Who's the Boss Now?
How to Build a Village | Cultivating land and opportunity
This is the third installment in "How to Build a Village" our blog series that digs into the nitty gritty of how we partner with rural poor families to build sustainable villages that break the cycle of poverty. You can read the previous installment on Clean Water here.
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Each week Julio would go into debt to keep his family from going hungry,
“When we got paid, we would pay our debts and start again”
he remembers. Living and working on land that they did not own, in a cobbled together home, the only thing they truly owned were the clothes on their backs.
Julio earned less than a dollar a day. Here in the U.S. a dollar can buy a cheap candy bar or maybe a thrift store t-shirt, but for Julio and his wife Santa, this was all they had to feed themselves and their two children, Eliezer and Hazel.
The majority of families living in poverty in Central America are dependant on farming, and the land, for their living in rural areas. But the path to land ownership is barred by distrustful banks, lack of education, and corruption.
Of the 20.3 million families living in poverty in Central America, 57 percent live in rural areas depending on agriculture to support and provide for their families.
Most are like Julio: unskilled day laborers. Replaceable, expendable, and unprotected - Julio’s ability to earn a daily wage was at the mercy of ‘the boss,’ the landowners whose crops he would plant and harvest for a sliver of the profit.
Julio pictured with his wife Santa and two children Eliezer and Hazel in front of their home in the village of Nueva Esperanza, Nicaragua.
Some families like Julio’s try to take back a degree of control over their lives by renting a small plot of land and growing corn or beans, either to offset food costs or to sell at market. But they often end up sunk.
After subtracting high rental costs and a large chunk of profit taken by the owner, they sometimes make less than the day laborers. If the harvest is unable to break even because of bad weather, crop pests or infertile soil, it is the poor renter and his family that go hungry.
Land at agros
Land in Nicaragua, where Julio lives, is reserved for the rich and privileged. Owning land - the first step to building a farming business that could sustainably feed and clothe his family - is a far-fetched dream for Julio and millions of other day laborers across Central America. Without affordable credit or a substantial loan from a bank, it’s impossible to achieve.
Agros was founded on a vision to restore access to land for poor farmers in Central America. Land access continues to play a central role in our holistic Path to Prosperity model of partnering with poor families to permanently exit poverty.
Because to a traditional bank, offering land loans to poor day-laborers who've never even held a bank account is unfeasible.
For Agros, offering families a fair land loan goes beyond a simple financial transaction. It’s an act of trust that restores dignity. It’s the symbol of a longterm partnership between families and Agros. It’s a goal to fuel eight hard years of learning new skills, taking new risks, and shouldering new responsibilities for families. And, by passing on the land they now own, it’s a concrete way for parents to provide a better life for their children.
Julio combing through the coffee beans he worked so hard to produce.
You can almost hear the wonder in Julio’s voice when he speaks of the land loan his family received in the Agros village of Nueva Esperanza, Nicaragua:
“You believed in us. You loaned money to people who were poor.”
Think back to when you were younger, you bought this brand new pair of shoes with your own hard-earned money. You only wore them on special occasions, stressing over every scuff or scratch, storing them in the box they came in to protect them from dust. Or maybe when you bought your first car, the sense of pride, freedom, and accomplishment that kept a smile beaming for weeks.
This is exactly what Julio feels after being the first in his village to pay off his loan from Agros, giving Julio Lopez Hernandez the title, a piece of paper signifying full ownership of land that he can now proudly pass down to his family for generations to come.
A dream that has become reality, Julio's very own coffee.
Not only does land give people a financial asset which they can use to make a profit and provide for their families, the piece of paper in itself empowers and instills self confidence to a man that has never owned anything. With renewed vision, Julio’s dreams don’t seem so far off after all, and the Agros family is with him every step of the way.
Julio learned from Agros technicians how to grow and harvest coffee, even introducing him to a disease resistant variety of coffee to help ensure a fruitful harvest, “I didn’t know anything” says Julio,
“Everything that I know today is because they [the agricultural technicians] taught me.”
But it wasn't all peaches and cream.
“They told us, don’t expect a pot of cooked beans when you get there,” he remembers.
“It’s hard work. Most of the people who came with us from the other farm left,” noting that his father and two brothers were among those that abandoned the new village.
When things got tough, he thought of his children.
“This land is going to be for my children’s future,” says Julio.
With this in mind Julio and Santa scrimped and saved, putting every penny toward their loan and paying it off in just under six years.
Julio's son Eliezer: future land owner and coffee farmer.
not too fast...
The opportunity to own land is just one aspect of Agros’ work with families. Owning land provides a base for security and productive farming, but coupled with agricultural training and access to markets, community support, health and education, and financial empowerment, families like Julio’s truly have the opportunity to realize their full potential, one that before had been quelled by poverty and destitution.
“Before coming here, I used to dream of having a coffee farm,” says Julio.
Today he reminisces on the days when this dream seemed far beyond his reach. “Now I have achieved that,” he states with confidence glancing back at his wife, grinning from ear to ear. Agros provided the tools he needed leave poverty in the dust, but it is Julio that made it happen.
Its safe to say that Julio grins much more often than he used to, and it’s all thanks to the support and generosity of our wonderful donors like you.
All smiles from this bunch.
Marketing and Communications Intern