ACDI/VOCA works to increase incomes in Paraguay by connecting farmers and cooperatives to expert assistance. The USAID-funded Cooperative Development Program II (CDP II) seeks to increase overseas farmers’ food security and entrepreneurs’ incomes through participation in the global economy, ultimately contributing to reducing poverty and enhancing the quality of life for their communities.
CDP II’s main objective in Paraguay is to increase the incomes of the poor in selected regions through technical assistance to producers and cooperatives provided by volunteer consultants.
Cooperatives Identify Needs, Develop a Plan
Working with second-tier cooperative organizations and local governments, ACDI/VOCA identifies small to medium-sized cooperatives and associations that have promising business models but that lack the technical, operational or organizational knowledge to best serve their members. CDP II in Paraguay has worked with 16 cooperatives to define a vision for each and then helped develop a technical assistance program tailored to the cooperative’s specific vision and needs. The program focuses on high-value crops for export, such as sugar, bananas and pineapple.
Market-Driven Approach Guides Project
Once a plan has been developed, the program recruits volunteer consultants—primarily from Latin America and the United States—to implement the program of tailored technical assistance. ACDI/VOCA’s volunteer consultants are highly qualified professionals in a range of fields who donate their time to help the organizations address priority areas they want to improve upon.
CDP II stresses the importance of developing market-driven member services. By providing training and other consultative services in management, strategic planning, sound business practices, internal controls, production and marketing, cooperatives and associations empower smallholder farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs to increase the capacity of their enterprises and generate more income.
For example, CDP II provided volunteer assistance to REDIEX, the Export and Investment Network of the Department of Trade and Industry, to create a three-year plan to introduce smallholder producers to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) through training from field agronomists. The goal is to assist the farms in achieving GAP certification so that they can compete in international markets. The program has also provided volunteer assistance to the Federation of Production Cooperatives (FECOPROD)—a second-tier institution—in several areas, including strengthening the dairy value chain in which FECOPROD members participate, building the institutional and financial management capacity of the cooperatives, and assessing the potential for local alternative energy solutions for FECOPROD’s fuel distribution initiative.
Tracking Results Improves Performance
CDP II emphasizes tracking the effects of our assistance at two levels: cooperative performance and improved benefits for members. This enhanced focus on monitoring enables the program and ACDI/VOCA to learn how best to help cooperatives serve their members. The program is also collaborating with local universities to improve the sustainability of results by establishing a Cooperative Learning Information Center (CLIC). The CLIC will be an online platform with a collection of training modules and other resources to help cooperative directors, managers and members improve operations and performance.
Gender Sensitivity: Path to Empowerment
Cooperatives are an important institution in rural economies in Paraguay, yet women make up only 15–20 percent of positions on boards of directors. Without adequate representation on these boards, women´s interests and needs are not adequately represented in activities and allocation of resources. To address this issue, CDP II in Paraguay has developed a gender strategy that focuses on increasing women´s access to leadership and decision-making positions in rural cooperatives. To date, CDP II has held gender sensitivity training with over 100 women and men. The program is producing a gender and cooperatives documentary, portraying the situation of female farmers (their roles, constraints and opportunities) in agricultural cooperatives in Paraguay. The program will also conduct a gender assessment and provide recommendations to four cooperatives in the banana, organic sugar cane, dairy and artisanal crafts value chains.
Despite abundant natural resources and a relatively well-educated population, Paraguay’s poverty rate has increased since 1995, with 19 percent of the total population currently living in poverty. Paraguay suffers from an underemployment rate of 24 percent, and drug trafficking and civil unrest have proliferated. This situation elevates the need to take advantage of the country’s resources and growing agricultural sector to increase employment.
In recent years, increases in agricultural exports have led to substantial economic growth in Paraguay. However, growth has not delivered benefits evenly due to a large informal economy in which many producers still operate as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the most crucial sector of the rural economy in terms of increasing growth and reducing poverty, as it contributes 21 percent of the GDP and 27 percent of employment. This signals an opportunity to improve the distribution of benefits and motivate the export-oriented agriculture sector.
Under CDP I, implemented from 2002 to 2010, ACDI/VOCA provided technical assistance and fostered local, national and international partnerships to help a wide variety of cooperatives add value and become sustainable in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay and Russia.
The new phase of the program will be implemented from 2010 to 2015 in Ethiopia, Kenya, Paraguay and Tanzania. CDP II will build upon the successes and lessons from the prior program while taking a more strategic and in-depth approach to cooperative development.
For more information, contact Emily Stiles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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