Rural communities have a relevant part in the history of Chile. The conditions of the land to which they lived, their livelihood and the policies that the government made which affected the communities throughout history has never hindered the communities to adapt to changing conditions. It has enabled them to form organizations and communities that have adapted to change. Their experience of scarcity of available resources has enabled them to develop into what they are now.
This paper hopes to present hopes to summarize the development of agricultural communities, the difficulties encountered by the groups and their resiliency amidst the difficulties. Finally, the paper hopes to give its observations and comments based on the ideas presented. Development of Agricultural Communities William Alexander in his article, “Cowboys and Indians and Comuneros: Policy-Positioned Ascriptions of Ethnicity, Identity and History In Chile,” describes the ‘Norte Chico’ in Chile as semi-arid north central region which is subjected to subjected to such forces like that of desertification, erosion and drought (Alexander 140).
The area was known for its erratic rainfall and drought as being part of its cycle (Alexander 140). Communities which are located in the said region, were said to be relatively isolated mainly because of the rough terrain, substandard roads and limited means of communication (Alexander 140). These environmental conditions along with the human and limited capital resources brought changing and diverse productive strategies and cultural practices in the community (Alexander 140).
Agricultural communities formed coexisting land tenancies such as family possessed small goce singulares plots for household gardens located near water resources; communal landholdings of Iluvias used for rain-fed cultivation of cereals; and the so-called campo comun grazing pastures (Alexander 140). Local democratic process play a significant role especially in land petitioning, group projects and other decisions regarding resource use and conservation where officials are elected and consensus are built through public meetings (Alexander 140).
Cultural traditions in agricultural communities continued to exist despite members of the family especially the youth who leave to find work in copper mines and highway construction work (Alexander 141). Many families became resourceful and were able to adjust to economic and environmental pressures (Alexander 142). Multiple economic strategies of subsistence working in nearby towns who sent remittances to support family at home and then returning during harvest time to assist in harvest and other community projects (Alexander 142).
Mining also was said to have played a key role in the political ecology of the region and the formation of the agricultural communities (Alexander 161). Deforestation, which led to desertification and erosion, was said to be some of the effects of mining (Alexander 161). This also led to advanced organization and political participation in the rural communities were the socialist orientation made the communities vulnerable in the Pinochet dictatorship but found renewed expression during the post-dictatorship transition era (Alexander 161).
Furthermore, according to the article entitled “Organization and Advocacy in Rural Chile” also by William Alexander, the comunero democracy went underground during the military rule having clandestine meetings (Alexander 26). The communities and their organization then were able to survive the policies of suppression and other laws which hoped to change the communal properties of the communities (Alexander 27). Artisans under Regulation In William Alexander’s article entitled “Clandestine Artisans or Integrated Producers? Standardization of Rural Livelihood in the Norte Chico, Chile,” emphasized on how the law aiming to regulate the sale of hand-crafted artisan cheese made from goat’s milk has affected the people in the rural areas (Alexander 38). It set sanitary standards for food production because of the food poisoning that happened in Santiago (Alexander 38). Producers were granted exemption during the preliminary legislation before authorities could find ways to soften the blow that the restriction of this source of income would have on families who raise goats (Alexander 38).
This policy was enforced by the regional authorities in order not only to assure that their objective is to establish standards of hygiene in production that will both protect the public health but also aimed to improve the product (Alexander 38). However due to the inability of the average family to comply with the standards, many interpreted the law as a form of persecution (Alexander 38). Because this state intervention restricts market access, Alexander explains that many producers participating in the informal economy, the market is only free for those who can participate in sanctioned ways (Alexander 38).
Thus, this legislation brought about a production that has been split into the small independent home-based production and small factories that employ cheese makers to do the hand production in a sanctioned factory setting (Alexander 38). Many small producers believed that they cannot compete with large factories due to short production season, lack of capital and dependence upon rain fed natural forage and fear that they become vulnerable to financial institutions (Alexander 38).
This then brought development specialists to design a multi-level plan of assistance and credit extension to improve irrigation and animal forage along with subsidies for start-up factories (Alexander 38). There were government’s efforts which included the demonstration of technology management via pilot studies; promotion of irrigation and reforestation projects and support for small scale commercial enterprises, such as cheese factories and milk collection centers all funded through a combination of state subsidies and easy term loans for participants (Alexander 39).
Although officials claimed that through this policy, the price of the product has been kept low, it however impeded the product’s access to new markets and contributed to the Region’s overall negative image (Alexander 41). This has excluded those who were unable to conform to the standards set and thus resulting to their loss of a crucial income source (Alexander 42). Because of the limited funds of the government, some milk producers are subjected to poor condition of their roads and their isolation in the rugged interior that makes it even harder for them to have market integration (Alexander 43).
People were however able to cope up with these difficulties, especially during the good year where they shared the cost and labor chemically treating all of the sheep in the community against parasitic arthropods (Alexander 44). They have also formed several small groups designed to raise money for specific projects to improve life in the community (Alexander 44). This was said to have contributed greatly to the success of both individual households and the community as a whole (Alexander 45).
Comments and Observations Agricultural communities not only were they flexible but were adaptable to change. Despite the environmental conditions of the locations of their lands, they have developed a system of survival by sourcing their income other than from goat herding by working in copper mines or working in nearby towns to support their family. Aside from this, the repression they experienced during the Pinochet era did not hinder these communities from organizing and meet underground.
Indeed one can observe the close family ties and strong communal ties shown by their intent to return to their homeland despite economic opportunities elsewhere. They have retained their culture despite the changes faced by the communities. Communities in the face of economic difficulties especially as regards costs of making a living, these communities were also able to help each other by raising funds through different activities. The strong support system they have enabled them to survive and improve the quality of life.
Also, one can observe that the government in its aim to protect the health of the public and in integrating the local cheese production into the market, has implemented a law which some have failed to comply with. Despite the programs to improve irrigation, conduct studies and build roads in order that there may be market accessibility for small producers, most of the communities are still left out and excluded from the improvement.
Hence, if the government is to fulfill its aims in improving the lives of these small producers and stop the informal economy, the government must be strong in its political will in fulfilling its projects and programs without excluding other areas. These communities still remain in poverty or are marginalized mainly because of the unequal distribution of projects of the government. This must also be alongside with environmental protection. This way, nothing is compromised and would help improve rural communities whose main source of income is cheese production.