What Rural People Are Saying

About Rural Community Development


In keeping with the theme of this year's Studies on Belize Conference - "Ten Years of Independence In Times Of Crisis" - this paper addresses a crisis in rural community development in Belize. The crisis is twofold - excessive reliance on external funding for co-operatives and work groups and a corresponding de-emphasis on local culture. The scope of the paper covers three areas - the state of rural community development, its need for serious reflection and publication, and the need to interject people's perspective into the reflection.

Very briefly the crisis in the state of rural community development in Belize is that the term "community" has not been adequately integrated into rural development. The first attempt to involve rural people in modern day development came through the aided self-help scheme in the mid 1950's, when the government supplied finance and technical expertise and the people labour for village projects. The second wave directed at helping rural dwellers to help themselves came through the establishment of cooperatives and credit unions throughout the country also starting in the 1950's.

Just as the government initiated and promoted these two efforts, it was also mainly responsible for their failure. The politicization of the village council system through sectarian party lines generated a heightened factionalism that effectively annihilated public enthusiasm for communal labour (Moberg ms.). The government's centralized marketing system - particularly after 1980 (Moberg 1991:16-25) - perpetuated a bias toward providing cheap food for the consumer, which limited profits and eventually interest among villagers to produce surplus staple food items either individually or through co-operatives.

Despite the political and economic dismemberment of the village community, after 1970 the rural population increased likewise its integration into the state framework. Large scale government infrastructure programmes in roads and public utilities and the steady encroachment of agro industry have made villages an extension of towns especially in the northern districts and the vicinity of Belize City. Only in the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts are there still major social and cultural distinction between the town and village. These villages also remain the least developed in the whole country.

In response to the decreasing opportunities for self generated income earning villagers in the Stann Creek and other districts renewed their efforts to form work groups and co-operatives during the 1980 decade engaging in agriculture, fishing, and tourism services. Unlike those of the 1950's and 1960's these co-operatives and work groups have received relatively large amounts of financial assistance mostly from external funding agencies. However, the thrust on the economic welfare of the villagers contrasted sharply with the minimal regard shown by government and funding agencies toward their local culture. This paper examines this new phase of intrusion into the village community from the perspective of its contribution to rural community development.

These momentous developments demand a great deal of reflection and published documentation among thinkers and practitioners of rural community development in Belize. The fact that this paper will be published in the 1991 Studies on Belize Conference proceedings is one contribution toward disseminating information. The data is extracted from two reports that probably would have remained in our files available only to a few persons. The reports are part of our research and promotion efforts in rural community development at the University of the West Indies School of Continuing Studies (Belize) with the bountiful assistance of the Caribbean Network for Integrated Rural Development (CNIRD) and the Consejo Superior de Universidades de Centro America (CSUCA) (footnote 1).

The reflection should incorporate the perspective of the people involved. The main research method used in both studies was field interviews to reveal outlook on economic development and awareness of culture and its retrieval. Officers and other member of co-operatives and work groups were targeted in the CNIRD study while for the CSUCA there was a cross-section of pre-selected community members. Besides, researchers held informal talks about the subject matter with several others. The information collected, therefore, reflects the views of more than a cross-section of village residents.

Both studies take place in the Stann Creek District where the crisis of the rural community has probably become more polarized than in any other around the issues of land, labour, and the welfare of rural residents. Medina's paper in this year's conference discusses the problems of labour migration and trade unions in the same district. The conflict over land ownership has already resulted in direct confrontation between a large export grower and the residents of one village Silk Grass (People's Pulse September 8, 1991). Agro-industry continues to expand in banana, citrus, and other crops. An added attraction is the opening of a new deep water port in Mango Creek earlier in 1991. There is a pronounced transformation of the population due to the importation of large number of manual labourers from the neighboring countries, who do not return but remain behind as rural dwellers (Medina SOB 1991). While underling the situation in one part of the country, this study adumbrates what probably is taking place in the other districts.


For both studies field interviews were held in four villages - Sarawee, Hopkins, Sittee River, and Maya Mopan. Georgetown and San Roman were not visited but secondary information was obtained about them from the SPEAR library in Belize City. Interviews were also held with the leader of a farming homestead located in the outskirts of Dangriga. It is not a village community yet it provides a useful contrast particularly in the concentration on one type of economic activity and the attitude of the respondent on funding. Information about the population count in three censuses and predominant ethnicity is in Table 1 (See page 20). Except for Sarawee which is four miles from Dangriga on the Valley road, all the villages are located short distance from the Southern Highway. The population of each village is small relative to that in other countries but generally they are comparable to others in Belize. Hopkins is the largest with almost 900 inhabitants.

The dynamic population shift taking place within the rural Stann Creek District during the past 30 years is reflected in the sample. Out of the six, three villages - Sarawee, San Roman, and Maya Mopan - are fairly new being settlements of less than 50, if any, in 1970 and 1980 (footnote 2). Not reflected in the census figures is the fact that there has been a steady and permanent outflow of persons, usually those of working age - from Hopkins, Sittee, and Georgetown - resulting in a high dependency ratio among the remaining residents. There is also a slight inflow of return migrants to these same villages from parts of Belize and United States.

Although the villages are found within a radius of only twenty miles, they are stratified by ethnicity. San Roman and Maya Mopan are Mopan. Georgetown and Hopkins are Garifuna. Sittee is creole; Sarawee is heterogenous consisting mostly of Central American immigrants, Creole, East Indians, and Garifuna.

Diversity in economic livelihood is the prevailing theme in all communities. Within the household adults undertake different occupations so also can the same individual within the period of a few weeks. Besides, if they are pursuing one occupation such as agriculture, they may have a few main crops and several others. Sarawee, Sittee River, Hopkins and Georgetown depict the extreme diversity in cash earning activities. They include cash remittances, artisanal trades, sale of surplus subsistence crops and fish, cash cropping of citrus and part time labour at agro industries. At the other extreme of least diversity there are the residents of Maya Mopan and San Roman, who produce most of their staples of corn, beans, and root crops on swidden fields. More recently several are doing intensive cash cropping of citrus and cocoa. Only the Sabal family relies exclusively on one crop, cassava, which they produce for their own use and home based commercial processing.

The fact that citrus cash cropping is found in all the villages underscores the importance of the citrus agro industry in rural Stann Creek District. At the state level it is the crop bringing the second largest foreign exchange next only to sugarcane. The privileged status that the government has extended to the citrus agro-industry is seen in the following concessions. It regulates by law the relationship between the growers and factory owners; it provides tax incentives for expansion; participates in international negotiations for market prices; ensures steady supplies of immigrant labourers from neighbouring countries; and builds feeder roads to reach the more distant farms.

The government's promotion of large scale citrus production for export is as significant as its scant attention to small scale staple production. Moberg (1990:16-25) has described disincentives that government marketing policy put in train during the early 1980's discouraging small farmers from growing food stapes. Their response has been to take up export cash cropping and to form work groups/co-operatives using financial assistance from foreign agencies and local NGO's. The efforts of these groups form a substantial part of the data in this study.

The political structure makes it impossible for villages in the Stann Creek District and in other parts of the country to influence state policy in their favour. The villagers are not incorporated communities with authorized leaders who could lobby on behalf of their constituents. Their only recourse is to their elected members of the National Assembly. However representatives maintain allegiance first to their party. Even if they were to cross party lines, the number of exclusively rural constituencies maintain allegiance first to their party. Even if they were to cross party lines, the number of exclusively rural constituencies (9) out of the total number (28) for the House places them as a distinct minority relative to their urban counterparts.

The village councils are dysfunctional as fora to deal democratically with the local economy among other issues. Instead they serve to mobilize residents along partisan (i.e. state level political parties) lines at election times (see Moberg ms). The level of economic activity itself has not warranted the state to set up statutorily empowered local organizations in the Stann Creek District as in the case of the Can Farmers Association in the Corozal and Orange Walk which the villagers are sufficiently productive to have their own statutory organizations and become more unproductive for the lack of such groups which can generate solidarity among several villages.

The profile of village life in the rural Stann Creek District is as follows. The residents are not big farmers and the possibilities of becoming so are less now than ever before. On the other hand they do not have a political structure around which to mobilize. They are set in enclaves maintaining primary contacts with employers, religious ministers, fruit buyers, politicians, merchants, and other outsiders who are at a higher social rank. From one village to another there are only a few informal social contacts. Their exclusivity from each other and from town residents is reinforced by their ethnicity, which for the Maya and Garifuna, is a stigma in the asymmetric ethnic relations of the Stann Creek District. The villages do not have any electricity and centralized water supply, public amenities that are common place in other parts of rural Belize. They are poor and disjointed village communities.

The cumulative effect of these conditions has become totally unacceptable to hundreds who have relocated permanently leaving entire villages in the Stann Creek District depopulated within the past thirty years. The incoming Mopan and Central American immigrants see relatively more advantages there than from where they are coming. But objectively village live as we have seen has its own pressures with which the new arrivals have to contend.

Why then are people living in these villages? One reason is the convenience of distance. The villages are close enough to main sources of wage labour in the town and agro industries but far enough to avoid the financial and social constraints of town life. Secondly, the communities enable the carrying out of obligations most of which are culturally determined. Examples include caring for the young, the chronically ill, and the aged; performing ancestral rites; and participating in village celebrations. There are indications of the primacy of traditional culture as a main variable in rural communities. Thirdly - and this is most important - village economy provides several avenues to those who are willing to attempt them. The result may not be upward mobility; rather one can provide for the food and other basic needs of one's family. One villager puts it this way, "you could do your 'hustle' from a little bit of this and a little bit of that".

The wide assortment of economic activities is actually a matrix of options within which the villager can speculate. Correspondingly the varied skills that they have acquired from work stints abroad as well as at home make them ideal subjects to speculate. The increasing encroachment into the village and its immediate surroundings within recent decades means that there are more chances for "pickings". Further below we will see that villagers perceive of the externally funded co-operatives that have mushroomed since 1980 as another intervention that widens their selection of options for economic and social gain.

Economic Development

The first set of data comes from a report (M. Palacio 1991) (footnote 3) commissioned as a critical review on rural community development in Belize during the 1980's. The field-work was done during February and March 1991. The high quality of transcribed interviews and field reports, done by Egbert Higinio, predicated a need for the type of detail analysis done in this paper. Besides, the material, which is on economic activities, complements that in the next part of this paper, which is on cultural awareness and retrieval. Together the two studies broaden the scope of analysis on rural community development within the same district.

Respondents who were leaders of co-operatives and small work groups answered questions about the nature of their projects, membership, funding, achievements, and problems. Because of CNIRD imposed funding limitations villages were selected based on their proximity to parts of the Stann Creek Valley Road and Southern Highway.

Officers and members from the following groups were interviewed - Sarawee Farmers Co-operative, Sarawee Women of the Soil, Hopkins Farmers Co-operative, Hopkins Fishing Co-operative, Sandy Beach Co-operative and Sabal's Cassava Enterprise. The respondents seemed genuinely willing to answer questions. They regarded the discussion as an opportunity to inform the outsider about their own involvement in development. To them economic development is something about which they had heard from other parts of the country; they had been finally fortunate enough to sample it - thanks to the onset of circumstances, chief of which were forming a co-operative and receiving funding. They were especially keen to single out who/what had been the cause of their success/failure - whether it be the good fortune of having a project proposal funded, bickering among themselves, or the difficulties of marketing crop, etc. Finally they saw the experience of their group as reflective of their entire community. As one respondent said, "We did it to try to uplift our village, which has gone through so many hardships".

Information through interviews and archival sources was collected for a total of ten groups listed in Table 2 (See page 21). They fall into three categories. One consists of closely related kin under the leadership of a matriarch; it is the Sabal (family surname) Cassava Enterprise. A second category is a loose grouping of individuals that is not officially registered and may or may not proceed to become a co-operative. Examples are the Sarawee Women of the Soil and the Maya Mopan Pre-Co-operative. The rest are made up of registered co-operatives which are legally recognized entities empowered to enter into business transactions under the supervision of the Registrar (i.e. the Head of the Department of Co operative). The Registrar formally recognizes a group when he feels they are adequately trained by his staff in the aims, objectives, and methods of co-operativism.

Six communities are home to the ten groups listed in Table 2. Hopkins has the most three, Sarawee and Georgetown have two each. The plurality in such small communities results from the specialization of co-operatives in a given list of activities and the legal provision that one cannot be a member of two co-operatives. Household members do belong to different co-operatives thereby taking advantage of complimentary opportunities for their collective benefit. The same goes for kinfolk in extended family groups.

For members to take advantage of the range of services that the co-operative can offer it has to be operational; and this brings up the issue of funding. Without funding none of the groups, with the exception of Sabal Cassava Enterprises, would be active. To a large extent receiving funds gives the group legitimacy. Just as becoming registered sanctions the group as a legal entity so does receiving funding enable the group to pass formally from a conceptual to an operational stage. So transfixed is this rite of passage to the public that the respondent for Sabal Cassava Enterprises, who are fairly successful although they have not received funding, complained that they have been overlooked by agencies. One member of another group echoed this sentiment arguing that Sabal Cassava Enterprises have not sufficiently proven themselves to be able to receive funding.

The mechanism to generate funding is the project proposal. Group receive assistance in its drafting and formal presentation rarely from their members but from Co operative Department staff and personnel of sympathetic NGOs.

Funding is extended as grant and loan from agencies outside the country and within. Larger amounts come as grants and from outside agencies. Examples include the Canadian Union of Co-operatives (CUC) giving $125,000 Cdn. to the Hopkins Fishing Co-operative, $45,000 (not known whether Belizean or Canadian) to the Hopkins Farmers Co-operative, and $14,000 Cdn to the Georgetown Farmers Co-operative. The Inter- American Foundation gave $9,000 US to Hopkins Farmers Cooperative. Other sources include the Dutch Embassy in Costa Rica, Caribbean Conference of Churches, and the Christian Women's Association of the USA. The Belize Government gave a grant of $12,500 to the Hopkins Fishermen's Co-operative in 1991.

Local agencies more often extend loans on lenient interest rates. BEST, Help for Progress, BRWA - NGOs based in Belmopan - give loans in small amounts along with other forms of assistance. The National Development Foundation and Barclays Bank gave loans to Hopkins Fishing Co operatives. The Belize Council for Development Co operation, an arm of the Belize Conference of Churches, gave a loan of $10,000 to the Sarawee Farmers Co operative.

Some items and activities on which funds are used are shown in Table 2. The large amounts are earmarked for capital projects. The Hopkins Fishing Co-operative used its CUC Grant to erect its building and purchase the equipment - generator, ice maker, etc. - needed to start production. In order cases the money goes toward meeting operational cost. From its IAF grant the Hopkins Farmers Co-operative allocated between $800 and $900 to each member to go toward land clearing, plowing, furrowing, handpumps, and chemicals. The Sarawee Women of the Soil were able to purchase a stove and refrigerator to make their preserves.

Funds are not the only assistance available. Local NGOs in particular link their funding with a wide range of technical assistance that include training workshops, study tours, on site inspection and advise. Co-operatives extend their buying services to others that are in need. For example the Northern Fishermen's Co-operative has brought produce from the Hopkins Fishing Co-operative during its lean period. Besides, co-operatives in the same or neighboring villages will invite members from others to their training sessions. Finally, the government does training, inspection tours, and audit of accounts.

The readiness to use the fairly comprehensive amount of assistance available has to been seen within the equally impressive disposition of members to regard it as a complete learning experience. Respondents often remarked that they had received several opportunities to widen their horizons which they found very stimulating and vindicated their opinion as to what development is. It may be learning the sewing of quilts that one member of the Sarawee Women of the Soil undertook during a few days at Scotland Halfmoon in the Belize District through the courtesy of BRWA. It may be mastering the new cultigens along with the appropriate technology as in the case of farmers of Maya Mopan and San Roman taking up cocoa production. It may be becoming exposed to the accounting procedures and management of the operations in their new co-operatives or it may be the need to stand up assertively to the "intrusions" of Co-operative Department Personnel. Together all of these are part of the wide socio-psychological benefits that accrue to villagers who would not have received the opportunities otherwise. The question of the highly positive response to benefits derived from learning as against the ambivalence to cash disbursement and its possible inappropriate use will be a topic for further discussion.

Having mastered a technology, to which many were becoming exposed for the first time, they felt sufficiently competent to experiment from one activity to another. Although almost all started during the 1980 decade, by 1991 they had tried more than one type of economic activity. The Sarawee Farmers' Co-operative had earlier done pepper cash cropping; but on learning that their soil was more appropriate for pineapple they were planning to try it in 1991. The Sandy Beach Women's Co-operative in 1981 started doing preserves and arts and crafts but in 1985 moved on to the increasingly lucrative tourism sector operating their rooms and meals facility. The Hopkins Farmers' Co-operatives started in 1982 growing peanuts and table vegetables; on realizing that there were problems with marketing and insects, they are now concentrating on citrus production. Generally, the pattern is to shift toward an activity that provides the most reward for their labour. It is not surprising, therefore, that all the farmers co-operatives are turning to export cash crops of citrus and cocoa.

We can now attempt a reconstruction of the groups' operational cycle by distilling data gathered from several of them. At first a group of men or women gravitate toward a local leader who is knowledgeable about opportunities available in the outside world. After a few weeks the group "becomes involved" in a project proposal. Usually it is passive participation from the members while input comes from someone outside of the community with experience in formalizing project proposals.

Simultaneously they will approach the Co-operative Department about becoming registered. They receive funding usually after registration as funding agencies prefer to deal with registered organizations. Besides the status of being registered is an indication that they have received some training in institutional organization. However, the source, amounts, and budget line items are overwhelming relative to the group's needs, experience, and the ability to absorb.

After the funds arrive and tasks are outlined there may appear cracks within the group organization associated with the division of responsibilities. Should the conflict worsen they may request arbitration efforts from Department of Co-operatives staff and personnel of assisting NGOs. The attempts to solve the conflict can overwhelm the technical aspects of production which may as a result be delayed. On the other hand, the group may be able to recoup and proceed with the tasks as they had been outlined.

The experience of almost all the groups show that their first attempt at production - not to mention their organizational obstacles - usually is not successful because of technical problems in agronomy, processing, the quality of finished product (e.g. preserves, handicrafts, etc.), and marketing. Invariably the result is a complete stop in production as the funding comes to an end. After a hiatus of several months, the group is determined to attempt another type of product.

There is another sequence of preparing project proposals, awaiting and repeating the previous set of procedures. The irony is that they may receive even more funds than beforehand, which actually occurred in the case of three groups in the sample.

Cultural Awareness and Retrieval

The second study comes from a larger research effort that CSUCA (footnote 4) has mounted since 1983 in Belize and the Atlantic Coast Regions of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The segment within which the study falls is on multiculturalism and education policy, two themes that pinpoint current reality throughout the Atlantic Coast of Central America - ethnic heterogeneity and haphazard government intervention in matters of social policy. An aim of the research programme is to show the extent to which government education policy and practices take into consideration the multi-ethnicity of its citizens resident in the coastal regions.

A previous phase of the CSUCA study had discussed the overlaps between government policy and multiculturalism at the global level for Belize. This second phase focused at the local level of three distinct ethnic rural communities in the Stann Creek District - Sittee River, Hopkins, and Maya Mopan. The specific objectives were to elicit from respondents their views on what aspects of their culture to retrieve and who should activate the procedure using what methods.

Joey Belisle of UCB, Crucita Ken of SPEAR, and Egbert Higinio of the UWI, School of Continuing Studies did the field interviews in late 1990 and early 1991. CSUCA had already drafted the interview schedules and pre-selected four categories of respondents - student, teacher, community leader, and young parent. Besides, the interviewers spoke at random with several persons in each village.

In its experimental bias the questionnaire leads the respondent through his most preferred activity, that of other community members, the materials used, and ultimately what aspects of the village culture he would want to be maintained. The information drawn from at least four persons representing each community is a cross section of opinions, many of which are identical not only within each village but also from one to another. The consensus, therefore, is that even when one initiates analysis from the practices of several individuals there is a convergence of common values about what cultural traits need to be preserved within the wide heritage of rural peoples in the Stann Creek District.

Generally the respondents were quite open about their views. The exception was the student from Sittee River who hardly answered any of the questions in contrast to two older respondents from the same community who more than willingly expressed their opinions. A similar hesitance of younger candidates from other villages indicates that the topic is better dealt with as one matures in age. We can further conclude that cultural retrieval is not a topic about which young people are easily conversant; rather they become more fully aware of it as their experiences broaden.

The willingness of most respondents to actively engage in cultural conversation was not in doubt. The subject matter they identified is in Table 3 (see page 22). The areas include language especially literacy, fluency in oral communication, and folklore; household skills in craftwork and food preserves; artisanal skills as in dory making and musical instruments; and popular dancing at festivals.

There are factors in each community that could be conductive toward retrieval. They include previous exercises in which the villagers participated, such as the UWI School of Continuing Studies Cultural Retrieval projects held in Hopkins in 1987 and 1989. Other factors that the respondents mentioned were the abundance of fruits in Sittee River, availability of trees for dory making, and the increasing frequency in the return by younger persons to the village during festivities.

The questions about what active agents and methods should be involved in retrieval are actually technical issues but the villagers gave their opinion. They identified knowledgeable persons for embroidery and marimba playing in Maya Mopan, while those in Hopkins mentioned trained teachers who speak Garifuna and are already working in the primary schools. However, knowing the subject matter and formal pedagogy by themselves do not qualify one to lead the process of retrieval. Similarly, use of the school curriculum as a method which the respondents identified certainly could not be a solution. As expected, the villagers demonstrated that at best they were thinking not only about what should be done but also how it could be done.

A review of respondents' comments both during the informal interview and afterwards shows that they were aware of two main constraints that would discourage any attempt at retrieval. One was the disincentive of the market. The respondents at Maya Mopan related their experience of not being able to sell their craftwork in the village and the irregular pickups by their wholesale buyer. This leads to the other disincentive, the difficulty to retain heightened personal commitment beyond the initial enthusiasm, especially when retrieval is diverting attention from other gainful activities. Until there is revenue to receive consistently the villagers of Maya Mopan would not be encouraged to produce their craftwork in large quantities.

With respect to skills that are not revenue earning such as language, playing the marimba, and dancing what kind of incentive should there be? This question was not discussed in detail in the field. Judging from the more heightened interest of the older folk they would have to consciously instill among their youth a pride in their culture which would be a reward in itself. This, of course, becomes easier when other traits of the same culture are also being reinforced and transmitted since culture is an inherently integrated amalgam.

The interviews reveal impressions on the nature of the retrieval process as well as its role within community development. Firstly, every community had material for retrieval. The Garifuna and Mopan mention traits that are specific to their own ethnic culture. The Creole in Sittee River identified aspects of their collective community history. Some were parts of festivities, such as plaiting maypole while dancing to maracas, accordion, banjo and other musical instruments. Others were beverages such as sorrel wine, and food items such as marmalade and coconut oil. Finally, others were essential to transportation, such as dories.

Secondly, there is a selectivity in what should be retrieved. Gender is a primary criterion around which selection is made. In Maya Mopan women are expected to remain at home and not participate in outdoor group activities. It is more appropriate for them to do embroidery while the men play the marimba or search for materials in the bush to do their craft. The main criterion, however, which cross gender lines is a feeling of impending loss of something highly cherished but which one may no longer be able to transmit to one's younger generation. This was the prevailing feeling the respondents expressed.

It is instructive that the respondents did not include co operatives and outside funding as aids necessary to initiate the retrieval process. Instead they pointed out resources found around them, such as trees, plants, teachers, and the school curriculum. It contrasts dramatically with the procedure people from the same villages put in train for their economic projects, as we have already seen. There are some possible reasons. One is that they have not thoroughly conceived of it as income generating; or that foreign aid agencies and local NGOs have not "sold" it to them as such. Whatever the reasons, it is ironic that rural peoples have not linked retrieval with outside assistance, since the prerequisite technology is so much within their own grasp.

Villagers and Rural Community Development

The literature on community development in the rural and urban areas is predominantly prescriptive in its bias. The main topics are what to do, how, within what time frame, and what target group to work with. It is no doubt a fallout from the development school where rural communities - if they enter the equation any at all - are perceived merely as minuscule cogs in a world system sharply divided into the rich and poor. The tenor of the argument is that if the poor do not have any control over the forces suppressing them, they also can do very little to uplift themselves.

The atmosphere of doom in the development school resonates in the more recent argument that the critics of structural adjustment have made in assailing its devastating impact on the rural poor. For the poor to extricate themselves from the bind in which the IMF via their state government has placed them, Deere et al. (1990) and others have called for people-centered development where groups and communities are seen as the initiators and ultimate subjects of development working in close collaboration with NGOs. But does this bring about development; and if so how?

On the basis of our data we can begin to analyze how people in the sample communities have reacted to development. The subject matter in the two studies touches on two parameters of community development - economic growth and growth in cultural awareness. The following discussion does not imply casting a judgement as to which parameter is better. The contrast I make between one and the other is designed to profile the varying perspectives incorporated in the data.

Villagers regard economic growth as something dictated from the outside world and facilitated through three set criteria-achieving corporate status as a registered co operative, receiving funding, and engaging in producing goods and services for the outside market. They also feel that the configuration of factors in development is so complex that their role as rural dwellers is bound to be minimal. As a result failure is more prone to take place then success. The response to failure is firstly to redouble efforts to see what needs to be done locally. Secondly, the group intensifies communication with the same or other sources of assistance in the outside world; and in so doing plead their relative inability to face the overwhelming odds necessary for development.

Because there is so much reliance on the outside world for economic development, there is ample scope for discordance between the recipient groups and the sources of assistance. It becomes evident in the case of two main sources - the government and funding agencies. On becoming registered a co-operative joins others in being subject to statutory controls under the supervision of the Registrar. The co-operative, however, may not be aware of the extent of the controls and may run afoul of the Registrar, a situation in which all the co-operatives in our sample have found themselves at least once.

Perhaps the most fundamental divergence of perspective on economic development takes place between the local co operative and the foreign funding agencies. To the funding agency a donation should become investment toward productivity. To the co-operative members growth takes place not only through production but also through overall experiential upliftment. Ideally the co-operative should function and grow as an economic unit. But when this is not so the members can pinpoint advantages that they have achieved. To them it was not all a lost experience.

On the other hand, cultural awareness takes place almost completely within the community (footnote 5). Identifying what should be conserved triggers an assessment of community values that are so deeply rooted that persons from the two communities were able to pinpoint the same traits. The indigenous character was again reiterated in response to questions about the agents and methods of retrieval. Respondents did not include co-operatives and funding agencies as likely agents; rather they mentioned the local teacher and school curriculum. Outsiders could assist by buying surplus items as income generation for community members.

If development is to be subject-centered (i.e. based on the needs of the grassroots) then it should incorporate more attributes from the cultural awareness parameter of our brief survey. Or, in other words the meaning and spirit behind the term "community" should be pivotal in any effort directed toward rural community development.

In keeping with the dialogue on people-centered development have the groups in our study brought about their own development? If one is talking about economic growth, the answer would be no. None of the groups have been able to operate without financial assistance for a period of more than two years.

If by development one is talking about enhancing the social identity of the groups and its members, the answer would not be as negative. In several ways there has been a transition for the group - from being a set of individuals to becoming working groups, from being uninformed about cultigens and other factors not native to their community to becoming conversant with new technologies, from being isolated villagers ignorant about matters of state to become negotiators with key decision-makers in government and banking. During the process consciousness of their relative power viz a viz outsiders has increased. This attribute is so basic to the socio-culture of rural dwellers that it could be easily overlooked in carrying out project evaluation.

Couldn't all this have taken place without the group economic activities? Probably so. However, we cannot over emphasize the cumulative impact that the intensive interchange in the above activities can have over a period of time. Furthermore, their small numbers dictate that at any moment almost everyone is involved in all the group activities.

If the success in the economic parameter has been so negligible, shouldn't the focus be transferred to the cultural parameter? Both are not mutually exclusive. The enhancement in social identity forthcoming from the experience of being co-operative members becomes complimented by the enhancement in cultural identity from retrieval. The difficulty is that there has been greater emphasis by funding agencies - the main source of development assistance in the Stann Creek District and many other parts of the Third World - to circumscribe their role to providing funds. There has been a de emphasis of the social component of economic development. There is even less on the underlying culture of the target group.


In the historical trajectory of rural development in Belize during the past thirty years the community has withdrawn even further away from center stage. In the 1950's it was co-opted into the aided self-help scheme. In the 1980's it has become the passive recipient of foreign assistance. This later stage may at first seem attractive but it has a damaging effect. I elaborate briefly on two constraints on rural community development which have been mentioned only briefly, its apolitical disposition and the need to address the inevitable budgetary cutbacks in funding agencies.

When decisions about the development of villages in Belize are almost single-handedly made in cities in Canada, the United States, and other metropolitan centers, the villagers are not the long term winners. Such actions remove community groups from the framework of internal relations within their polity which is the primary setting for the polemic on the rights and obligation of poor rural dwellers. It is remarkable how little mass mobilization there was among co-operative members in the Stann Creek District to agitate for their benefits even when their grants provided them with resources that they could use as leverage. The topics of discussion in their meetings were about internal affairs and less of how to use their corporate strength to exact benefits - economic or otherwise - for their community.

What will be the impact on co-operatives of the inevitable budgetary cutbacks in funding agencies? This is a topic that village groups, NGOs and the government need to discuss and plan since all have been parties to the process of rural community development in Belize. The themes of self-sufficiency, rootedness, cultural awareness - which I have dealt with in this paper will be essential for the re structuring exercise. The field of eco-tourism which has become popular in Belize, seems to have a headstart within the past few years.


1.The Caribbean Network for Integrated Rural Development (CNIRD) is based in Trinidad. It aims to be a hub of information about rural community development throughout the English-speaking Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. It also carries out other promotional activities through meetings and workshops. The Consejo Superior de Universidades de Centro America (CSUCA) is based in San Jose, Costa Rica. It sponsors a wide variety of research and promotional programmes among universities in Central America. Given the dual orientation of Belize toward the English-speaking Caribbean and Central America, we have been very fortunate to be able to participate actively in both organizations.

2.Sittee River is a much older community compared to Sarawee, San Roman, and Maya Mopan. I have been unable to clarify why it has such a small population in 1970.

3.The report entitled "Rural Development in Belize in the Late 1980's - a critical review" attempts to define rural Belize, describes the state of several sectors in rural community development, and suggests pathways for rural development.

4.Since 1983 CSUCA has mounted a research programme on the Atlantic coast of Central America focusing on economic development and multiculturalism.

5.There is a need to remember that almost all villagers have had work experiences away from the village and it affects their entire perspective on village life.

References Cited

DEERE, Carmen Diana et al.

1990 In the Shadow of the Sun - Caribbean development alternatives and the U.S. policy. Colorado: Westview Press.


1991 Marketing Policy and Loss of Food self sufficiency in Rural Belize. Human organization Vol. 50, Nol., pp. 16-25


Ms. Continuity under Colonial Rule: the Alcalde system and the Garifuna in Belize, 1858 - 1969.


1991 Rural Development in Belize in the late 1980's - a critical review. Report submitted to CNIRD.

Table 1

Population Count & Ethnicity In the Studied Communities





Predominant Ethnicity









Central American Immigrants, Creole East Indians, Garifuna






Sittee River





Maya Mopan










San Roman





Table 2

Location and Activity of Work Groups/Co-operatives




Sarawee Farmers Co-op


Pepper cash cropping

Sarawee Women of the Soil


Preserves, sewing handicrafts

Hopkins Farmers Co op


Peanuts, table vegetables and citrus

Hopkins Fishing Co op



Sandy Beach Women's Co-op


Arts and Crafts, preserves and rooms/meals

Sabal Cassava Enterprise

Four miles Valley Road

Cassava growing and processing

Georgetown Women's Co-op


Chicken and pig Co rearing, cassava cultivation and processing

Georgetown Farmers Co-op


Rice cultivation, citrus

San Roman Farmer's Co-op

San Roman

Cocoa cultivation

Maya Mopan Farmers Pre-Co-op

Maya Mopan

Cocoa cultivation

Table 3

Topics for Cultural Retrieval and Readiness to Engage in Cultural Retrieval



Conducive Factors


Language: oral

communication literacy in Garifuna story telling

Experience in UWI SCS cultural retrieval exercises

Maya Mopan

Musical Instrument:


Language: Use of Maya Mopan

Craftwork: embroidery

broom, hammocks, household utensils

Knowledgeable person

Availability of materials

Sittee River

Food preserves: wine

Story-telling: Creole


Artisan work: dory making

Dancing: plaiting maypole with music

Fruit trees

Knowledgeable persons

Young people

What Rural People Are Saying About Rural Community, Paper prepared for the Fifth Annual Studies on Belize Conference September 3-6, 1991 Belize City, Belize, Joseph O. Palacio Resident Tutor, School of Continuing Studies, UWI, Belize