Competing to overcome rural poverty

By Giulia Pedone

This morning the main square of Chivay is a celebration of colours: representatives of rural producers’ associations, mostly women in their traditional clothes, gathered to compete in a CLAR (Resource Allocation Local Committees) contest. The establishment of CLAR is one of the most successful innovations introduced by the Sierra Sur Project in the Southern Highlands of Peru, which is now being scaled-up in the frame of the Sierra Norte IFAD- funded project.

CLAR consists in a transparent, competitive and democratic way to allocate resources to local associations through public contests. Local talents (individual or associated) are invited to present their business plans to the CLAR jury, composed by representatives of local authorities, women associations, micro-enterprises and peasant communities. The evaluation of the business plans is accompanied by a field visit, during which the CLAR jury directly assesses the results described by local associations in their plans. On this base, the best associations are selected to participate at the final competition. In this occasion, local associations are asked to present their own business plans in a public place, generally the main city square, to be evaluated by the jury at the presence of a large public.

The final evaluation takes into account a broad rage of factors, including the recovery of cultural assets (such as the use of indigenous languages and traditional vestments), the degree of coordination and organization among associations’ members, the efforts made to reach the presented results and the possibility of their scaling-up.

Therefore, the public contest becomes a joyful and colourful event, where rural associations get together to share their experiences and learn from the others.

This morning we are pleased to assist to a very special CLAR, since the competing associations have been already recognized as the best organizations from all Caylloma province. Handicrafts, foodstuff and other local products are nicely exposed in the associations’ stands; we have the chance to walk around, taste local food, admire the women’ dresses finely embroidered and learn about the successful local experiences directly from rural producers.

The case of the a women association from Chivay particularly called our attention. Thanks to the establishment of a saving group, these ex-housewives (with no access to financial resources) have been able to put together a common capital and to invest in small rural businesses. The ladies are now managing an informal communal bank, providing credits to those women that can not have access to banks. The interests are cumulated to make the capital growing, while part of the savings are invested in the production and trade of local products. Membership, credit and business are funded on the mutual trust among participants. As women pointed out, the project gave them the opportunity to change their lives, not only in term of incomes but also for the self-esteem they acquired during the process and power decision they were able to get within their community.

This only one of the several successful experiences we have had the chance to learn from during the day and many others could be listed.

Perhaps, the red thread that links all these experiences (making CLAR a such an innovative mechanism) can be summarized in few key elements: added value to local knowledge (including the opportunity to make business out of it), increased inclusiveness and local participation, built citizenship and ensured transparency in funds allocation thanks to a competitive approach.

Public contests have demonstrated to be excellent tools to promote transparency, social control and improve partnerships between different actors of rural development at local level, such as communities, governments, public and private enterprises, among others. Furthermore, these contests promote the participation of local “champions” (or local talents, as they are called in Latin America) in the “market of knowledge”, investing in the people’s capabilities.

However, a special ingredient that couldn’t be missed out is the “political commitment to change”: on the one hand, this implies having a political space favourable for the replication of these experiences and their scaling-up in the frame of regional and national policies; on the other hand, this means counting on the commitment of local people to engage together to overcome rural poverty. As it was pointed out: overcome poverty together, not individually.

Some lessons learned from the Route

After one week of being together, sharing ideas, doubts, meals and mountain roads, we feel happy and a bit tired. Despite of the first obstacles due to the different climate conditions and alimentation, our Vietnamese colleagues finally look relaxed. Under the alpaca hats they have bought to survive to the freezing wind of the Sierra, they are smiling.

The first lesson learned is the power of the Learning Routes themselves, as special moments to get people together, learn from others, change perspective and strengthen alliances. A Learning Route is much more than a simple field visit, it stimulates to critically reflect on the learning process while you are living it, providing at the same time the methodological tools to transform ideas in proposals, inputs in innovations. This conceptual exercise, made of listening and asking, observing and reflecting, getting inspired and being creative is the first achievement we are taking back home with us.

There are also other conclusions we can draw from this specific learning experience. As it will be remarked during the closing session of the Learning Route, one important lesson is “flexibility”. IFAD- funded projects in Peru have been designed and implemented with some degree of flexibility, allowing to adapt projects’ principles and approaches to local reality. In this sense, Sierra Sur is an example of demand-driven project that responds to people’s needs and aspirations. This has made possible to build mutual trust between local people, project staff and authorities. This process implied a change in perspective, meaning to consider local people not only like beneficiaries but also as partners of project activities.

The allocation of resources through public contests demonstrated to be a key element to strengthen people participation and empower local communities, showing that the best results in overcoming rural poverty are those based on local people’s initiatives and self-capacities. Recognizing and enhancing people’s capabilities and knowledge is thus a first step to eradicate rural poverty.

This change in perspective allows to make another step further, meaning focussing on what people have (and that can increase) instead of what they lack. The glass is half full, not half empty.

As Ariel Halpern from PROCASUR pointed out, we need to learn to hear and learn to learn, what will also increase our self-esteem as professionals. In this sense, we should be prepared to learn from other people’s ideas, facilitating processes but also giving to others the chance to make mistakes, and therefore, to learn. The risk is part of the investment.

Develop an attitude for human understanding also means to let innovations and ideas circulate, and this is much more efficient when people are vehicle of knowledge transfer, instead of papers.

By changing our perspective and opening up our minds we can better ensure the construction of a rural world with more opportunities for everybody.