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  Number 180 | Julio 1996
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Nicaragua

Peasant Farmers Must be Included

Every government has declared its support for agriculture, but none has done anything. In Nicaragua there are 57,000 small farmer families. They possess an unknown, but real potential for the economic reactiviation of Nicaragua. Will the new government that comes to power in 1997 take them into account?

Peter Marchetti and Cristóbal Maldidier

Peasants make up the social force with the greatest economic and productive potential to energize Nicaragua's agricultural sector, but this force has been stagnating since 1983. Nicaraguan peasants must be redefined, looking at their diversity, to overcome the mystifying vision of a peasant reduced to a simple poor rural inhabitant, and see beyond the smoke screen created in past decades with the terms bourgeoisie, poor medium rich peasant, proletariat and semi proletariat.


Who Are They and What Are Their Dreams?

In Latin America, the analysis of agricultural social classes forgets the farmer who lives in the soul of the peasant. An initial definition of those we call peasant farmers would say that they do not come from the poorest rural strata, nor are they the more comfortable rural residents who live on their farms and are usually simply called farmers. Peasant farmers are a "middle" group between the two. They have a farm, though it may be small, and are a model and a sign of hope for all poor peasants. The salaried peasant hopes to plant, even if on someone else's land; those who rent land hope to have their own plots; and those who benefitted from agrarian reform hope for the day when their friends call their plot a farm. The peasant farmers have a hope, too: to buy more land, so their children will inherit enough and the land will not be parceled out.

What we call peasant farmers are usually called peasants in countries that have experienced radical agrarian transformations: northwestern Europe, China, Japan and Taiwan, among others. Without a true revolution in public institutions, in development programs and in agrarian policy, however, the Nicaraguan "peasant" strata will never have the economic potential of their European or Southeast Asian brothers and sisters.

The perspectives of agrarian policy architects and of promoters and implementors of rural development programs, whether public institutions or NGOs, are far too influenced by Pacific urban culture. The peasant and farmer culture distrusts the urban and business power circles, but does recognize their existence. In contrast, these power circles do not understand the economic and social potential of peasants, particularly of peasant farmers.

In Nicaragua's current panorama, there are more reasons to trust peasant' social movements and organizations than to trust the ability of the government or political parties to respond to their demands. Nonetheless, better distribution of information to facilitate dialogue between the rural world and the urban authors of agrarian policy could lessen the violence and social and political instability in rural areas. Without a doubt, this instability is partly the product of an under appreciation of the peasant farmers' economic potential, and at the same time is a factor that frustrates the possibilities of reactivating the national economy even more.

Those Who Are Always "No oned"

Agrarian analysts and agrarian policy architects have ignored the peasant farmer. They have "no oned" them, to echo Daniel Núñez, president of the National Union of Farmers and Cattle Ranchers (UNAG), when he referred to government treatment of the rural majority and the strata of farmers known as the "homespun" bourgeoisie. In reality, peasant farmers, together with the poor peasant strata, have always been "no oned": they were relegated as Indians in the 300 colonial years, and later as ladino peasants, when dominant ideology considered them "backwards," they were made wage workers, or victims or members of a political clientele, all to serve the interests of the powerful classes.

In contrast, the big absentee landlords (latifundistas) and agrarian businessmen from the oligarchic families of Granada and León have always been privileged in Nicaragua. That was how it was a hundred years ago, and that's how it is today.

In Nicaragua and throughout Latin America, the illegal appropriation of peasants' land by latifundistas has been a conscious strategy to force peasants to forget their dream of a farm. Agricultural modernization policies and collectivization policies of various Latin American countries in the 1960s and 70s, followed by the neoliberal policies of the 1980s and 90s, have been even more effective in erasing peasants' dreams. The peasants' great temptation is to forget even themselves and accept the imposed rules of the game.

The landowners' "forgetting" of peasant farmers has been quite interesting. The privileges of the latifundistas, the agricultural businessmen and, during the past decade, the Sandinista state bureaucracy, depended largely on excluding peasant farmers from their right to equal access to market benefits and participation in national agrarian institutions. Despite the unequal treatment received throughout this century, however, peasant farmers still work with more economic efficiency than all other agricultural social sectors.

As a group, Nicaraguan peasants produce more wealth than either of the other two main agricultural production strata businesses and individual farmers. A careful investigation of the types of producers in Nicaragua and checking it with Nitlapán polls and official Agricultural Ministry and Central Bank of Nicaragua information demonstrates this. The wealth (aggregate value) produced by salaried peasants, semi peasants (poor peasants) and peasant farmers represents 48% of the total. Farming businesses contribute only 35% and farmers 17%.

Peasants achieve this controlling a similar proportion of the country's farmland: 60% of the agricultural land and 51% of cattle land. With these resources, they generate 63% of agricultural employment and 48% of cattle related employment. This is highly significant, above all when considering the widely held opinion that these sectors, poor almost by definition, cannot generate wealth unless employed by large farmers, and can also not be profitable. The reality is different.

With Hard Currency Shortages, The Most Profitable

The country's main economic crisis is expressed in the trade gap: the difference between our imports and our exports. In the 1983 1992 period the trade gap reached around $4 billion. Politicians constantly and frenetically seek more and more foreign aid to cover this gap. Although the media constantly transmits to public opinion the message that Nicaragua suffers from an acute hard currency shortage, the truth is otherwise; the assignment of foreign exchange has been inefficient and the squandering of foreign aid alarming. There is no need for more currency or more foreign aid because with each dollar we receive Nicaragua falls even farther into the bottomless pit of the trade gap.

It's no news that the urban sector is a net consumer and the rural sector a net producer of international currency. But, within the rural sector, which social sectors use this foreign exchange more efficiently? Who are the real promoters of economic recovery and who could make a greater contribution to structural adjustment?

Peasants and peasant farmers contribute almost 70% of the net foreign exchange generated or saved in the agricultural sector. The problem in generating this hard currency is the amount spent on imported inputs. If there is high spending on inputs, the country generates less net currency. Peasants use hard currency more austerely and efficiently. This productive strata not only generates currency but also saves for the country by producing foods that thereby do not need to be imported. Farm businesses only generate and save 9% of net currency. Farmers contribute 22%.

Another way to compare the efficiency of different strata of producers is to measure profitability of currency spent on purchasing imported inputs and equipment. The business sector is less efficient: for every dollar it spends on production, it only generates 14 cents more. Peasant farmers generate $2.50, 18 times more than the business sector. Farmers are close behind peasant farmers in their efficiency levels.

Poor peasants (salaried peasants) and those on the agricultural frontier have high profitability levels compared to currency spending. In fact, peasants on the agricultural frontier appear in statistics as the most profitable of the entire agricultural sector, but this is an illusion, because their profitability comes from destroying the tropical rain forest, the base of the national ecosystem that sustains not only the agricultural sector but the whole country. Peasants show profitability almost equal to peasant farmers, but it is based on poverty: they do not have money to buy fertilizers, they get up before dawn to pick bugs off plants by hand with a flashlight, and so on. Their yield per acre is low, but their costs are minimal.

In summary, the strata of producers who show the most interesting economic results from the viewpoint of national benefit are those who both have a high currency profitability level and don't damage forests and soils. These are the peasant farmers. They use the land more rationally, generate more employment and more net currency per acre, and their work productivity whether measured in terms of national wealth (aggregate value) or of net currency per work day is similar or superior to the sector as a whole. Obviously, the biggest and wealthiest producers are more productive, because they use more equipment and machinery and have denser and more productive coffee plants, but they achieve this at the cost of lower profitability in foreign currency, which is the country's scarcest resource.

Always Out of the Game

In the 1950s and 60s, peasant farmers enjoyed favorable macroeconomic conditions and export opportunities, but were excluded from the benefits the Somocista dictatorship channeled to partners and other agrarian businessmen located in modern agricultural enclaves.

In the 1970s, this strata of peasants together with farmers played an important role in the final boom of coffee and beef exports and offered their homes and support to Sandinista guerrillas. But they were excluded from the tables where the FSLN made political pacts with agricultural, industrial and commercial businessmen who opposed the dictatorship.

In the 1980s, peasant farmers enjoyed credit and input subsidy policies, but again were never invited to the negotiation table with the Agrarian Reform and Agricultural Development Ministry (MIDINRA), where representatives of large producers of cattle, cotton, sugar, rice and sorghum discussed interest rates and prices of inputs and agricultural products with the Agricultural Ministry. They had no opportunity to express their rejection of the policy to make domestic trade a state run process, to say that they were being excluded from the market and that their productive viability was being eliminated as was at times their trade and other rural service operations.

A Singular Agrarian Reform

It was the domestic trade policy and the failure of urban FSLN and Sandinista Popular Army political cadre to understand their culture that converted the peasant farmers into the gravitational center of the counterrevolution. The human and economic cost of the peasant farmers' armed uprising that fed the contras was very high.

It was a war not only against the FSLN but also against the elitist public institutions, because these institutions continued to benefit the cities and protect the big agrarian landowners and businesses. Also because, in the midst of a proclaimed revolution, the agrarian reform actually transferred the bulk of the shares of the Somocista agroindustrial complex to the new state.

Somocista properties should have been distributed to peasants in 1979, instead of becoming state farms. The FSLN waited almost three years before beginning to expropriate latifundistas and give the land to peasants. It was afraid of organizing peasants to achieve a solid peasant agrarian reform, because that would have broken its tactical alliance with agrarian business sectors and would have questioned its statist program. The first celebration giving land to peasants took place in Wiwilí on October 16, 1981, 26 months after the revolutionary triumph.

When the expropriation of non Somocista landowners began in earnest, in the second half of 1982, the objectives were not to lessen inequalities in land tenure or to economically strengthen the peasant sector. The objective was to win poor peasants back from the ideological influence of the peasant farmers and the farmers, and to increase defense abilities in the mountains, broadening military recruitment in production cooperatives in the Pacific.

The true agrarian reform was carried out by peasant farmer contra guerrillas. They were the ones who forced the FSLN to convert over 235,000 acres of state farms into cooperatives from 1983 to 1986. Here is one of the great historical ironies of the 1980s: the United States financed a guerrilla movement that questioned not only Sandinismo, but also, indirectly, the oligarchic institutions of Nicaragua's agrarian capitalism. But it was not the peasant farmers who benefitted from the agrarian reform they generally already owned land. It was the poorer strata of peasants. Landowners and agricultural businesses lost over half a million acres in this period, which favored the emergence of a land tenure structure that is the least unequal and most democratic in Latin America.

The 1990s: Generalized Exclusion

In the 1990s, not only peasant farmers but also poor peasants and the "homespun" bourgeois farmers are still being excluded from participation in the formulation of credit policy, legal rural systems, technological policies and export promotion. Over 100,000 peasants and farmers have no access to credit today.

With the war, the rural social forces achieved one objective: they broke the state controls on domestic trade. With the privatization of the Nicaraguan Basic Foods Enterprise (ENABAS), however, the Chamorro government achieved the same effects as the Sandinistas, but in reverse. The Sandinistas eliminated private rural trade without replacing it with a public system that responded to peasant demands. The new government, trusting blindly in the market, eliminated the public system without offering credits or stimuli to rebuild the efficient private trade system that Sandinista policy and ten years of war had destroyed. Thus, the Chamorro government lost peasant and farmer support just as quickly as it had won it during the 1989 electoral campaign.

The problem lies in that the domestic market suffers from a profound segmentation, a technical reflection of the exclusion of peasants, farmers and lower strata from the urban economy. Trade and transport activity is centered in the Pacific while the more urbanized inland areas and mountainous regions remain in the hands of less competent traders. In the last 50 years, only Somocismo offered a viable trade setup for peasants and farmers, although its policy was more to ignore than to intervene.

If the new government has excluded the homespun bourgeois farmers of the interior, whose farms average 300 acres, one can imagine the degree to which agrarian reform beneficiaries have been excluded. The immense majority of the latter have split up their production cooperatives and ex state farm lands to work within a family plot scheme. They have no legal support to back up their access to these plots. But, despite the growing poverty of this sector of rural production and the decapitalization of their production units, agrarian reform beneficiaries have only sold 4% of their lands to farmers and agricultural businesses. This "miracle" is due both to peasant determination to make their dream of having legal title to a plot of land a reality, and to the farmers' own cash shortages and the limited dynamism of agricultural business.

The results of today's agricultural policy have been growing rural poverty, outbreaks of political violence and vandalism. The economic consequences, for both farmers and rural traders, are critical.

Until now no government has allowed itself to be influenced by or opened its institutions to peasant/farmer culture. The rural social and political explosiveness has forced the Chamorro government to change its discourse, but its cultural distance from peasants and farmers is infinite. Attempts to organize and incorporate them into state programs cannot hide the goals of political clientelism. In November 1992, the government announced that it was putting a priority on the Farmers' Program promoted by Nitlapán UCA, but it never did anything to initiate the program. There is a fundamental vacuum: the type of professional, institution and program able to serve as a bridge between the oligarchic government and peasant and farmer demands is missing.

How Peasants Are Seen: Three Common Conceptions

The concept of peasant farmer cannot be understood from the traditional Latin American views of peasants. The term peasant is not ahistoric; it must be contextualized according to the level of agrarian transformation in each country. There are three common conceptions of the peasant: the oligarchic, the Leninist and the modernizing.

The Oligarchic View: A first vision perhaps the least intellectually developed and most mired in the disparagement of which the most violent fractions of the oligarchy and some urban sectors are capable considers peasants to be socially and culturally inferior beings. They are represented as "mozos" hired help with no initiative or innate knowledge, permanently offering their labor and requiring constant supervision. This vision a direct inheritance from the attitudes of the Spanish towards the indigenous peoples during the colonial period is largely coherent with the interests of landowners, whose base of economic accumulation has historically been direct exploitation of the rural labor force. In a country like Nicaragua, where land abounds, it has always been somewhat "difficult" for the dominating classes to guarantee the availability of mozos. For this reason these classes instituted obligatory labor with the famous "occupation ticket" and usurped communal lands, privatizing them to themselves at the end of the 19th century. Throughout the 20th century they also tried to maintain the greatest possible control over land and accepted no more than a cosmetic agrarian reform in the 1960s. Their complaint since the Spanish period has always been the same: "the labor shortage."

The Leninist View: A second and more recent analysis of the historic make up and evolution of Latin American agriculture paints peasants as victims of physical repression and economic oppression. In Nicaragua, this current looks to violent outbreaks in Matagalpa, León and Chinandega to support the argument that peasants are an oppressed class. Influenced by classic Marxist Leninist theories, this current characterized the peasant sector at the beginning of the 1980s as a class made up fundamentally of "semi proletarians," a product of the specific form that capitalism had developed in agriculture, and a prelude to the complete proletarianization of the rural labor force.

The focal point of the proposals based on this analysis consists of accelerating the liquidation of the peasants, as precapitalist residue, to assure the full development of productive forces and the subsequent substitution of capitalist businesses for socialist forms of production.

The Modernizing View: This second vision of agriculture has been eclipsed by a third, currently dominant, focus. This is the "modernizing" or "developmentalist" focus that places peasants in the "traditional" sector of the agrarian economy, in opposition to the modern, technologically "advanced" business sector linked into markets. A series of characteristics are associated with peasants: irrational economic behavior or little interest in profits or accumulation; generally subsistence production and weak productive efficiency as opposed to technologically "advanced" production aimed at the market; marked individualism and resistance to change.

The policy derived from these concepts states that to achieve economic development the peasant economy must be "modernized" by promoting capital and modern technology transfers to peasants and pushing them to change their economic attitudes. Agrarian reform and the promotion of cooperatives strategies partially shared by the Leninists are considered ideal ways to improve productivity and take advantage of the supposed benefits of division of labor and industrial production, thus overcoming peasants' famous backwardness and individualism. The creation in the 1960s and 70s of development banks to give credit access to peasants and, parallel to that, to facilitate the "green revolution" technology transfer using improved seeds, inputs and chemical fertilizers, etc are examples of these policies. Many Integrated Rural Development projects are still based on this same inspiration today.

With respect to the Leninist and modernizing focuses with which the majority of agrarian analysts operate, whether from the right or from the left, it must be pointed out that policies and regional or local programs in Latin American agriculture emerging from these focuses have often been failures. It is enough to mention the weak success of development projects, insufficient land redistribution, the failure of the collective model, the limited distribution of technology to certain sectors, etc.

By stigmatizing the peasantry, trying to reduce it to just one kind of peasant, the traditional focuses oversimplify and tremendously skew the reality of the peasant economy, losing the chance to recognize and understand the existence of a socially differentiated and productively diversified sector. The problem with the modernizing vision is that the description of peasants emphasizes personality characteristics or levels of "traditionalism." The Leninist vision limits the social relations of production to one in which the peasant is inserted at the wage level, measured by a simplistic counting of how many days the peasant works for contracts. The real context of Nicaraguan peasants demands that these focuses be abandoned.

Agrarian Development: Three Major Perspectives

Three major interpretations of agrarian development and the nature of the national agrarian structure have dominated recent debate in Nicaragua:

* The capitalist agroexport model and proletarian perspective.

* Inter bourgeois conflicts and homespun bourgeois perspective.

* Peasant potential and peasant perspective.

The Proletarian Perspective: The first interpretation, called the "capitalist agroexport model," promoted by Jaime Wheelock, Sandinista intellectual and agriculture minister in the 1980s, assumes that capitalist development in Nicaraguan agriculture has produced a big estate tiny plot (latifundio minifundio) type structure characterized by the emergence of two social classes and two economic sectors: an agrarian bourgeoisie involved in agroexports (corresponding to the economy's modern sector) and a semi proletariat involved in production for domestic consumption (corresponding to the traditional sector).

In this interpretation, the agrarian bourgeoisie, born out of the traditional hacienda of colonial origins, is divided into two sub groups: in the Pacific, a classic and modern bourgeoisie that employs imported capital intensive techniques in cotton, sugar cane and banana production; and in the country's interior, the coffee and cattle hacienda bourgeoisie, who still use only slightly developed technologies and pre capitalist social relations (meaning paternalistic, not just salaried relations).

The semi proletarians are former peasants, initially not well inserted in the market, who have suffered an unfinished proletarianization and mercantalization process. They are partly dedicated to producing basic grains on small plots and sell their labor to the agrarian bourgeoisie during the rest of the year.

The proletarian focus is within the common interpretation of Latin American agrarian structure. It represents a renovated Leninist analysis with the theory of the "bimodal agrarian structure" of peripheral economies in the international market, which asserts that these economies' dependent insertion into the international market leads to a disarticulation within the agricultural sector, in which the model of economic growth and accumulation are geared towards exports or the production of luxury products, instead of energizing the domestic market. Minority groups of exporting landowners concentrate not only income but also potential economic growth in their hands, at the expense of the peasant majorities, who suffer semi proletarianization which is functional for agroexporters but dysfunctional for national economic development.

This interpretation overemphasizes the importance of international insertion on domestic aspects of the agrarian sector. It sees the different social classes, systems of production and evolution of the agrarian structure from outside rather than from within, and assumes that peasants' poverty is an indisputable sign of the peasantry's lack of economic potential.

This was the interpretation held by Sandinista institutional power and ideological hegemony between 1979 and 1983. Empirical data supporting it came from a poll of 51,000 rural families done by literacy workers in the 1980 National Literacy Crusade. Called the "Poll of Rural Workers," it polled not agricultural producers but types of production, measuring them almost exclusively with the variable of the sale purchase of wage labor.

Using this poll, official documents projected an image of Nicaragua's agrarian structure as similar to Cuba, with a great majority of peasant families in the process of proletarianization and very desirous of it.

The Sandinista agrarian strategy was built from this ideological framework, with three fundamental elements:

Emphasis on state enterprises as the motor force of economic accumulation;

Alliance with non Somocista agrarian businesses within the policy of national unity against imperialism.

Delay of agrarian reform to guarantee the de peasantization program.

This agrarian strategy and its focus on social classes was defeated not by the arguments of "peasantists," but by reality and facts. Only the advance of the counterrevolution was able to break down the Sandinista leadership's de peasantization strategy and open the possibilities for a more profound change in land tenure structures.

But although the new Chamorro government abandoned the Sandinista state structures, its agrarian strategy has been based on an elitist system that always favors business forms of production and harms the peasants.

The Homespun Bourgeoisie Perspective: The second perspective, which recognizes the importance of medium productive strata, criticizes the capitalist agroexport model and the bimodal latifundio minifundio vision of agrarian structure. Researchers Eduardo Baumeister and Carlos Vilas have been the protagonists of this second interpretation. Daniel Núñez is the author of the "homespun bourgeoisie" concept it describes his own history as a producer. This focus is much more accurate with respect to Nicaraguan culture and reality. While the proletarian perspective enjoyed political and institutional state power in the 1980s, this perspective found spokespeople in the upper levels of UNAG producers.

The interpretation underlines the originality of the Nicaraguan agrarian structure and points out the "inter bourgeois" conflicts. According to this vision, the so called agrarian bourgeoisie and the oligarchy are made up of three very distinct fractions:

* Agrarian entrepreneurs with control over finances, industrial processing and international trade (basically Somocistas).

* Modern agrarian entrepreneurs with a capital intensive scheme.

* The homespun bourgeoisie, which emphasizes land and labor in its production logic.

The latter two do not control forms of financial/commercial or industrial capital.

The most typical feature of Nicaragua's rural area relative to other Central American countries like Guatemala and El Salvador lies in the importance of the homespun bourgeoisie, which corresponds to medium production sectors the "Kulaks," or enriched farmers. These capitalists of peasant origin seem to have played a key role in agricultural growth in recent decades, being involved in both agroexports and domestic production and controlling a substantial part of land cultivated in coffee, cotton and basic grains. Their existence is closely linked to the advance of the agricultural frontier along the extensive tropical forests of the country's central and atlantic zones.

For their part, the agrarian entrepreneurs of both types are concentrated more in certain capitalist development poles: the cotton and sugar cane regions of the Pacific, the large coffee zones around Matagalpa and Jinotega and the cattle regions of Boaco, Chontales and Río San Juan.

Faced with these three agrarian bourgeois fractions, the image that Baumeister offers is of an agrarian structure with high levels of proletarianization and wage labor in the rural population. However, he denies the weight and role that the proletarian vision attributes to the semi proletarians as the main providers of labor to the capitalist sector and as producers for domestic consumption.

According to Baumeister, these so called semi proletarians have a much more secondary role in the Nicaraguan structure. They would include many impoverished and under employed peasants, primarily in the country's dry central region, with few salaried employment alternatives, low productivity and responsible for only a small portion of national domestic consumption production. The labor force used by the large capitalist hacienda as well as by capitalists of peasant origin would come basically from a completely proletarianized social sector of agrarian workers: seasonal urban sub proletarians employed in agroexport harvests.

The weakness of this second interpretation of the country's agricultural structure is the lack of systematic and rigorous characterization of what Baumeister calls "the extensive medium sectors, from well off peasants to fractions of the bourgeoisie." Who are these small and medium producers who control more than half of agricultural production?

Baumeister's texts and Daniel Núñez's speeches often use incorrect data on production or land tenure that lump together the peasantry and the homespun bourgeoisie. While the terms are subject to all sorts of analytical and political juggling, Baumeister's focus is nonetheless based much more on Nicaragua's political history and the concrete evolution of its economy than Wheelock's.

Although Baumeister's analysis does not overemphasize the external factors in our economy, he does not manage to characterize rural class structures from their own logic. Everything is seen from outside through the prism of comparative sociology and aggregate sectoral information analysis, leaving in doubt the technological question and the economic behavior of social sectors. The true face of our country's peasants and farmers remains too obscured.

The Peasant Perspective: This third perspective, referred to during its original development in the 1980s as "peasantist," was born out of criticisms of the role attributed to peasants in the two previous perspectives. It has still not reached consensus with the others and has been repeatedly criticized as anti historical, conservative, imported from outside and even romantic.

Both the proletarian and the homespun bourgeois perspective attribute various Latin American stereotypes to peasants. Whether from the interpretation of Marxist or modernizing developmentalists, peasants almost always are, or are on the way to being, owners of a small or tiny plot of land, are poor and marginal, occasionally sell their labor, and produce basic grains for subsistence.

Only in situations of successful peasant colonizing of the agricultural frontier can these poor peasants develop and accumulate and become medium capitalists. This analysis implicitly states that there has been no peasant development and that the peasant economy represents a marginal form of agricultural production in Nicaragua. The recognition by both currents, beginning in the mid 1980s, of the importance of small production and peasants in the national productive structure did not signify a 180 degree turn in these concepts. In fact, that recognition was a way to confirm the existence of an increasingly important sector of cooperatives, the product of an agrarian reform that was intensified in 1985 1986, but was not accompanied by substantial changes in agrarian and economic policy logic.

This third perspective, based on patient research developed in small regions of the country in the 1980s, using primary sources on the ground, seeks to overcome the Leninist stereotypes of social classes and covers the technical and economic aspects of rural reality in more detail. These studies looked at historical social differentiation processes among peasants and proposed new categories to describe these sectors. The studies carefully analyzed the specific forms of the peasant economy's insertion into the market in the Pacific and central parts of the country, and untangled the agrarian dynamics of the agricultural frontier.

A Viable Option

These pages are a literary sum up of the prologue of a book Nitlapán UCA is publishing about peasant farmers. The book systematically develops the peasant perspective as a viable development option for Nicaraguan agriculture.

The regionalization and typology of producers we have discovered offers a framework of national analysis to all those who develop and evaluate macroeconomic, sectorial and agrarian policies. It will also help those responsible for preparing and implementing local or regional development programs, whether state or NGOs, and those who need to know more about the agro socioeconomic framework and the actors whose development they propose to promote.

What has been learned from this perspective is not yet enough to justify a turnaround in national agrarian policy. And it is obvious that the implementation of new policies can only be achieved with support from social movements. But what we know today and what we are discovering can make an important contribution to the debate and to the formation of a new generation of professionals who are experimenting with the alternative local development programs and human capital formation that can make the expansion of these programs viable.

Both new agrarian policies and new local development programs must include counterparts capable of positive responses. Because of their social influence, economic potential and leadership among poor peasants, peasant farmers stand out as positive alternatives.

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