Saturday morning, 6:00 am. The sun is beginning to rise over the Reconcavo, and the landscape is plunged into an intense, lush green light. The four farmers and neighbours Fernando Alvez, Luiz Ribeiro, Eduardo da Cruz and Evaldo Gonzago have been working for around two hours, and have already loaded the 40 year old Ford-pick-up, borrowed from Eduardos brother-in-law. The donkeys and mules blink in the rising sun. Today, they have half a day free, before they are used for an improvised horse race by the farmers adolescent sons. The men quickly drink a black, strongly sweetened coffee, and carefully make their way across the stony, muddy way to the town of Maragojipe, 30km away. Today it is market day, and it is advantageous if one is on time, as business is usually best before the weekend. Various types of fruit and vegetables, rice and beans cannot be missing in any almoco caseiro, the traditional family Sunday Lunch.
The creaking, over-packed vehicle has reached the market hall by 7am. Evaldo, the oldest out of the 4, has already helped in the construction of this building in 1959, and has sold his products there ever since. The place is teeming with vendors of various kinds of food, cheap, colourful clothes, household items and religious articles, which clearly mirror the African history of the region. Reconcavo is the home of the former tobacco barons, Mr Dannemann & Co, who earned their fortune here- almost all inhabitants have slave-blood running through their veins.
The sweating men unload yams, corncobs and sacks filled with bean flour, all of which is used in the traditional Bahian fast food, the Acaraje; boiled in palm oil, and in the form and size of a Berliner meatball. Through bean flour, the lives of the four farmers have markedly improved. For 3 weeks now, they have been the proud owners of a small, used tractor and a bean grinder, which is powered by a belt and pulley. Through this, they can plow their hilly plots of land, whilst at the same time produce bean flour, which is made with industrial quality, and is indeed preferred by buyers due to its freshness. As a result, they no longer need to take the beans to the middle man, and even the mules have a bit more rest.
None of the four would have been able to afford the investment of around 10,000 EUR alone, or obtain the corresponding credit. The men cultivate with their family plots of 4-8 hectares, and the savings are scarce with the creditworthiness of each individual being exhausted in the instalments of small consumer loans for buying a refrigerator or mopeds. The local credit cooperative Sicoob Cocresul, in Maragojipe, showed a way out through a new project, initiated by a DGRV advisor. The men formed a Solidarity group and bought the machines together through a group credit. Despite group credit being nothing special, and is indeed offered by other banks, it has until now often failed due to the condition that the borrower and every guarantors involved had to be equally credit-worthy for the full amount, which in this case was illusory. Through innovative product design, a remedy could be provided. The four men founded a small business, a type of micro cooperative, for which they are jointly liable. Through the partial mechanization of their production, the amount of daily work sank from 14 hours to 10 hours, and the income available rose on average by 35%. Thus, the credit is relatively easy to operate.
By 5:00 pm, the men have sold their produce- Evaldo has even deposited the days income to the branch office of the credit cooperative, and paid the instalment of the month. For the first time in a while, it was a good day.