Why is land ownership important to the rural poor?
Land is a precious asset around the world. It is a primary source of income, security and stability. Families who have the opportunity to own their own parcel of land can farm it to ensure a stable income for their families and preserve it for their children. They will invest in their land, improving the soil while conserving the environment. Through land ownership, rural poor families acquire a viable way of supporting themselves and overcoming their poverty while simultaneously creating a sustainable community.
However, for most rural poor families owning land is an unattainable dream. They don’t have access to the cash or credit they need to buy land. Their inability to purchase land guarantees many poor people in third-world countries a life of desperate poverty, working for low wages as farmhands or migrant laborers. Rural poor families become trapped in a cycle of poverty. They are left unable to purchase their own land, paying exorbitant rents for basic survival on poor quality land, and working for desperately low wages as farmhands and migrant laborers.
Agros helps families in Central America purchase their own land. In doing so, we help rural poor families create viable, healthy, and sustainable communities today, and for generations to come.
How Agros Helps
Does Agros give families free land, or do they work to purchase their own land?
Agros offers rural poor families a hand-up, not a handout. We help families purchase land through low-interest loans. Loan payments fund the purchase of land for new Agros communities.
Agros owns the land and provides each family in the new community with a promissory note. The land title is held by Agros until each family repays the cost of their parcel of land.
How long does it typically take families to pay off their land loan?
Typically, it takes a family seven to ten years to pay for their land. Once the loan is repaid, the land title is written in the name of both husband and wife, or the name of the one parent in a single parent family. There is a two-year grace period is allowed. The title is then passed on to the family in a land title transfer ceremony. This is an important and joyous event in the community.
Is the land legally available?
Establishing a legally secure title to the land is an important element of Agros’ work. Before land is even considered for purchase, it must be legally available and clear of competing claims. This contributes to the long-range security of the families.
What happens if a family can’t pay?
Occasionally, a family is unable or unwilling to repay the cost of the land. In such cases, the community leadership committee will work within existing community by-laws to resolve the issue.
The Agros Approach
How is the Agros approach unique?
Agros’ approach of working with the rural poor in long-term asset building makes its work unique. With the exception of some government efforts at land distribution, there are few organizations that have been willing to provide long-term land loans to the poor.
Agros is also unique in its approach of avoiding dependency and paternalism in its relationship with participants. By working with each community to develop local leadership, governing bodies, and decision-making processes, individuals gain self-esteem and confidence in their own ability to make sound decisions about their future. This is “breaking free from the cycle of poverty” in the most profound way.
Agros has discovered that lending to the poor can be a viable credit risk. A small loan can provide a poor family with just enough capital to help them break free from poverty. Families who understand that they will become self-sufficient owners of their own land at the end of their repayment period have great incentive to fulfill their loan obligations. In addition, by focusing its projects on specific geographical areas, Agros is able to maximize the efficiency of its work in rural areas and generate more possibilities for further economic development and impact.
What is an Agros Village?
An Agros village is a community comprised of a group of selected families (between 25 and 75) in need who are striving together to make a better future for themselves and their children. Each family is lent a parcel of land, materials to build a house and access to an integrated irrigation system. Through additional small business loans, education, and accountability, villagers work toward the goal of economic sustainability in order to effectively repay the cost of their loans. Each village has community governance with elected positions that decide the goals and priorities based on input from other villagers. Villages have co-ops, community banks and other economically based programs all based on sustainability.
How do new projects get started?
First, a group of families interested in becoming an Agros village approaches Agros staff in Central America to nominate a village. Agros must then determine the village’s degree of need and prioritize accordingly.
We have a fixed number of communities that we can start each year according to funding. The Agros offices in each country work with the Seattle office to determine this number. Since the need for land is always greater than the financial resources available to start new communities, tough decisions have to be made. If resources are available to start a new community, Agros field staff will begin to work with potential villagers.
Agros field staff work with the community leaders to learn about parcels available for sale, discuss sale price, and to develop negotiating strategies. Field staff survey the land, assess its quality, and determine land titles and water availability. If everything meets our standards and funds are available for land purchase, field staff give community leaders the go-ahead to begin negotiations. Land purchases are typically timed around the agricultural calendar. A parcel will be purchased in time to prepare the land for the first harvest.
Simultaneously, Agros field staff get to know the members of the community, while community members learn about Agros’ work. Typically, the most important issue for communities to understand is that Agros provides loans and assistance to help farming families build assets, but that we do not provide charity and free handouts.
During the initial development phase, Agros provides services such as agricultural credit and training to create a relationship with the group. At this time the community is introduced to Agros and Agros observes the community’s ability to cooperate and sees whether it responds well to the challenges of the Agros model.
If community members agree to Agros’ repayment policy, and if Agros believes there is a good fit, field staff will typically start with a small project, such as providing small 6-month loans for seeds and agricultural supplies. There is always a tremendous need for short-term credit in rural areas. These small projects provide a perfect testing ground for community members to experience the assistance Agros provides, while Agros field staff learn which community members are bona fide farmers who have a willingness to repay their loans and a desire to work hard to overcome their poverty.
During this process, entire communities may choose not to continue to work with Agros, or larger groups of participating families may be whittled down to smaller groups. This is due to Agros’ repayment policy, which families may not take seriously until their small loan comes due.
At this stage, Agros field staff may choose to go through another 6-month loan cycle with a community. This phase may also include agricultural training to help farming families learn appropriate techniques that will increase crop yields, or other training related to health and nutrition, depending on the needs of the community.
Building Long-Term Change
How does Agros’ approach address long-term poverty issues such as rural-urban migration, education, and health?
In our experience, land ownership brings tremendous change in the lives of the rural poor. This change cannot help but positively affect large, long-term poverty issues in the following ways:
Improved land quality
With the prospect of land ownership, families invest in the quality of their soil and new agricultural techniques which boost crop production, stimulate rural economies and bring greater prosperity to rural areas. Through Agros’s agricultural training and support for income-generating activities, families can build lasting economic security for themselves and their children.
Improved quality of life
As income security is established, the quality of life increases and the potential for social unrest and civil conflict is reduced. Agros supports the unfolding of this “virtuous circle” through the elements of its model. By helping poor families purchase land, the development cycle begins.
A stronger community
Agros’s training in leadership and community organization helps develop local leaders who can work together to resolve community problems and plan for an improved future using foresight gained through prior experiences.
A diversified diet leads to better nutrition and better health. As a result, infant death and malnutrition are reduced, providing an incentive to have smaller families.
Better educational opportunities
Greater economic stability allows parents to part with child labor and enroll their children in school. Agros also helps communities in projects such as school building.
Reduced rural-urban migration
As economic prospects and quality of life improve, rural families have no reason to migrate. This leads to greater stability and prosperity as urban areas are not flooded with rural migrants looking for a better life.
How does Agros’s model affect the problem of illegal immigration into the United States?
There are many reasons why immigrants leave the rural countryside and come to the United States. Among them are the conditions of extreme poverty in which people live and the lack of opportunities that enable families to overcome their poverty. Many of the people coming to the U.S. illegally are “economic migrants” – people who come in search of work. Poverty conditions and lack of work opportunities at home mean that these economic migrants are willing to leave their families, risk their lives, and find work in some of the least desirable conditions – often as menial laborers and minimum wage workers. Steady work is better than no work, and minimum wage in the U.S. is often more than they can earn in an entire day in their native country.
Throughout Central America, political and economic conditions are such that no matter how hard people work, 60 percent are earning less than $1 per day. Unemployment and underemployment are rampant in the rural areas. There are simply not enough jobs to go around and no hope that circumstances will change any time soon.
By helping rural families purchase land and build thriving communities, Agros provides an alternative for people who believe their only option is to migrate into the city or into another country, such as the U.S. Agros enables families to stay together and to generate income within their own countries and communities. Agros helps families create a livelihood for themselves that can be passed on to their children. As conditions improve, the motivation for becoming an economic migrant disappears. Families stay together, communities are strengthened, and lives are transformed.
How do Agros projects help women?
Women in developing countries and across Central America face grave challenges. As the primary caretakers of families and children, they are on the front lines of hunger, malnutrition and death in their families. Agros’ programs cannot be successful or have a lasting impact if the health of women is in jeopardy.
Many women in rural Central America:
- Lack access to prenatal care and are isolated from modern health facilities
- Get married as adolescents, start families at a young age, and don’t know how to plan the size of their families
- Have a difficult time keeping their children healthy and well-nourished because they don’t know how, or don’t have the resources to prepare a well-balanced meal and lack knowledge of basic sanitation
- Are of poor health themselves because they sacrifice food and other resources for their children and are continuously breast feeding due to multiple consecutive births
Agros’ programs address the needs of women and children by creating a positive cycle of change. We help women achieve:
- Education: For young girls who would otherwise marry young and start families when they are little older than children themselves, Agros provides opportunities for them to go to school. Educated girls tend to marry later and their children tend to be healthier.
- Literacy training: Agros offers literacy training to adults, giving both men and women who were not able to go to school the opportunity to learn how to read and write.
- Financial independence: Agros trains women to manage a savings account and family finances because women tend to invest in their families.
- Business expertise: Through microenterprise development, Agros teaches women skills they can use to start their own businesses. Agros also teaches women (and their children) how to raise small animals close to home to generate income.
- Family planning and health care: Many women have had more than 5 children and have never received a gynecological exam or had access to prenatal care.
Through the women’s health initiative:
- Women learn about their bodies in a way that promotes self-esteem. Women with greater self-esteem become active in community organization. They get involved in village decision-making and develop leadership skills.
- Women receive regular physical exams, many for the first time in their lives.
- Agros works within the local culture to provide education about birth spacing and birth control so that women and their husbands can make informed decisions about family planning.
People talk a lot about the importance of “sustainable development.”
How are Agros’ methods sustainable?
Sustainable development is an important element of Agros’ work. Agros works to create sustainability in three primary areas: in the environment, in family economics, and in community organizations.
- Environmental sustainability begins by providing families with land. People take better care of and are more concerned about a resource over which they have ownership. Agros then provides training and technical assistance regarding the use and stewardship of this land. This includes the construction of composting latrines, improved wood burning stoves, and education on soil conservation, organic composting, and agro-forestry techniques.
- Economic sustainability begins with improved production of basic grains. When a family produces more food on less land, they become more confident in their ability to feed themselves. With food security established, they begin to try things they’ve never done before, for instance, growing foods that they can sell in the market and use to generate income. Once families begin to generate a stable income, they can begin to pay back their land loans. And once their loans have been repaid (typically within 10 years), they become self-sustaining owners of their own land. From this land, they are able to generate an on-going, stable income and provide an environment in which their children can thrive.
- Community sustainability is attained in two ways. First, we help give rural families the training to create a local community government that looks to the entire community for participation and decision-making. This becomes the backbone for civic responsibility and participation. It also becomes the primary way communities continue to thrive long after Agros has departed. The second way is through the Noemi Fund.
What is the Noemí Fund?
The Noemí Fund is a loan fund that provides the capital needed to buy land and develop village infrastructure, including the resources needed to administer and manage this fund. When a new community is started, the loan fund is used to match every dollar raised for the development costs of a new community, including field support and training. As communities begin to repay their loans, the payments are returned to the loan fund. As the loan fund is replenished, new communities can be started.
What happens if Agros is not there?
If Agros is not there to provide access to land ownership, opportunity and hope for a sustainable life is slowly choked out. Families will continue to face malnutrition. Lack of education will persist. Migration to urban centers will increase as the rural poor seek a viable life.
As a result, dysfunctional structures will remain intact without being held accountable. Cities will become overcrowded and the families moving into them unable to find work or hope in their new location. Communities will become even more broken than before, and despair will overwhelm souls.
Our Christian Commitment
Is Agros a Christian organization?
Agros is comprised of individuals who desire to follow in the ways of Jesus by serving the rural poor regardless of their faith. Our three core values are to:
- Follow in the ways of Jesus
In order to serve others with love, integrity and humility.
- Foster Relationships
Recognizing that sustainable transformation requires a long-term commitment to land, donors, partners, and the people that we serve.
- Facilitate Participation
Recognizing the unique gifts and potential of each individual and community.
We also recognize that faith plays a crucial role in the holistic development of Agros communities. International development organizations worldwide recognize the overall importance of faith in development. It also provides the moral compass for the development of the community and its values for the present and future generations.
We agree that spirituality is an important aspect of holistic transformation. Agros plays a role in encouraging the spiritual transformation of individuals in Agros villages.
We do not discriminate among those we seek to serve or partner with. We may also work with groups that have no professing Christians.
How does religious faith impact the work you do in the field?
We try to model and communicate Christian values to assist in the transformation of lives — values such as service, integrity, humility, and love. We do not discriminate in our work with communities based on faith or spirituality. Agros works with landless, rural families of all faiths who have demonstrated their agricultural vocation and a willingness to cooperate with Agros program goals and expectations.
In most cases, Agros assists groups that have already been organized and who demonstrate a need and the values of community and concern for each other. We look for a history of working together and an understanding of the importance of hard work.
We work with groups of people who have:
- Initiated a relationship with local Agros staff
- Committed to abide by the Agros program and principles
- Demonstrated active leadership that holds values consistent with those of Agros
- Shown characteristics that lead Agros staff to believe the group has a strong chance of succeeding as a community.
For more, please read the Agros faith statement.
How is Agros Funded?
The funding for Agros comes from three primary resources: Individuals, churches, businesses, and foundations. Individuals, businesses, and churches support Agros in the following ways:
Country offices also seek out resources from local and international organizations. There are in-kind donations such as trees, seeds and other supplies. Heifer Project International contributes support for training and small animal husbandry.
Most recently the Noemí Fund was developed to provide capital needed to jump-start development and match donations from other sources. This fund was started to make available rotating credit that is repaid, and to supply future capital.
How You Can Help
How can churches, community organizations, and businesses get involved with Agros?
Agros welcomes opportunities to partner with churches, organizations and businesses through its “Journey with a Village” program. This program partners individuals, families, churches, foundations, businesses or community groups with rural landless families in developing countries where Agros works. The purpose of the partnership is to enable these families to purchase their own agricultural land, build a livelihood, restore self-dignity, and overcome poverty.
As a JWAV partner, you have the opportunity to help change these families’ lives forever by coming alongside them in a financial and relational commitment of up to 5 years.
Our typical process is:
- Meet: Get to know you, introduce you to the work of Agros and explain the JWAV program.
- Match: Determine if your goals and the community’s goals would benefit through partnership.
- Champion: Help you select a Village Champion to organize a committee and if desired, delegate responsibilities and provide prayer support.
- Visit: Put together a trip so that you and other potential supporters can meet the families involved in your new potential partnership.
- Partner: Formalize the partnership through a signed agreement and celebration with the community.
How can I make a donation to Agros?
Simply click on Give Now to make an individual donation, or call us at 206-528-1066.