Keeping people in the countryside through the acquisition of technological knowledge and the creation of new jobs is one of the objectives of the Education and Agriculture program developed by the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Monteils, in Vallejuelo, Dominican Republic, with the support of the Kellogg Foundation. This is part of an effort to build a comprehensive cluster of projects in the region that has been ongoing since 2002. Back in that year, the Foundation funded a program of the Azúa, San Juan and Elías Piña Development Foundation (FUNDASEP) that had been implemented by the Dominican Sisters for the purpose of saving local children from working in the fields – notably on onion farms – and permitting their full educational development. The children’s job was to water the fields by hand, since the dry local climate and low rainfall do not favor farming.
The Brazilian-born nuns have been working in the country for 11 years. The development of a local irrigation technology has now replaced child labor, enabling the youngsters to return to school. The sisters play a leading role in this initiative, forging an alliance between farmers, the community and public authorities.
Comprehensive clusters of projects are designed to promote regional development through alliances between youth, the community and public authorities with the intention of breaking the cycle of reproducing poverty.
The capacity the nuns demonstrated to coordinate projects and achieve results with the FUNDASEP program was key in the Kellogg Foundation’s decision to support the new initiative of the Sisters.
The municipality of Vallejuelo, located near the border with Haiti, is one of the poorest in the Dominican Republic. Nearly 90% of the population is made up of farming families. The lack of work opportunities has prompted the number of residents to fall each year. In 1992, the municipality was home to 40,000 people; today there are just 21,000. Half of them live in town, although they work in the surrounding countryside. Many who have left the region are now illegal immigrants in the United States.
The Education and Agriculture program aims to help slow down the exodus of the rural population by implementing education and sustainable agriculture initiatives capable of offering survival and development alternatives for the region’s farmers.
The onion, abundant in Vallejuelo, is the municipality’s main cash crop. However, primitive planting and harvesting techniques are used to farm the vegetable that are incapable of combating crop disease and guaranteeing quality. The result: lost crops and low competitiveness on the market, exacerbated by the dry land that often stunts the development of the onions.
An agreement between the Kellogg Foundation and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will now enable 2,500 farmers to receive agricultural training in cultivation, storage, marketing, financial administration, reforestation and management of water resources.
The Vallejuelo Comprehensive Clusters Leading Alliance is formed by the Sisters, youth organizations, farmers associations and the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Agriculture.