We spent the day in the southeast region of El Salvador visiting two cooperative programs. After our hour and a half bus ride, we visited Los Frailes cooperative with CONFRAS, a grassroots organization that cultivates organic and agro-ecological basic grains and vegetables. CONFRAS, with the support of SHARE, organizes the Peasant to Peasant program, where CONFRAS teaches it agricultural skills to farmers who then passes it on to other farmers. There are 28 cooperatives throughout El Salvador that participate in the program. Their main focus is to utilize organic methods to grow crops in the region.
At Los Frailes cooperative, there is a group of 38 families participating as a group and some of the families have their own crops in front of their homes. The important element in their crop development is the creation of its own fertilizer. Before the CAFTA trade agreement was signed, fertilizer was about $2 a bag, today it is nearly $115. Additionally, farmers only receive about $4 a day making it very difficult for them to purchase the needed fertilizer. Therefore, the cooperative shared with us how they prepare their own with a mixture of elements that is turned over daily for 20 days with molasses water before it is packaged. Last year, the cooperative was able to exchange product and have some revenue to buy goats. The hope this year is that they will make a significant revenue from their newest crop of pineapples to purchase cattle.
Our second stop was a visit with ACAMG, a cooperative of women who predominately work with cattle, but have also been growing basic grains during this most recent food crisis. In 1993, 68 women started the cooperative through a Jesuit fund. They had no experience with loans but they were introduced to raising cattle and chickens. They spent several years getting trained in loan making but received a grant through Oxfam to establish microcredit loans to women of the cooperative to purchase baby cattle and then sell them after a year for a profit. In 2001, they became a legalized cooperative with a board. Fifteen villages participate with approximately 300 women involved, fifty percent of whom are single mothers. The loans are for about $500 at 6% interest, with a 100% repayment rate within the cooperative. Women typically have a maximum of 10 cows at a time.
As part of the program UC Davis veterinary school partnered with the cooperative to teach 12 women how to care for the cattle. Another program that the women are proud of is their literacy program. Many of these women have not had any education and therefore, the women have an opportunity to learn to read and become empowered. With the support of SHARE the women have an office, kitchen, training center, archives room and store. Since the women are located in a flood region, they built a second story on one of their buildings to which they move their product and information to prevent any damages when the rains come.
At the conclusion of our day we joined the community to remember Rutilio Grande who was assassinated 32 years ago. Although we weren’t aware of this ceremony before we got to the village, we joined. The memorial began with a procession on the main road. We lined up in two perfect lines and walked with palm fronds tied with red ribbon. The residents sang songs as we were led to a local community center. There a ceremony took place with about 150 people. The youth danced and sang. This was an experience we will remember for a lifetime.
Tomorrow we go to the north and then visit with the local Jeiwhs community. I will most likely post on Saturday.
Until next time…