History of the Partnership
OSCA has maintained a relationship with the UNAG since 1992. We have worked specifically with the Women's Sector in the municipality of San Juan Limay in the department of Estelí. OSCA has allotted $2,000 annually to support a micro-credit loan program for women originally started by a Vermont cooperative (since 2002, the Vermont Cooperative has not contributed to the fund). In recent years, OSCA membership has voted to increase the annual donation to $5,000. $3,000 comes from OSCA's annual budget and the remaining $3,000 comes from student donations (of about $4.75 each) from their refund checks. Although the money is allocated in the budget, the donation must still be affirmed yearly by an All-OSCA vote, which also serves to keep the membership informed of the partnership.
In the past, all of this money has gone to a revolving loan fund for women to purchase livestock or other agricultural goods. In 2007 the fund was changed to a completely "open" fund, so that members who meet all standard loan requirements can take out loans for any reason. Some of the money donated by OSCA is also used to keep the Limay office of the union open. Without these funds, the office would be forced to close its doors, leaving the entire municipality without access to credit or union services.
Access to the loan fund is one of the principal motives for small farmers to join the UNAG. The loans are specified for women, but any member from Limay may apply, and some loans are granted to men if the women give their approval. The fund deals solely with micro-loans (from a few hundred to just over a thousand dollars), which is advantageous and more manageable for small producers. Since the loan fund is targeted and supervised by the Women's Sector of UNAG, it is a way that women, who are often excluded from financial matters by banks or their husbands, can gain access to funds. The loans are most commonly used to buy milk cows and chickens, and to buy plots of land. The loans are given in cash, which is most practical for small farmers. To pay back a loan, UNAG members are given three years and charged an annual interest of 12% (this is much lower than that charged by banks, who have been known to charge over 50%). Since this is a revolving loan fund, all the money paid back to the fund is given out again as loans to other members instead of returning to OSCA.
Although the loan fund previously struggled with a low return rate, as of the 2010 delegation, the UNAG sees much hope for the future of the fund. With some careful management of the money already in the fund, the UNAG believes the loan fund will become truly revolving and able sustain itself without new donations within a few years. After this, OSCA's yearly donations can be directed to new projects for the UNAG. The union will begin the process of meeting with the female farmers to discuss their needs and priorities, and soliciting ideas for future projects that OSCA could help fund.
Ligia Briones served for 12 years as President of the UNAG in Estelí. She made the initial connection with Oberlin and has served as the main contact for the Partnership. In January 2010, she was forced by her health to step down from this post. The Vice-president Justo Pastor Mendoza will fill the post of president for the remaining 3 years of the term, after which new elections will be held. Ligia will continue in her role as Secretaría de la Mujer (secretary of women) on a national level, and will continue to serve as the primary contact between OSCA and the UNAG.