Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 160 | Noviembre 1994



A Needed Renewal

The Sandinista agrarian reform gave small farmers millions of hectares of land, financing, machinery and training, but as an economic development project it was a failure. Why? The most basic was missing.

Fernando Cardenal

Most economic analyses of Latin America in the 1980s can be summed up in the famous phrase coined by the UN's Economic Commission on Latin America: "a lost decade." All statistics gathered by international organizations show that Latin America's people became poorer in the 1980s.

Latin American Human Rights Association president Juan de Dios Parra stated in Quito last year, "In the last ten years all governments in the region, without exception, cut their budgets for health, housing and education." He noted that changes in Latin America in the last 20 years include 70 million more people going hungry, 30 million more who are illiterate, 10 million more homeless families, and 40 million more unemployed.

A question immediately arises when faced with this drama: what happened to the millions and millions of dollars that flowed into our continent through non-government organizations, church groups, financial organizations and government agencies? Was all of this capital like pouring water into a basket? Efforts, suffering, work, sweat, organization, hope all to promote local economic development. And at the end of it, people are poorer. What happened?

Doubts about Economic Science

The words of Chilean economist Rayén Quiroga summarize quite well the growing criticism of economic science: "Neither in the decades of so called developmentalism, less during the recent lost decade, nor even during the current privatizing reactions, have government efforts to achieve development produced sustained improvement in the quality of life of the people who live in this region. We economists have been espousing our creed from our ghetto, refusing to see the unequivocal signs of the deterioration of our truths."

And she courageously added: "The economy currently monopolizes knowledge and the praxis of development. Therefore, economists are the best trained professionals to take on the difficult task of development. But economy refers exclusively to the material processes of human life, even though economic practice transcends this confining definition. In reality, where we like to think our development recipes are operating, all kinds of emotional, psychological, political and judgmental 'perturbations' converge, which we cannot continue underestimating as trivial or irrelevant."

We have observed many "development projects" we consider incomplete and truncated, in the sense that they have not reached their maximum impact. In other cases the projects failed, or communities were left even worse off than before. After briefly investigating 17 projects in Nicaragua and reviewing information obtained about other projects, and reflecting on similar projects carried out in Latin America, Africa and Asia, we have seen that successes are often very limited and the impact is not always in relation to the amount of money that has been invested.

A clear example of this "failure" is the Sandinista agrarian reform. It was successful in that it distributed hundreds of thousands of acres of land to Nicaraguan peasants, but it failed as an economic development project. Peasants were given land, financing, training, machinery, seeds, fertilizer, marketing mechanisms, in fact almost everything but the elements that make them grow themselves, as subjects of development, as people. The basic was lacking.

What does the basic consist of? Where we missed out was on contact with the peasants who benefited from agrarian reform. They have the best lands in each region, but are dying of hunger. In addition to the current government denying them credit, they lack sufficient initiative and organization to move ahead. In other cases, we find peasants who received agrarian reform land and still use the name "cooperative," but plant on "their own" part of the land; no one wants to work collectively. Along with the land they received many materials for production, but did not go through the human process of becoming organized growers working collectively. To think of them as a production cooperative is to deceive oneself. The interior human world does not change just because we want it to. Human development is slow, as is any complex life process.

The Building Foundation

When talking about economic development problems with the members of a Sandinista cooperative we currently work with, they listed the obstacles they face: difficulty adapting to new realities, conflicts among them, lack of labor discipline... The list was long and many of the items were subjective and internal, rather than objective and outside. One peasant from the cooperative summarized it as, "a lack of human formation."

Since 1990, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has focused on its annual report on human development. The reports repeat what the peasants themselves said. They show that economic development does not produce human development, but the reverse. They see human development as "basic to economic development." This image explains why huge projects fall apart. They are like buildings that fall because they have no foundation.

The UNDP puts development at the service of people's wellbeing, not people at the service of development. It defines development as a process by which members of society develop themselves, increasing their ability to mobilize and manage resources, so they can produce improvements in their quality of life, fairly distributed and in accord with their own aspirations.

According to the UNDP, human development offers people the ability to choose their own options, which could be related to income level, credit access, education (literacy or primary education), increased life expectancy (health and food), personal safety and political freedom. The priorities and specific values depend on cultural and other aspects unique to a country or a particular social group.

The UNDP analyses are macroeconomic. They think about the economic development of nations, and have made a significant step forward by moving beyond the narrow focus that uses a country's Gross Domestic Product as the main indicator to evaluate its economic development. The UNDP has pioneered this concept of development and anyone who wants to seriously and responsibly study development issues should read its annual reports.

Do the Project or Not?

Our experience has shown that these ideas should also be applied to the universe of local development, particularly to the peasant world. There is a whole field of human values, habits, attitudes, concepts and codes of conduct among peasant producers that the UNDP does not sufficiently take into account.

Poverty among our peasants is not only a lack of consumer and production goods. Serious limitations in attitudes, values, concepts and habits make them inefficient producers and poor administrators of both financial resources and the means of production and natural resources.

We saw this clearly one day in a project we are developing in Las Isletas in Granada. The Claudia Chamorro cooperative owns two large coves with a narrow mouth, which seemed apt for intensive fish husbandry. After talking and dreaming with the cooperative members about a development scheme that would pull them out of the poverty and bare survival they are in with small scale fishing and fruit growing, we designed the project.

We got strong promises of financing, and went to the Ecology Department of Managua's Central American University for the technology. For the marketing aspect we talked to one of Nicaragua's most important fish and seafood exporters, who offered to buy 10 12,000 pounds of tilapia weekly.

Everything was apparently ready and we were happy. But were the development subjects the historically marginalized islanders, submerged in poverty and ignorance ready?
The project could quickly and substantially raise the income levels of cooperative members. But the danger existed that a sudden income increase would find them unprepared, without habits of saving money, without strong enough organization, with a tendency to drink given their miserable lives and total lack of diversion, pushed to spend because of a new consumerism introduced by advertising. All of this could endanger the project and the cooperative's own unity. We found we were not in sync.

Inner World of Human Beings

Our work continues in Las Isletas and the cooperative members are involved in various projects including cattle, poultry, plantains and reforesting with fruit trees. The larger fish project is on hold, while we all shore up the building's foundation. Together, we have begun the process of human development.

We did one of our first projects with a group of women, starting with literacy. Bit by bit they overcame their lack of confidence in their own ability to produce efficiently. After doing all the necessary studies, they decided to work in pork production. They were trained in all aspects of the work, from carpentry and masonry to build the pig sheds, to animal husbandry.

Everything went fine. The pigs grew and fattened and sold well. The women began to have not only more self confidence, but more income. Then one day a conflict broke out among them that they could not resolve, and some of the women took the pigs that corresponded to them and broke from the group. Because they lacked the capacity to dialogue, to recognize errors, to overcome passions in favor of solidarity, a group chose to give up its future of development.

The impact of human development process will be incomplete and most of the time almost nil if, through an educational process, we do not encourage the subjects of economic development to want to increase their maturity, responsibility, work spirit and discipline, solidarity, criticism and self criticism, self confidence, and we do not help them correctly value and modify their conduct in relation to women's role, the environment, sexuality, alcoholism, etc. At the end of the development project the community will be more or less where it was at the beginning, in a simple struggle for survival.

Any attempt at development that does not enter the world of values, that interior human world of habits and attitudes, of the concept of the world that surrounds us, of codes of conduct, of our entire behavior, will be exactly like erecting a building without first laying a foundation.

Without a Foundation, Buildings Fall Down

According to Project NI 0022, dated August 21, 1993, the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) offered a four year loan of US$72 million to the Nicaraguan government for the "National Rural Development Program (PNDR)." The budget covered the following, the bulk of which (77%) went not to the program itself, but to government institutions such as the Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) for related activities:

PNDR operation and coordination costs 23%
Promotion and consultation of local initiatives 32%
Formulation, follow up and evaluation 12%
Applied sectoral research 13%
Municipal strengthening 20%
Total PNDR 23%
INTA: Technical production assistance 5%
INRA: Individual title legalization 7%
REMECAR 11: Rural roads, bridges 88%
Total outside of PNDR 77%

It is interesting to note that the IDB dedicates only 5% to "technical production assistance" that is, technological support or training. Although this aspect is indispensable, it is even more serious that not a penny is dedicated to human development.

It is because of projects like these that the 1980s was "a lost decade" for Latin America. In this concrete case, in addition to a building that will fall for lack of a foundation, will be the added frustration for the "beneficiaries" that Nicaragua will owe US$72 million plus interest.

Knowing, Knowing How, Being

In Nicaragua and in Europe as well confusion exists about the terms "education" and "training." What do we mean when we use the term education? We agree with a work prepared by the PROCEP team in Bolivia, which identifies three components:
Objective: sharing knowledge
Result: knowing
Objective: developing aptitudes, skills, techniques
Result: knowing how
Objective: developing attitudes, personality, values
Result: being
These three components are not developed separately, isolated from each other. In practice, the three are combined. The important thing is to know where to put more emphasis.

Education is characterized by its globality, by integrating the theory and methodology of its conception and practice. It needs information as well as teaching or training, but does not stop there; it is an action intended to generate changes in conduct or attitudes that permit people to change from one state to another.

Training transmits technology, teaches how to do things, prepares one to use new techniques, such as harvesting the best corn or proper pork raising. It is necessary but insufficient.

Formation, or education, is more profound; it teaches one how to be, helps one to be more. More of a worker, more in solidarity, more mature, more responsible. In a word, more human, developing in each person the greatest of that person's human abilities. It is part of the world of values: attitudes, habits, visions of the world that surround us, codes of conduct. It is part of the world of human development.

Formal and Informal Education

The distinction between formal and informal education is also very important. When we speak of education, we do not refer to education in the schools, with systematic programs, contents and texts, prepared within institutionalized processes, that emphasize learning and are normally directed towards children and youth who pass from grade to grade until they get their diploma and graduate. That is what is known as formal education, and is normally directed by education ministries.

Informal education takes place outside of the school and throughout life. Initially, this education made a decisive leap thanks to the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. It has been used extensively throughout Latin America for over 30 years. It is directed to adults and has a single text, which is life itself the life of the adults educating themselves and daily work. It does not have as a goal a target grade in order to pass on to superior studies, and its organization is varied and heterogeneous. It is alternative education and complements formal programs. Knowledge, attitudes, abilities and technologies are shared and through this process practices, habits and behavior are transformed.

Development is the product of integrating a complex series of factors. When speaking of the importance of informal education, we are not rejecting primary education or technical education. We only insist that in the adult world of work we never forget that, as well as the need to complete the primary education that a worker never had the chance to finish as a child, there is a need for an education that will help the person to be more, to develop as a human being, as man and woman, to acquire new habits, values, attitudes and codes of conduct, so he or she will be not only more human but also a better and more efficient producer.

At this point the issue of women enters. Women's role in development is often poorly identified, with lamentable consequences for both women and development. Women are considered passive elements in development. "Projects are needed to develop her," many say almost all of them men. It is forgotten or not known that women can be magnificent development agents precisely because they are the ones who transmit values, culture, tradition, habits, attitudes and codes of conduct through the family. They are charged with caring for life, for children's food needs, for the family garden, and are more able to grasp and transmit everything to do with environmental protection and life. They are potential informal educators in the school of life.

The Grassroots Educator

It would be difficult to deny that local economic development is complex, that it requires research into appropriate technology and training, organization, literacy, leadership training, follow up and evaluation, markets, etc. But human development, the foundation of these elements, is missing in many projects. It is even harder to find an adequate mechanism in them to produce this human development.

This mechanism can be a permanent education produced through dialogue and led by a grassroots educator. An informal educator who lives and works with cooperative members, who knows the popular education methodology and is in permanent training to be able to fulfill the important and difficult tasks.

For the training aspect of our work we find techniques in accord with the special technology we want to transmit. But one task we delegate to no one is the educational process. We consciously seek a grassroots educator among those working in, or who have worked in, adult education. We prefer that it be a member of the cooperative or at least someone who lives in the same community. We choose the person as our representative to the cooperative and that person becomes our primary link in the zone.

Dialogue and "Educational Lodes"

In the economic development process, education emerges from life itself and is carried out with the development subjects we work with. This is not "educating to produce," or "to produce while educating." In the cooperatives we work with, which are made up of the country's poorest peasants, we try to turn the development projects into a school.

We try to make use of what we call "educational lodes" some human problem, conflict or event in the life and work of one of the cooperative members that offers a good opportunity to spark a dialogue, led by the popular educator, through which the members themselves take on the problem and search for adequate solutions. Dialogue is the fundamental instrument. It can be initiated directly or prepared through peasant theater, role playing, puppets, music, or one of many other mechanisms popular education uses. In this process, education should address women's issues and those of the environment and ecology so development will be "sustainable."

How to Measure the Impact?

It is relatively easy to measure the quantitative success of a project. It is much more difficult to measure the qualitative success the educational process, the human growth.

Rather than speaking of qualitative indicators, it might be more profitable to speak of developing criteria that allow us to see if education is fulfilling what reality requires of it reality not only as social demand, but also as a historically and contradictorily woven social fabric.

Based on the guidelines established by Peruvian educator and sociologist Estela González, we propose the following monitoring criteria:
* Flexible and process based, putting the educational project as a function of reality, and not reality as a function of the project.

* Imaginative and demanding, giving subjects freedom of action, but with mechanisms that guarantee rigor and demands in practice.

* More than transferable, transmittable. (Transferable seems to refer to models that can be passed from one person to another. Transmittable emphasizes the ability to generate and manage criteria about the pertinence of the educational project as the central axis of education.)
The interior world is manifested in the actions of concrete life. We do not yet have a formula to measure human growth, but are developing one. We find that clear manifestations of human development are being achieved: in one cooperative that only worked two hours daily, the members themselves decided to begin working four hours a day; another cooperative decided to give part of its lands to a group of neighboring peasants who had been affected by a hurricane, so they could plant crops. Other positive signs include staying together as a cooperative while others are disintegrating, labor discipline, a lessening of unresolved conflicts among workmates, increase in hope, growth of self confidence and trust toward workmates.

Sustainable and Self Sustainable Development

The complexity of the term "sustainable development" is clear to all of us who work in development. We are convinced that this sustainability is an essential element in any development project in the Third World or any part of the planet.

But in addition to sustainable, the project should be self sustainable, carried out autonomously by the subjects of development. They are the ones who should be offering follow up, continuity and permanence. This does not only mean that they become economically better off while we work with them, but that their human development become a solid foundation that guarantees their ability to promote their own economic development.

Enemy number one of sustained development is the paternalism that gives things often material things but does not educate, does not integrate the person as a subject of development. Paternalism fosters an object, with its hand permanently out. Then, when the paternalistic organization leaves, the people are orphaned, unable to continue on their own.

Any project's success is due to multiple factors. The first is human liberty, which can accept the educational process that promotes human development, can accept only part of it and can also close itself and refuse to change anything.

Exogenous factors also influence success: a long drought, dropping market prices, plagues and other natural disasters so frequent in our countries.

Any building can be brought down by fire or earthquakes or hurricanes. But long before it succumbs to these possible catastrophes, it will fall to the ground in ruins if it was built without a solid foundation in the people who erected it.

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