Community Solidarity A Key Indicator of Small Farmer Success
A gourd, the hard-shelled fruit that comes from the calabash tree, produces everything from utensils, to bowls to tobacco pipes. Like the gourd, which serves a myriad of practical purposes, a “calabash” in Senegal is a group of women that come together to pool their money, quite literally into a gourd, to support one another in producing vegetables and providing small loans. Together, these women empower one another to achieve self-sufficiency.
Groundswell’s Executive Director, Steve Brescia, recently had the opportunity to visit our partner organization Agrecol in Senegal to learn about how they are supporting women’s groups in rural communities. He made this observation:
“Anywhere I have gone in the world, I have seen that one thing is essential in order for people to improve their lives in lasting ways. Organization. People come together in solidarity to meet common challenges, whether as calabash groups in Senegal, communal workgroups in Ecuador conserving soil on the slopes of the Andes, traditional organizations in Mali protecting trees to hold back the dessert, or community seed banks in Guatemala.”
Solidarity groups like the Calabash make particular sense for women, who tend to lack resources like land and seeds. They often lack opportunities to meet, learn from each other, and make plans together. But when women are given access to small loans, they use the funds to invest in their households, families and communities. Everyone wins.
Solidarity groups are not just for women, however. Similar groups like the gwoupman in Haiti, or campesino organizations in Honduras, allow both men and women to come together to pool resources to invest back into their community. Like the calabash, Haiti’s gwoupman contribute their money to what’s called a “chicken egg.” Rather than eating the metaphorical egg, they see the importance of re-investing it in a cycle of reproducing more resources – more “eggs and chickens”.
Groundswell’s Regional Coordinator for Latin America, Alejandra Arce Indacochea recently attended the 3-day ANAFAE, or the Asociación Nacional para el Fomento de la Agricultura Ecológica, national network meeting in Honduras. She heard Orlando Rodriguez, a local coffee farmer say “our organization of farming families is sustainable because it doesn’t rely on external funding. Just as we work with what we have locally to improve the health of our soils and crops, every family makes a small contribution to our common funds so that is how we like to work.”
What we see over and over again with solidarity groups is the ability of communities to ignite work to improve their lives more quickly. Human resources grow as well, as members start specializing, learning new skills together and bringing existing skills to the group, and leaders start to emerge. This is the seedbed of lasting community development.
When you become a Groundswell Sustaining Supporter, you invest in this seedbed. You support people to join in solidarity groups to achieve their goals. You offer seed money where it is needed most, allowing family farmers to improve their lives and as they sustain life for all of us on the planet.