El Salvador: The benefits of collective action

Members of IZALCALU cleaning and sorting beans.

Copyright: WFP.

When natural disaster struck in 2005, Jose Manuel started the IZALCALU cooperative together with other farmers who were also displaced by the volcano eruption. Six years later, disaster struck again, but thanks to their collective action, Jose and the fellow IZALCALU members are now strong enough to weather shocks.

Ten years ago, the lack of credit, poor agricultural techniques, and prohibitively expensive inputs forced Jose Manuel and his family to stop farming. Instead, he was hired by private haciendas, but his salary could not cover his family’s needs, especially for food. “I barely made enough money to eat daily, and my wife had to sell matches and candles in the village. We had to ask local authorities to give us books for our children to go to school. Those were really tough years,” he recalls.

From hacienda worker to founding member

However, the situation for the 40-year-old, his wife and five children took a turn for the better in 2005, but only after another stroke of fate: displaced after the eruption of the volcano Ilamatepeque, Jose and other internally displaced people joined forces and founded the “IZALCALU Agricultural Association”. 

In 2009, IZALCALU became one of the 18 smallholder farmers’ organisations across El Salvador participating in P4P. A revolving fund managed by the farmers’ organisation enabled the farmers to access credit for the first time: IZALCALU gave Jose Manuel a credit of US$ 950 to purchase agricultural inputs. Thanks to the credit, his maize yields in 2011 rose from 1,600 to 5,400 kg and his bean yields from 130 to 590 kg. He also managed to increase the size of the land he cultivates from less than half a hectare to more than 1 hectare.

The creation of the revolving fund was part of P4P’s institutional strengthening strategy for the farmers organisations, as well as training in agricultural production, food quality, post-harvest handling, cost analysis, organization management and gender. All these trainings and capacity building initiatives have been initiated in close partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners. WFP also worked with IZALCALU to build a 680-ton warehouse for their produce, and has enabled them to mechanize their bean sorting, cleaning and polishing.

Surviving a tropical depression, rains and flooding

In mid-October 2011, torrential rains and flooding in El Salvador hit farmers just a few days before the harvest season. Many farmers lost up to 30% of their maize and 60% of their beans in the fields. But thanks to the new techniques the farmers participating in P4P had already learned, and the use of tools and supplies provided as an emergency response by CENTA (National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology) in partnership with WFP, Jose Manuel and his fellow farmers were able to save their crops.

Increasing yields and paying back loans

Today, Jose Manuel can ensure enough food for his family and sell the surplus. Of the 5,400 kg of maize harvested in 2011, Jose Manuel sold 2,700 kg to his association for US$ 1,080 – enough to repay his loans. IZALCALU later sold the aggregated maize to CARITAS Sonsonate, a local NGO. Jose kept 1,800 kg (valued at US$720) for his family’s needs and later sold the remaining 900 kg –valued at US$360—again to IZALCALU. He also sold 270 kg of beans to the farmers’ association at US$540 and kept the remaining 320 kg as food reserve.

In average, the IZALCALU farmers were able to increase their maize yields from 3.2 to 4.0 tons per hectar, and from 0.7 to 1.0 tons per hectar for beans, thanks to P4P.

“IZALCALU will become a great company”

All these achievements inspire Jose Manuel to continue working as a farmer and aim to double the land under cultivation for the next planting season, with the support of IZALCALU. “I’m sure that in the next 15 years, IZALCALU will become a great and well-known company. We are overcoming the problems we had with the rains, we are learning, sharing knowledge and experiences. I know that someday all of us will have a good year,” he said.