄĚ

Miguel Florido, facilitador, explica que en los a√Īos previos, la rueda trajo hasta $14 millones en negocios, pero mayormente con bancos y aseguradoras, firmando contratos para cr√©ditos o seguros. Actualmente se mueve un poco menos de dinero, pero la gente vende y compra productos tangibles, locales, que es lo que los agricultores quieren.

Agradecimiento: La rueda de agro-negocios se organizó por Fundación Valles y Fundesnap.

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Donating food with style July 31st, 2016 by

Vea la versi√≥n en espa√Īol a continuaci√≥n

Producing food aid locally may take some work to organize, but the quality is better than shipping surplus grain from a big producer, such as the US or EU.

Last week I visited Yo Prefiero (I Prefer), a farmers’ association in Ibarra, Ecuador that has been contracted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries to provide food baskets every month to 200 impoverished mothers of small children. 300 other baskets go to other government programs. Giving food away is like anything else. You get better at it the longer you do it.

Food aid used to come in the form of surplus commodities. In Guatemala, years ago, I saw poor villagers receiving dried maize and beans, cooking oil and an unappetizing mix of ground soybeans and corn that looked like livestock feed.

The Yo Prefiero farmers are spread out over several municipalities and different agroecological zones. This means they produce a wide variety of food, such as round, moon-like, white cheeses, freshly harvested beans, cracked corn, fluffy quinoa bread, papaya, sweet potatoes, bananas and tree tomatoes. There are over 20 products and all are top class. Even the fussiest consumer would be delighted to get a large food basket from the Yo Prefiero farmers.

choclo llega tardeAnd they are large. The ‚Äúbasket‚ÄĚ (which is really a heavy, cloth sack) weighs over 20 kilos when full.

Yo Prefiero has 23 farmers: nine women and 14 men. Each farmer delivers a specific commodity to the warehouse on the morning the baskets are packed. The association members are obviously well experienced at this task. They organize the goods into neat stacks on two parallel rows tables, so that all of the products are within reach, and the packing goes quickly.

contents of one canastaOn basket day, the ladies from the association take a list, moving from pile to pile, snatching up an item and gathering into a blue cloth bag. The men lift the heavy bags of produce onto a rented truck, which takes the baskets to a local school or parish association, where representatives of the Provincial government give the moms short courses on child care and feeding. Sometimes other specialists come and teach courses on gender, gardening and there is even a cooking class taught by a chef. The mothers receive a food basket every month, when they attend one of these courses with their baby. During the month the moms also attend a local clinic, where doctors and nurses weigh the babies, to see that they are well nourished.

No one is paid to pack the baskets. The 23 members of the association do this work for free because they are able to earn more than if they sold their harvest on the open, wholesale market.

One of the farmers told how he was happy to sell his papayas through the association for a dollar each, around four times as much as he was paid before joining.

The farmers’ association provides its food baskets as part of a program with several ministries and UN agencies;  the farmers are paid for their goods with funds from the WFP (United Nations World Food Program), via the Provincial government. The baskets are so good that several hundred other people pay to receive one. These private subscribers fill in an order form once a month. A few days later they get a phone call telling them to pick up their produce. The subscriber goes to the Yo Prefiero warehouse, pays for her produce, and picks up her order.

I learned this when I spent a day visiting Yo Prefiero with colleagues from the Andes who all had a long experience of agricultural development. It was a sophisticated group, not one easily taken in by appearances. My colleagues asked how prices were set. The people from the Ministry said that they took into account all of the farmers’ costs, including store-bought supplies and unpaid contributions by the farm household, such as water and labor. (There are various philosophies regarding whether household labor and other unpaid costs should be accounted in the same way as cash expenses, but that is a topic for another story). The staff from the Ministry of Agriculture compares the farmers’ costs with the prices offered at the wholesale market, and decides on a fair price to pay the farmers.

This answer seemed a little fuzzy to my colleagues. It was not clear how much more the farmers made by selling for food aid than they could make on the open market. The contents of baskets vary, but one estimate was that farmers got $40 for produce worth $36 on the open market. But whatever the exact numbers, farmers were earning more by selling through the association.

Rosmery Menachu and lettuce seedLater in the day we visited one of the farmers, Rosmeri Menachu, who grows her own lettuce and broccoli seed which she uses to grow her own vegetables. She farms vegetables on a little over half a hectare, a small farm by any definition. Rosmeri is the carrot grower for Yo Prefiero. She plants carrots once a week so she always has fresh ones to sell.

It takes a certain amount of administration and training to keep this effort going. The communities have help from five extension agents from the Ministry, which is a lot. The scheme survives thanks to funding from the World Food Program and other donors.

It takes a lot of effort to create an alternative market. It might fail without outside help. But this model is an improvement on what went before. In Honduras in the 1980s, the US donated shiploads of wheat, which depressed grain markets, and discouraged local farmers. Food aid organizations are getting wiser. The World Food Program, for instance, now buys much of its food aid within the receiving country, which helps those who need the food, while stimulating local farmers to produce more.

Donaciones de comida, con estilo

El producir las donaciones de comida localmente puede costar algo de trabajo para organizarse, pero la calidad es mejor que enviar granos excedentarios de un productor grande, como los Estados Unidos o Europa.

La pasada semana visite a ‚ÄúYo Prefiero,‚ÄĚ una asociaci√≥n de agricultores en Ibarra, Ecuador que se ha contratado por el Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganader√≠a, Acuacultura y Pesca para proveer canastas de comida cada mes a 200 madres pobres, con hijos peque√Īos. 300 canastas m√°s se destinan a otros programas gubernamentales. El donar comida es como cualquier otra cosa. Uno se mejora con la pr√°ctica.

Antes, la ayuda alimentaria ven√≠a en forma de alimentos excedentarios. En Guatemala, hace unos a√Īos, vi a campesinos pobres que recib√≠an a ma√≠z y frijol seco, aceite vegetal, y una mezcla desagradable¬†de soya y ma√≠z molido que parec√≠a alimento de ganado.

Los agricultores de Yo Prefiero están dispersos por varios municipios en diferentes zonas agroecológicas. Por lo tanto producen una amplia variedad de comida: quesos blancos y redondos como la luna, frijoles recién cosechados, maíz quebrado, pan fresco de quinua, papaya, camotes, bananas y tomate de árbol. Hay más de 20 productos y todos son de primera. Hasta el consumidor más exigente estaría encantado de recibir una canasta grande de comida de los agricultores de Yo Prefiero.

choclo llega tardeY son grandes. La ‚Äúcanasta‚ÄĚ (que en realidad es una bolsa de tela gruesa) pesa m√°s de 20 kilos cuando est√° llena.

Yo Prefiero tiene 23 agricultores: nueve mujeres y 14 hombres. Cada agricultor entrega un producto específico al almacén el día que empacan las canastas. Los miembros de la asociación obviamente son bien experimentados con esta tarea. Organizan los productos en grupos ordenados sobre dos filas paralelas de mesas, para que todos los productos sean fácilmente alcanzados, y el empacar progresa rápidamente.

contents of one canastaEl d√≠a de las canastas, las socias de la asociaci√≥n toman un listado impreso, y pasan de alimento en alimento, agarrando una cosa a la vez, y junt√°ndolas en una bolsa de tela azul. Los hombres alzan las pesadas bolsas de productos, cargando un cami√≥n alquilado, el cual lleva las canastas a una escuela o junta parroquial, donde representantes del Patronato Provincial (que es parte del Gobierno Provincial) ¬†dan cursos cortos sobre el cuidado y la alimentaci√≥n de los ni√Īos. A veces llegan otros especialistas y les dan cursos de g√©nero, jardiner√≠a y hasta hay un curso de cocina impartida por un chef. Las madres reciben una canasta de comida cada mes, al asistir a uno de estos cursos con su beb√©. Durante el mes, las madres tambi√©n asisten a un¬†centro de salud local, donde los doctores y enfermeras pesan los ni√Īos (para ver si los beb√©s est√°n bien nutridos).

Nadie gana un salario por empacar las canastas. Los 23 miembros de la asociación contribuyen este trabajo gratis porque les permite ganar más que si vendieron su cosecha en el mercado mayorista.

Uno de los agricultores dijo que él está feliz vendiendo sus papayas a través de la asociación por un dólar cada una, más o menos cuatro veces más de lo que ganaba antes de ser socio.

La asociación de agricultores vende sus bienes a un programa que incluye varios ministerios y agencias de la ONU. Los agricultores son pagados por sus bienes con fondos del PMA (Programa Mundial de Alimentos de las Naciones Unidas) a través del Gobierno Provincial.  Las canastas son tan buenas que cientos de otras personas pagan por recibir una. Estos abonados particulares llenan formulario una vez al mes. Unos días después reciben una llamada informándoles que ya pueden recoger su producto. La abonada va al almacén de Yo Prefiero, paga por sus alimentos, y recoge su orden.

Aprend√≠ todo eso cuando pas√© un d√≠a visitando a Yo Prefiero con algunos colegas de los Andes, todos con una amplia experiencia en el desarrollo agr√≠cola. Era un grupo sofisticado, no uno que se deja enga√Īar por las apariencias. Mis colegas preguntaron c√≥mo se fijaban los precios. Los del Ministerio dijeron que tomaban en cuenta todos los costos de los agricultores, incluso los suministros que se compran en la tienda y los insumos no monetarios de la familia campesina, como el agua y su mano de obra. (Hay varias filosof√≠as, si la mano de obra familiar y otros gastos no pagados deben ser contabilizados en la misma forma que los gastos en efectivo, pero eso es tema para otra historia). La gente del Ministerio de Agricultura compara los costos del productor con los precios ofrecidos en el mercado mayorista, y decide en un precio justo para pagar a los agricultores.

Tal respuesta pareci√≥ un poco vaga a mis colegas. No era claro cu√°nto m√°s ganaban los agricultores al vender para las donaciones versus cu√°nto ganar√≠an en el mercado libre. Los contenidos de las canastas var√≠an, pero un estimado era que se pagaba a los productores $40 por productos que valdr√≠an $36 en el mercado libre. Pero sean lo que sean los n√ļmeros exactos, los agricultores ganaban m√°s al vender a trav√©s de la asociaci√≥n.

Rosmery Menachu and lettuce seedM√°s tarde en el d√≠a, visitamos a una de las agricultoras, Rosmeri Menachu, quien produce su propia semilla de lechuga y br√≥coli que ella usa para producir sus propias hortalizas. Ella cultiva verduras en poco m√°s de media hect√°rea, una finca peque√Īa seg√ļn cualquier definici√≥n. Rosmeri produce las zanahorias para Yo Prefiero. Ella siembra zanahorias una vez a la semana para siempre tener hortalizas frescas para vender.

Cuesta algo de administración y capacitación el sacar adelante este esfuerzo. Las comunidades reciben ayuda de unos cinco extensionistas del Ministerio, lo cual es bastante. El programa sobrevive gracias a financiamiento del Programa Mundial de Alimentos y otros donantes.

Se requiere de mucho esfuerzo crear un mercado alternativo. Podría colapsar sin ayuda externa. Pero este modelo es mejor que los anteriores. En Honduras en los 1980, Los Estados Unidos donaba embarcaciones de trigo, las cuales deprimían los precios de los granos, y desanimaban a los agricultores locales. Las organizaciones de ayuda alimentaria se están volviendo más sabios. Actualmente, el Programa Mundial de Alimentos, por ejemplo, compra muchos de sus alimentos para donar dentro del país que los recibe, lo cual ayuda a los que necesitan la comida, mientras estimula a los agricultores locales a producir más.

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Myth of the coyote November 15th, 2015 by

Agronomists have myths, just like everybody else. Ask any agricultural researcher, bureaucrat or extensionist in Central America and they will tell you that the people who buy corn and beans are exploiting the peasants, charging any price that pops into their head. Most Central Americans call the buyers ‚Äúcoyotes‚ÄĚ, a trickster figure of myths since pre-Colombian time, moving in and out of human society, up to no good. The grain buyers have been demonized.

visita de campoIn the rugged hills where Guatemala meets El Salvador and Honduras, several NGOs have supported bean-buying cooperatives. One day we heard several farmers say that they had tried to sell beans to the coops, but the coops offered a lot less than the regular buyers: 280 Quetzales (about $40) instead of 310 ($44) per hundred-pound bag. So the farmers took their beans to the nearest market.

At one of the coops the managers complained that the regular buyers paid farmers more than the coop could, while the commercial processers in the market sold their products for less than the coop. The cooperative folks had no idea how this was done, but the truth is that a wild, open market is highly competitive.

I was in Guatemala teaching field methods to agricultural researchers, so I asked them do some practical social research. We went to downtown Ipala, a municipality in Guatemala’s bean country, and walked into a wholesale grain shop.

Marvin Calderón muestra frijolThe place was a small warehouse with a truck parked on one end, some dusty granaries, and bags of beans. In the sunlight of the open doorways, men were hard at work opening the bags, polishing the beans with a cloth, screening them and picking out the stones and bad bits. The workers were adding value.

We met Marvin, the owner, who soon overcame his suspicion of us and answered our nosey questions.

How do you set the bean price?

‚ÄúWe call the central market in Guatemala City and ask what they are paying for a hundred pounds (about 44 kg). If they are paying 110 Quetzales, we pay 100.‚ÄĚ

This means that for a little over a dollar, Marvin is able to collect a 100 pound bag of beans at the farm gate, clean it, and deliver the beans to Guatemala city, a half-day’s drive away. He is working on slim margins.

We asked Marvin if he set prices with the other buyers in town.

He laughed and said that they don’t all get along, and that even if they did set a price, they would still try to out-compete each other.

Do you reward the good farmers with better prices?

No. Marvin said that if he trusted farmers he would sell them fertilizer on credit. This increased the bean harvest, and the grateful family was sure to sell to Marvin, who also picked the beans up at their house, an additional service.

zarandeando frijolTwo blocks away, we strolled into another storefront, just an old-fashioned living room, cleared of all furniture except for a desk, some pallets for piling beans, and the metal screens for cleaning them. We introduced ourselves to the owner, don Rigoberto. With his grey hair slicked neatly in place, he had more the air of a kindly grandfather than of a sneaky coyote.

He grew up in the grain business. When he finished the third grade, his father told Rigoberto to quit school to become his right hand man, buying and selling beans, maize and sorghum.

Rigoberto and other buyers knew that prices fell first with the local harvest in December, and further with the later harvest in the northern Petén, not to rise again until July.

But prices could simply collapse at any time if Guatemala received a big shipment of beans from China or Mexico, so small-town buyers avoid storing beans and sell their whole stock every week. A guy selling beans from his front room can sell 2000 sacks (8.8 tons) in a good week.

Don Rigoberto spoke fondly of the farmers. He knew they had bad years because of drought or disease. With almost ethnographic sensitivity he went on to explain ‚ÄúThe farmers store the beans and sell them a few at a time, between five and ten sacks, when they need the money. If they sold all their beans at once the money would get spent. The farmers make the grain scarce by storing it and waiting for the price to rise. And they are right to do this. They must do it that way.‚ÄĚ

It slowly dawned on me that it wasn’t the farmers who speak ill of grain buyers, but the extensionists and agricultural researchers.

The buyers in Ipala work with slim margins. They compete with each other and cannot influence prices, which are set in the central market in Guatemala City. A dealer can sell in a month what a coop can sell in a year (and there may be a dozen buyers in a town, but only one coop). In fairness to the cooperatives, they probably cannot compete with the open market, because the coops also perform other services, such as organizing farmers and offering them training, which has helped farmers double their yields and vastly increase their sales. But the grain buyers only buy and sell, working hard and managing high volumes.

Donors should see how the market works, before trying to distort it with cooperatives. Movies need bad guys, but development discourse does not. Speaking ill of grain buyers one has never met is simply lazy thinking.

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