Impressions from Paraguay

Reflections on the mid-term review of the Paraguay Rural Project

By Jakob Tuborgh
It’s not so much what they tell me, but how they tell it. About how they were taken to prison for settling a piece of land that belonged to the local strongman. How they were set free by pledging not to head back, but upon release doing exactly that. And about how they, years after, finally gained the formal right to the land which they are now slowly settling into economically through support from the Paraguay Rural Project. There is an air of defiance in their voices, but even more so, glimmers of hope.

This place is what a travel guide would call ‘Deep Paraguay.’ Though rather close to the lively town of Caaguazú, there is a sense that the settlement of San Pedro is truly part of the Wild West of Paraguay. We approach the settlement by a dirt road and are met by a group of roughly 25 curious faces. At first sight, the group of settlers seem almost timid by the visit from outside. We gather close to a construction of green houses, in the shadow of a burning Paraguayan sun.

Juan Quintana, secretary of the organisation, explains the process of legalisation of the land – less than one hectare per family – but also about the lack of assets and knowledge about farming that is widespread in the settlement. As in many Paraguayan settlements, several farmers in San Pedro are laid-off factory workers that came here after the economic downturn of the late 1990s. In 2008 they got word of the Paraguay Rural Project (PPR by its Spanish acronym) through a local technician, and a group of farmers decided to get involved.

As Mr. Quintana puts it: “We just didn’t want to be the typical landless people, that once they get land, they don’t know how to benefit from it.” And so it went. The organisation has now received funds to dig a well, construct vegetable green houses and to build a communal house as part of their Business Plan financed by PPR. All has been constructed and is ready to be put into use. Prior to these investments and over a six-month period, the farmers spent their evenings and weekends on capacity building as part of their Plan for Organizational Strengthening, receiving technical assistance on self-chosen topics, such as accounting, integrated farm management and food security. All courses were taught by technical advisors hired directly by the beneficiaries but financed by the PPR.

So far it is too early to talk about long-lasting impact, but soon the farmers from San Pedro will be selling vegetables on the local market and in the medium to long run to supermarkets in cooperation with other local farmer organisations. Nevertheless, simply taking a quick walk around San Pedro, one can feel the pride that these local farmers take in their work and the optimism for the years to come.

The business plan of the San Pedro settlement was just one of the 139 business plans under implementation by the PPR as of July 2011 when the mid-term review of the project was carried out. Though the majority of business plans are focussed on grains, dairy and vegetables, there are also business plans focussed on fisheries, handicraft products, organisation of weekly fairs and even the production of bricks for construction. Though the plans vary in focus, almost all of the roughly 60 organizations that the mid-term review mission visited showed promising results.

In overall terms, the Mid-term review found that the participatory approach of the PPR was very successful. As in the case of San Pedro, the partaking organisations go through a participative process of capacity building known as a Plan for Organizational Strengthening. On the basis of this, business plans are formulated by the beneficiaries themselves with the assistance of an advisor. Through these mechanisms, the beneficiaries are given capacities and resources to improve their lives and the possibility of overcoming the social and economic marginalisation from which most suffer.

As the Vice-Minister of Agriculture Andrés Wehrle phrased it during a meeting in Asuncion: “The worst is not being poor, but the feeling of being abandoned.” PPR is reaching out to these people and providing them with new possibilities. That’s why the beneficiaries, the project team, as well as the IFAD Paraguay country team take so much pride in the results that the PPR has shown in San Pedro as well as in all other participating organisations.

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