When I stepped out of the car, I felt as if I had stepped into a furnace; the heat from the Paraguayan sun was intense. I was amazed to see a large group of people already waiting for a ceremony to begin. My colleagues and I arrived to join them in the inauguration of new facilities for small farmers in the communities of San Vicente and Jejui in northeastern Paraguay. The U.S. government had partnered with the government of Paraguay and contributed funds and technical support to build the facilities through a program called the Northern Zone Initiative (IZN).
The IZN is part of a U.S. Embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay program dedicated to preventing conflict and stabilizing the at-risk northern region of Paraguay. Funded through Section 1207, the project aims to bolster economic security by increasing employment and household income, focusing assistance on Paraguay's large population of small farmers.
Paraguay has two primary agricultural models. One is a large and mechanized system modeled to create exports. The other comprises small subsistence farmers who have little formal training or access to technology. The IZN program helps these small farmers reap some of the benefits of the larger industrial model. The program brings them together to market their crops as a group to command higher prices and gives them access to a new processing facility, a warehouse with farm equipment, and office space to increase their efficiency. The slideshow above shows a number of these new facilities in both San Vicente and Jejui.
The United States and Paraguayan governments have been partners in the IZN program since 2009, with the United States contributing funds and technical support, and Paraguay providing additional funds and in-kind contributions. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo appointed the Ministers of Governance, Agriculture, and Commerce and Industry to work with U.S. Ambassador Liliana Ayalde on the program, which seeks to strengthen regional law enforcement and local governance in addition to agriculture and economic security.
In San Vicente and Jejui and throughout the northern zone, communities came together to prepare project proposals, negotiate which projects would best meet their needs, and work with technicians to construct the facilities and learn how to maintain them. The communities' involvement at every stage ensured that the projects funded were the ones most important to them and helped to safeguard long-lasting benefits.
At the inaugural ceremony in San Vicente, residents turned out in force to celebrate the project's completion. People started to applaud and cheer as the cover was lifted from the dedicatory plaque. The people of San Vicente had built something together, improving their lives through greater harvest and income, and contributing to the economic stability of their community.