Reductions in Swedish development assistance could affect smallholders in Paraguay

Next year, almost a third of the development assistance budget may be used to finance the reception of refugees. In the long run, maybe even more. We want to share the great concern this decision creates for people in Paraguay - one of many countries where Swedish development aid makes crucial differences, write agronomists Juan Felix Martinez Garcia and Agnar Kjeller.

Long-term development assistance that promotes, for example, housing construction, rural development, democracy and gender equality is development assistance that contributes to creating sustainable development and sustainable societies. In a time of great unrest in the world, the importance of sustainability is greater than ever. Dismantling long-term aid would mean more people in precarious living conditions, which in turn - in the long run - would lead to more refugees.

It is a given that there is concern about what further cuts could mean for the people who are fighting for their rights - to get out of poverty and increase their food security.

Wants to give concrete examples from Paraguay

I am a trainee at the organization La Rata Sural Sustainable Platform (PDRS) and write this article with my colleague on La Coordinadora de Empresas Asociativas Departamentales (CEARD), two partner organizations for We Effect in Paraguay. We want to highlight the perspectives from here. We will tell briefly about the organizations' activities and give a concrete example of what we can achieve through long-term development work.

Paraguay is one of the most unequal countries in the world and one of the poorest in Latin America. The country estimates that 1,5 million people live in poverty, of which over 700 live in extreme poverty. A large proportion of them also suffer from chronic malnutrition. Three percent of the country's population owns more than 000 percent of the arable land - which is alarming given that over one million people are dependent on family farming, that 90 percent of Paraguay's population still lives in rural areas and that there are an estimated 35 people. without land today. That this leads to great tensions and conflicts is not surprising. In 300, 000 people were killed in a land dispute that later led to a parliamentary coup.

Promotes sustainable food production and self-sufficiency          

CEARD and PDRS work across the country to support smallholder farmers, promote sustainable food production and locally led development. Approximately 2 people are directly involved and many more are reached indirectly through these two organizations, which have been supported by We Effect for five years. An important part of this work is to help create independent organizations and institutions - that is, help for self-help.

Other goals are to secure small farmers' access to land and to increase their profitability, among other things by supporting the increased commercialization of cooperatives and organizations.
CEARD and PDRS also represent smallholders politically at various levels. Sustainable agriculture permeates all work on CEARD and PDRS and is fundamental to increasing people's degree of self-sufficiency, for the environment and as a barrier to climate change. As can be understood from the above-mentioned figures, this type of development work is fundamental in the country. The main idea is that it is the people themselves who must take hold of and drive their own development - with our (and indirectly your) support. Right now we are at a very important stage, where all help is needed.

Working to strengthen the rights of smallholders

Paraguay is one of the countries in South America that still has no law to protect and develop its family farm. There are explicit political guidelines on the rights of smallholders, but they are rarely followed because there are no legal forms that ensure that the rights are respected. Small farmers in principle lack rights and family farming is not recognized, either as a production model or as a way of life. This increases poverty and depopulates the countryside as more people move to cities or migrate to other countries. It is estimated that there are over 1 million Paraguayans in Argentina, 50 in Spain and more than that in Brazil and the United States. In the longer term, the lack of legal protection would pose a real threat to the existence of family farming and smallholder farmers.

Together with small farmers and organizations across the country, CEARD and PDRS are now involved in running a process for a bill that includes creating a new authority and a new law that will protect, promote and recognize the country's family farming, with all that it entails . All the people of rural Paraguay can be involved in this work.

It is not the state, not a multinational NGO, no institution or private actor that set the agenda for this law, but the small farmers and their organizations who from the beginning worked hard to make it a reality. There is a great deal of will and a great deal of hope that the bill can turn around a development that has been anything but bright. The fact that We Effect, through its partner organizations, is involved and supports the initiative is crucial.

Long-term assistance crucial

This is also an excellent example of how long-term aid can help create more sustainable and democratic societies. Thanks to this type of development work, more families in rural areas can withstand the pressure from the outside world to, for example, sell their land and be forced to move - often to live a poorer life in the cities or, as we have seen - to migrate to other countries.

Through Swedish development assistance, women's access to land can be increased and continued to promote climate- and environmentally smart farming. A reduction in that assistance means that fewer families can become self-sufficient. It would also mean that the poorest lose more power over other prevailing interests.

Sweden is in a position where we can decide what type of development the country wants to stand up for. The long-term and sustainable development work is a process that works extremely efficiently and helps people to create resilience when crises arise. Do not abandon it!

Juan Felix Martinez Garcia
Agnar Kjeller

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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