|Me (left), Farmers (the gentlemen), and NEPA representatives presenting the check. We clean up good!|
I have alluded a few times in previous posts about a project in the works or good news I hope to reveal in the near future. Well, that time has finally come. It is a long process that started three months after I arrived in Bluefields, Jamaica. Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 marked the beginning of the Bluefields Climate Adaptation Technology for Organic Agro-business Development project. This is the first grant won by the Westmoreland Organic Farmers Society (WOFS) and I have taken great pleasure in facilitating the process from the conceptualization phase to now.
Back in August I led a needs assessment and priority ranking exercise with WOFS. It was an eye opening experience for me and the farmers. Through the process we all learned that the collective needs and priorities were not exactly what we assumed they may be. The greatest of these needs were water, seeds, fencing, what they call farm houses (sturdy sheds), and agro-processing capacity. This new knowledge allowed us to come to a consensus about what we would like to accomplish over the next two years.
As if providentially ordained, two months later the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) of Jamaica approached the Bluefields community to participate in an alternative livelihoods grant program. During a workshop NEPA explained that coastal communities like Bluefields will be the first to suffer the effects of climate change and alternatives to marine livelihoods will be necessary to adapt to these changes. Among the list of alternatives proffered were organic farming and agro-processing…cha ching! The workshop also informed community groups and organizations of the application process and some of the characteristics of a good proposal. Here was an opportunity to capture what we wanted to work toward in much less time.
The NEPA workshop occurred while I was in the U.S. for my sister’s wedding, so I got all this information second-hand. Then, I got dengue fever from a mosquito and was pretty much useless for two weeks. However, because of that handy-dandy needs assessment we did so recently, it was easy for the group to coalesce around a concept for the proposal. It wasn’t long before I had a first draft and a budget prepared. After a few rounds of revisions, the key leadership of WOFS approved and then we presented the proposal to the entire organization. With their consent, we then sent the proposal in to NEPA and let the waiting game begin.
|More members of the group on the day our project began|
In late February, we finally got a letter from NEPA congratulating us on being selected as a successful applicant. Two months later (last Tuesday), we got the first check.
I am skipping over a lot of little administrative hurdles we had to cross in the meantime: budget reduction and revisions, amending indicators, negotiating a letter of agreement, and more. In the end we are getting about $12,000USD to install a demonstration farm with rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation, purchase quality seeds, build a fence and a shed, and purchase materials and equipment to boost the agro-processing enterprise of the group. We will also be conducting a series of Farmer Field Schools to reach out to other farmers and fisher folk in the community. Don’t worry; I will devote another blog post to getting more descriptive about the objectives and activities of the project.
Ultimately, this is what I took a 90% pay cut to join Peace Corps to do. I wanted to experience development work absent the six-figure experts. Where goals and objectives and activities are generated from the ground up rather than through the aims of a hulking bilateral or multilateral development organization. The amount of funds I have helped WOFS win could easily be lost as a rounding error in many development projects; I have worked on such projects. However, every dime in this one is going where the beneficiaries want it to go and you certainly can’t say that about a lot of projects around the world.
I am really blessed to have been sent to live and work in this little corner of Jamaica with the great people of WOFS. I can’t wait to share more about this and other projects we are undertaking.