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If You Build it, They Won’t Come

April 2, 2011

A few years ago, the national Agricultural Institute for Commercialization (IMA – Instituto de Mercadeo Agropecuario), came to Chichica to have a general meeting about potential projects that could benefit the community and create opportunities to generate income. Out of that meeting, an artisan group, a producer’s association, and plans to build a local market were born. Now, construction is complete, they just did a big, frilly, song and dance inauguration with national agencies. The only remaining task is to pick which days to have the market open and organize products to sell.

Photo Caption: Producer’s and artisan groups’ products during the inauguration. They have products to ready to sell, but lack motivation to keep the market consistently open.

Each group has about 25 members and formed with agency support to push their paperwork quickly through the national bureaucracy about a year ago. The women’s group makes artisan products, dresses, and other clothing items while the producer’s group grows corn, red beans, pinto beans, plantains, root vegetables, and some tomatoes. By my assessment, Chichica has market potential because it has many professionals (people who work at the municipal building, health center, high school, elementary school) and is hub town that serves as an access point for many other towns. The men’s group even received financial support to buy fertilizer, herbicide, and seeds for plantains in order to ensure that production would be sufficient to supply the market with goods the whole year.

Only problem is that no one comes to meetings. Each group meets separately and, over the past four months, only about 5-8 people have been showing up to each meeting. Since they can’t pick dates without agreement from the majority of members, without knowing production yields to sell, and because both groups haven’t met to coordinate administration rules, the public market is sitting in limbo.

Photo Caption: Public market in limbo

Why aren’t people more active to take advantage of this opportunity? Shouldn’t they be scurrying to get to meetings on time to ensure that the market opens and subsequently helps to generate more income for their families? I wish there were easy answers to these questions. The best that I can muster is that people actually don’t see how their presence at the meeting will make a difference, lack trust with other group members, and/or are unwilling to surrender personal commitments to attend. From my observation at meetings, people generally tend to look to strong leaders to make important decisions and then rally behind that choice. Working on teams, delegating responsibility, and voicing opinions is limited because people are more familiar with working in an established hierarchy.

Additionally, this was a top-down project where a government entity developed the idea and put the groups together. It possibly would have been more sustainable if the groups formed themselves and identified a public market as a need. Development projects are full of examples of empty buildings, cooperatives that don’t meet, and misallocated funds. It is why the Peace Corps process encourages volunteers to facilitate communities to identify their own needs before pursuing funding and projects that don’t address their problems.

Photo Caption: National and regional directors at the inauguration, congratulating themselves on such a wonderful project.

This does not mean that the public market in Chichica is a failed project. Rather, it means that it will take longer to overcome the obstacles that I previously mentioned. It will take longer for group members to trust each other and work together to achieve success. So you see, if you build them the public market to sell products and generate income, they still won’t come to meetings, participate, or spontaneously become knowledgeable about business administration.

If they did, then I wouldn’t need to be here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Wendy D permalink
    April 3, 2011 2:42 pm

    Thanks for this interesting story Jessica! Its amazing…frustrating…and repeated over and over in so many ways everywhere. Good food for though! Thx.

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