The farmworkers-run maize bank

One of the first, most entrenched forms of exploitation which the small farmers decided to tackle was the land-owners' usurious system for loaning maize. By the start of the planting season (the summer monsoons) poor families had often exhausted their stores of maize and were forced to borrow some from their wealthy neighbors. At harvest time, six months later, the poor farmers were required to repay three sacks of maize for every one borrowed. After payment, many families had almost no grain left. If they were unable to repay the debt, their creditors would seize their possessions, often pushing poor families into complete destitution. Many were forced to give up farming and migrate to urban slums in search of work. (This sort of exodus from the rural areas by land-deprived peasants has caused a whole new dimension of urban health problems which further jeopardize child well-being and survival, see Questioning the Solution: The Politics of Primary Health Care and Child Survival, page 77.)

To combat this exploitative loan system, the Piaxtla team helped the poor farmers set up a cooperative maize bank. This bank charged much lower interest than the rich farmers, and the interest collected was used to increase the bank's lending capacity. This community-controlled loan program eventually spread to five villages. It helped to improve the economic position of the poorer families, and with it their nutrition and health. It also fostered greater cooperation and accountability among the small farmers, helping them to develop organizational, management, and even accounting skills. Most importantly, people began to gain confidence in their ability to improve their own situations. In the course of establishing the cooperative maize banks, the subsistence farmers were learning to fight for their rights. Within a few years, in Ajoya and the surrounding communities, the poor farmers' organization became so large and strong that it began to break the control that the few wealthy families had over the community council.

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