Friday, September 3, 2010

UCA, MAG and FIDA - Confused yet??

What a joyful day.

A full day was spent with Juan, Cerferino and Gladis from El Tablón Cerna.

I have written in the past about the Cooperative that is being formed in Cerna with the help of the University of Central America (UCA). It’s been quite the long process – which is nothing new. Because things are always a process here …

But they’re close to being ready to function. The UCA has just about all the paperwork done for the actual legalization within the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG). And they are still working on the funding. Which brings us to this blog. Mario – the lead person at the UCA who has been with the process since the beginning almost 2 years ago – asked if I could help out by taking and accompanying members of the co-op to San Miguel for a meeting with MAG. I happened to be free so of course I said yes. I knew we were to go to the MAG office but I didn’t really know for what – he only said it was to ‘defend’ the co-op.

I then met with Ceferino (the president of the co-op) here at the Pastoral House to confirm details of travel. The meeting was to start at 8 a.m. so we decided we needed to leave here by 7 a.m.

The three of them arrived on time having had to walk from Cerna because there is no transportation that early. They began their journey about 5 a.m.

Blanca and Cecilia accompanied us. They had some shopping to do for another community project. The plan was that we would pick them up after the meeting – I would call when we were done. We all thought we’d be done by noon.

We dropped them off at the market place and continued on to the MAG office. We arrived about 8:20. I was worried (foolish me) about being late for a governmental meeting! But the 8 a.m. meeting didn’t start till nearly 10 a.m. I had texted Cecilia at 9:45 that we hadn’t even started yet and we were last on the docket so they could find a bus and go home if they wanted! I think they were relieved!

We sat and sat and chatted till about 9:50 when we were given some coffee and a sandwich just prior to things getting started. A MAG representative came and chatted with our group to put us at ease and give suggestions for the presentation. He was quite nice.

Here was the process: 10 different co-ops were to present and ‘defend’ their projects in hopes to receive their requested funds from FIDA (International Funds for Agricultural Support – the initials fit when you say this in Spanish!). FIDA is a foundation facilitating non-governmental funds in support of rural development within the governmental structure.

There was a panel of 5 MAG people (Min of Ag) listening to the 10 co-ops requesting financial support. The 10 groups each had about 15 minutes to 'defend' their projects. The panel asked questions afterwards.

Cerna was the last on the list of presenters –

The first group was VERY formal! The man had a power point with clear data and he was a confident speaker from a co-op that had been in existence since 2004. I think this un-nerved Juan a bit!

The 8 other co-op representatives ranged from relatively humble to moderately formal. Being the last was actually a good thing because we could hear the kinds of questions the panel was asking so Juan could alter what he was going to say to speak to those things.

Juan spoke on behalf of the Cerna Co-op with Ceferino and Gladis looking on. (Most groups had one spokesperson). A concern of the panel was the relative smallness of the number of members. They also mentioned the fact that they were not quite legal yet.

This worried me a bit ... all the other groups had 40 or more members and were legal and most had been working/producing for a couple of years at least.

And poor Juan did have a couple of power point slides that had been prepared by our MAG representative, but they were not projected well - the person in charge of moving to the next slides wasn't sure which slides he needed and when. So there was some confusion. And I could see it was a bit frustrating for Juan. But no one had had an opportunity to 'practice' with this person so at least 3 of the other groups also had ‘technical difficulties.’

So now all the groups had presented and we weren’t sure what was next. No one was leaving so we sat and chatted and waited. It was about 2 p.m. They soon served us a lovely lunch. This was a nice surprise because we were all hungry. And after about an hour and a half of deliberation - the panel was ready to give the results.

The spokes-person of the panel addressed each of the co-ops one by one and shared their concerns and suggestions. Each co-op received about 8 minutes of talk. We were all on pins and needles. But in the end - ALL the projects were approved.

And the good news is - MAG/PROMEDORO approved the $23,000+ funds for the Cerna cooperative!!

This was VERY wonderful news for everyone.

After a group photo with all the co-op people there and then signing a document or two we were able to leave.

It was a happy journey home.

And icing on the cake: we made it home just in time for the ‘teacher’s truck’ at 5:30 so Juan, Ceferino and Gladis didn’t have to walk all the way back in the dark!

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