Two days with Benoît in micro-credit development

Benoît had done a volunteering of 6 months in 2010 in Formosa with Bernadette Caffier, she was leading the micro-credit project at that time. Two years ago, as Bernadette was retiring, he decided to take over the project and develop the network. The micro-credit network is called « No podemos fracasar »: « We can’t fail », an ambitious name in a country where economy is very fluctuating. 

Understanding micro-credit in one meeting 

This afternoon, it is 6 women of the neighbourhood who are meeting are meeting at Pauline and Benoît house for the second micro-credit meeting of the month. The group is called « Mujeres en marcha »: « Women on their way ». They sit, stick to the wall a poster with their group rules, another one explaining the way of working of the group and finally a huge table with the participants names, the different funds and indemnities. The meeting follow a very precise order: the secretary writes everything on the team notebook, the treasurer opens one after the other the different envelops which constitute the different funds, she counts the banknotes, report the sum on a follow-up sheet as Benoît does does on his own sheet. At the end all the participants sign the book and the follow-up sheet which will be thoroughly kept until the next meetings.

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Group the « Women on their ways »

There are 3 different funds: the solidarity fund, the saving fund and the emergency fund.

-Caja solidaria- Solidarity fund: It is used as a guarantee and covers the members in case one of them can’t reimburse the indemnity at some point. When a person uses this fund, she promises to refund the next month and pay her monthly fee at the same time. This fund requires a participation of 5 to 10 pesos per months.

-Caja de ahorro – Savings bank: It is the equivalent of the internal fund. It works on the principle of a saving account with a difference: the interest rate is decided by the participants (in this group 3%). The interests are distributed between the participants at the end of the year based on their respective contributions. The more they save, the bigger the interest is.

-Caja de emergencia- Emergency fund: This fund works based on the contribution of each members (5 to 10 pesos depending on the groups). It us used in case of emergency such as medicines purchase, gaz or electricity bills…This month 2 persons are using the fund. It reflects the recent increase of energy cost of  +10 % and the bills suddenly more expensive.

And of course the main element of the micro-credit is the credit provided by the network to each participants. It works by steps:  the person borrows a first time the sum of: 1000 pesos. If she reimburse without any issues then she is authorised to borrow the sum of the second step : 1500 pesos and so on. The interest generated by this fund are going to the micro-credit network. It will be re-injected the next year in a new group or new credits. The interest rate of this fund is very high at the moment: 5%, because of the inflation of these last months.

In this group, only one woman uses micro-credit for her main professional activity: she is designer and sew some nice bags, wallets and glasses cases in imitation lather. This month she asked for a loan in order to take part to a training and learn new skills.

Travel inside Formosa province 

It is Thursday afternoon, Benoît borrowed his friend car and he is driving us on a straight road since already 2 hours. The landscape is very flat, covered with fields and punctuated by palm trees and houses. We are progressing inside Formosa province toward the cities of Pozo del Tigre, Ibarreta and Palo Santo in order to meet some other micro-credit groups. Benoît explains me how lucky we are to travel by car, because at the beginning of his project he was doing this regular trip by bus. If it is simple to join each cities from Formosa capital, it is far less easy to travel between each city by bus, so much that he even tried hitchhiking!

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Micro-credit groups inside Formosa province

During the drive, Benoît tells me about a recent realisation of the network: the participation to local handcraft market. He is hoping to be able to increase the activities of the network through this channel and also to make participants realise the good opportunity that represent the network for their main professional activity. Benoît mentions to me the example of a baker in Ibarreta who started by selling her bred on the street and who step by step invested in a place and an oven. She has now a bricks-and-mortar shop. However such examples remains rare and Benoît would like to facilitate more of it. During these 2 days we meet not less than 4 groups. We are always warmly welcomed, there are sometimes conflicts within groups, still until now the participants always refund 100% of their loan.

Promoting and developing agriculture 

In the micro-credit network the majority of the participants have small shops (food, snacks, clothes) and very few participants produce things with their hands. Still there is interesting productions: honey, jam, carob flour. And Benoît tries to connect producers and sellers in order to develop their activities in the province.

It this context we meet Charli, a biology professor passionate about agriculture. He owns a mill which allows the transformation of carob fruits into flour and he works on it since few

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Benoît visiting a mesquite producer

years. In Buenos Aires this flour has lot of success in organic and gluten free distribution networks. Charli explains us that the flour produced in Formosa is clearer and grainier than the one usually found in the shops. Indeed, it exists 2 under species of carob tree: one is European and the other South American and the 2 flours obtained from their fruits are different. The flour made from the European tree is precisely called carob flour, whereas the other one obtained from the South American tree is actually called mesquite. Even the taste of the 2 flours is different: the carob flour has a taste closed to cocoa and is often used as substitute in the food industry. Whereas the taste of the mesquite flour is less pronounced. When Benoît explains that is has contacted a grocery shop in Formosa capital and announces the price the manager would be ready to buy the mesquite flour, Charli answers that he expects a better price for it. He explains that mesquite flour has actually better properties than carob flour: it contains more proteins, included lysine, absent in the carob flour. There is still some work to be done by Benoît in order to develop this agriculture axis in the micro-credit network, however this meeting is promising.

Building a legal context for the mico-credit network in Argentina

The last meeting I attend before leaving Formosa is with the future members of the Argentinean association of micro-credit. Originally the network is supported by French funds. These 2 last years Benoît has raised the money needed to continue and develop the network. However, in the objective of sustaining the network and turning it into a 100% Argentinean network, Benoît started to create an Argentinean association. This way, the network could also benefit from Argentinian funds and most importantly it will have a legal structure in Argentina. Building an association in this country is not easy, to build the case Benoît has been helped by a friend of him who is a lawyer. He has delivered the file to the local authorities few weeks ago and he is waiting for their green light. Benoît ignores how long it will take to obtain it, it doesn’t stop him to start working closely with the future president and secretary of the association.

Since 2 years Benoît has led and grown the micro-credit network of Formosa. He has started important administrative procedures to secure the existence of the network in time and to open new perspectives to small producers. Still, it remains some work for his successor: Clotilde. Benoît selected her for her experience in social work. Moreover he chose to leave the position into a woman’s hands because 90% of the network members are women and during the thirteen first years of the network life they got used to open up to Bernadette. Benoît is hoping that Clotilde will win the trust of these women easily and she will continue to help them with success in their economic development.

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The farm des Roussets

« Be the change you want to see in the world ».

                                                                                                                 Gandhi

I am just back from a week at the Farm des Roussets, closed to St Jean en Royan. It is not a coincidence if I choose this place. It has been few years already that I am following more or less attentively the adventure of Batotopie Collectif in which my brother is involved.  Theses 6 Compagnons of REPAS network -Network for exchange and supportive and alternative practices- have met during their tour de France. They got on well, shared the same dream and the same values so they decided to do it: to form a collectif, to share their incomes, to buy a land and a farm and to produce vegetables, cereals, bread, honey and cultural events.

The Roussets farm the collectif and the functioning

The Farm des Roussets  is composed of 30 acres, 5 acres are dedicated to market gardening and the remaining is for cereals. It is also a mill, a bakery, a future honey house, 2 garages and a big hangar. And there is also the old manure which will be soon transformed into a shop and a venue. Of course there is an house: a single-storey with only a small part of the upper floor  converted into an office area.  The ground floor is constituted of a cold storage, a future vegetable processing area (currently the kitchen), a dinning room with a log stove, a future in kitchen (currently under construction) and a minimum comfort bathroom-laundrette . By consequence, the collectif members don’t have a house at the farm, they dispatched themselves between a yurt or caravan on the land or a flat in the village. The collectif is composed by 2 market gardeners: Annabel and Max, a farmer-baker: Nicolas, a beekeeper Nicolas and 2 cultural animators: Anne and Pascale. Moreover this year, Matthieu is joining the crew to work on the pedagogic side of the farm. Their way of working is in autogestion: no hierarchy, a lot of listening and goodwill, non-violent communication and all the decisions are taken unanimously.  They share their incomes and allow themselves a monthly salary of 600 euros. If there is some money left, it is re-injected in the farm buildings. They are hoping to reach 1000 euros monthly salary in few years time. The name Farm des Roussets  is grouping the agricultural activity ( GAEC des Roussets), the beekeeping and the cultural association Batotopie.

The annual general meeting

Two weeks before I came to the farm to take part to the general meeting and I have been impressed by the courage and the confidence in the future which animate the little group. It isn’t easy  to present the annual results of each activity after only one year of exercise! Here the numbers rarely overcome the thousands euros, nothing to do with the monthly results of the company I used to work for! They need to explain why for now not all the activities are  profitable: the first green house which flew away a day of extremely strong wind, a part of the bees which died poisoned by a fungicide the first summer; and all of that standing in front of the assembly. An assembly very active, avid to know about the way of life of the collectif and which doesn’t hesitate to share experience, advices and encouragements . The exchange between the collectif and the assembly is rich in this misty Sunday morning: « At the beginning our desire was to create a collective place and to make it alive. This place doesn’t belong to us, it has been bought of course with our participation but not only: there are many other contributors who bought some parts. The aim is that each of us feel home here, do you feel home? » asks the farmer Nicolas.

From dream to reality

From  dream to reality there are many compromises and challenges. » The group  is indeed a force which allows us to realise and bring to life some projects  «  explains Max. And the two Nicolas agree on the fact that  » We constantly need to make compromises between our vision and what is possible. For example when we started the project we had the idea to collaborate and help between the different activities to work together. In reality we don’t have the time to stop the work in the garden to go and help at the bakery , the be-keeping or the animation and the other way around … » Actually since the collectif is installed in the region of Royan they had to seek for gouvernemental and European financial support. Also they had to find some complementary job in order to not base the income on the uncertain results of the first years of the farm. Thus the cultural duo works in addition to its implication in Batotopie. Anne found a position of animator at the local radio: Radio Royan.  Pascale has on one hand created her own association of popular education: Ébullition , on another hand she is animator in the summer camp which takes place on their land.  » Before we were meeting altogether  for informal moments, games and a chill out week-end per year.  We don’t take the time any more » observes Annabel. Actually they all agree to say that since they started the project they feel a strong pressure of result and lack of time. They allow themselves only very few holidays, but they live accordingly to their values and it is a great pride.

A successful local integration 

If the reality is sometimes heavy for the collectif, it however benefits from a great local support. In one year the group has archived its integration.They are neither lonely, nor isolated but well surrounded by all the people who believe in their initiatives.  Indeed, there is not a day passing without regular or spontaneous visitors coming to give a hand or simply say hi. Les volontaires.jpgThe past week a friend of Pascale came to help building the new kitchen, Lucas was there to build a dry stone wall, Aurélien shared his precious carpenter expertise and Laurent was supporting him. There were also Michel who came few hours at the garden, the visit of Nadia who had the desire to do the garden while chatting with her friend Annabel or Zoé who joined Thursday afternoon to renforce the construction team. And of course on Friday afternoon- day of sales at the farm- the subscribers came to collect their vegetable basket and buy the bred for the week-end. Getting locally integrated also means to build local partnerships. For example Annabel and Max are part of a market gardener mutual aid where they share half day of work per week, rotating between the different gardens. Another example is the one of Nicolas who buys the wood for the bakery stove at a local fabric of garden tools handles. He also produces hay for a colleague who work with animal traction. This great team is creating some ecosystems at local scale. Moreover they already archived the bet of leaving together and mutual aid, a great work they can be proud of.

My experience at the Farm des Roussets

I spent a week with Annabel and Nicolas who are leaving in the yurt in front of the farm. I invested the visitors caravan and shadowed the couple in their daily activities. Finally I put DSC_0159my hands in the earth! I spent the first 3 days gardening with Annabel and Max. It is the occasion to clear from stones a field next to the greenhouse , to transplant the kales outside, to refresh the strawberry bushes, to collect  the leeks and the mesclun for the weekly baskets . An experience which makes me realise how physical is the work of market gardener who always work at ground level. It works on the back muscles, the knees, the thighs and the arms.

SerreWith my fragile back, I already knew this profession wasn’t for me, now I’ve got the confirmation. However I find this work very interesting: understanding the earth and its functioning, enhancing the yields and all of this to produce healthy food, what a noble profession! Theses few days are the occasion to get to know better Annabel, to notice how much her passion for the earth is big, leads her and generate in her a beautiful energy. Indeed, she is able to work all day long in the garden and go directly to a 2 hours session of African dance! No need to mention the violin classes since Septembre on the top of that . She is learning so fast that she is already able to play in public…it is true passion gives wings!

At the farm it is non-stop, there is always something to do and the only moments to relax are the one spent around a good meal. Here we drink spring water coming directly from the mountains, we eat the vegetables and the bred produced. The lunchs are full of conviviality, suspended time where everyone gather to exchange and refill in energy. Each member of the collectif is responsible of the kitchen one day per week. At the farm we always plan the meals compting an extra person, just in case someone turns up. During my stay we have never been less than 7 around the table! For me, these precious moments of conviviality are the best moments in the day.

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Thursday is a special day: it is the day of the weekly meeting: all the members of the collectif are here at 8.00 am and the morning is dedicated to share the advancement of the different projects, the questions, the difficulties and the decision making. I don’t attend this team time, instead I focus on a flyers proposal in order to continue to mobilise the good wills around the project.  At the end of the meeting we meet on the work-site, in the dust and the straw we spend our energy after this very static morning.

On Friday, it is bred day and sales  day. I wake up at 5 am in order to help Nicolas at the bakery. It is an intense day of 12 hours work with 3 breaks of 20 to 40 minutes only. Still I enjoy it very much.  We weight, we knead the dough, we fold, we weight and prepare the bred. There are so much manipulations that when Nicolas works on his own he carries not less than a weight of 3 tonnes of flour, dough and bred during the day!

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Before lunch time we prepare 2 batches of bred (150 kg in total), and after an express lunch  the loading team  joins the bakery. « Only few farmer-baker have the privilege to realise this operation with such a team. «  explains proudly Nicolas. EnfournementIt is a well orchestrated operation which then takes place in front of my eyes: Matthieu prepares the trays of bred and covers it with  flour, Pascale prepares 2 bred on each wooden  baker’s peels and Nicolas loads the oven. The aim of the operation is to execute it as fast as possible in order to maintain the oven temperature constant. Then comes my third break, this time I can not resist to a little snooze on the sofa…only 10 minutes before the next batch! It is a tiring day, still very pleasant. It remains me my student times and the long hours  in the lab… in a better version as I can eat a some warm bred at the end  ! DSC_0196.JPG


Last but not least, Saturday is a very sunny day. While Annabel is at selling bred vegetables and honey at the market and Nicolas is working in the fields I feel a bit unproductive. So I start to clean up the kitchen and the dinning room and then I cook the lunch…in between the read of two short stories sat outside under the sun…happiness! After the lunch my legs are itching me, so I challenge myself to climb at the cross in less than 2 hours. I passed by this place few weeks before but it is so much better under the sun !

In order to end this great week beautifully, nothing better than a folk party led by the group Faucon Folk. I was dreaming of such evening since a long time, I can now tick that box on my list ! 

A desire to support the Farm des Roussets?

Click on the picture below and deal with the French web site OR contact the collectif in English at the email address info@batotopie.org . Above all, don’t hesitate to comment and ask questions on this article. Thank you .

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Litterary gateway

« We all have a piece of monolog under the skin. We should give it to others, even if we are wary of it. »  Georges Perros

Always in movement. At someone’s place or someone else. Sometimes in the city, sometimes in the mountains. Living with my suitcase or my backpack. And moving forward, again, always. In  the heart of winter and even though it isn’t that cold, I get invaded by the greyness of the season. I can’t write anymore. I don’t know how to plan the rest of my year. I am starting to feel the need to settle  in « my home ». Fortunately this week I had planned a little trip to Paris. Nothing better to get some inspiration back!

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The weather is dry and cold, I feel lucky. I walk from Châtelet to  St Michel fountain the nose in the wind and the eyes in the blue sky. I marvel about IMG_3319the beauty of Paris, still I can’t imagine living here. I decide to enter the book shop Gibert Jeune (massive shop for second hand books) and the Vieux Campeur (shop for high quality sport items). Big mistake for my wallet: I buy not less than 5 books and a super light camping mattress for an eventual future hike not even planned yet. Never mind, it is a constant this year: I spend my money only on travel and hiking items!

Around 7pm, I am meeting with the Writting Factory in the nice book shop of Gallimard editor. The students are mixing with the professionals and the editors. Internet is great but it won’t never replace the face to face meeting. In front of my screen, I feel like blind or anosmic: I can’t « feel » my interlocutor. Therefore I am very happy to meet Sonia Racheline who is guiding me and making me working hard since few weeks. I also have the great pleasure to exchange ideas and tips with the other students. I share with them my auestions and realise how much this workshop is challenging to me: I need to cut and cut again my sentences to keep the essential only. When actually I love choosing the exact right word in order to inject rhythm and music to my sentences. I really enjoy when the words resonate between themselves and make the read fluid and lively. Fortunately on my blog, I am free!

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Next to Anita Coppet and Sonia Racheline, Véronique Le Normand shared with us 2 texts from her master in literature: Georges Perros. Lovely moment,  everyone is listening carefully to the call of  words.

« Greed is not wanting to write in a letter what we keep for a possible book. »  Georges Perros

Later, when the bookshop closes its doors, I check my watch. 9.30pm. Do I have enough time? They are probably late. Anyway, I don’t want to miss it! I am too curious and it is the occasion or never. I take the tube. Change 3 times. Pass by the stops Richard Lenoir and Breguet Sabin. I have a thought for my uni years and my friend Gégé. I run again and  reach the restaurant.I enter a room full and overheated. Am I in the right place? Yes it is here and they are late. She will read after the break. I go out to breath some fresh air, open my mobile and receive some good news from Anita in Argentina. When I raise my head, I meet her sight through the window. « We start now ». I go back inside and stand behind the comptoir. While ignoring my hunger, I regale myself  with the reading of  Frédérique Deghelt (author of Another woman’s life / La vida de otra).. She generously reveals a long part of her novel in progress: Libertango. Her text talks to me and touches me. It talks about the encounter of a young man and an Argentinian musician. The first person to accept him as he is: handicapped. It is question of finding a sens to life, to practise our own art and to do it as we are: imperfect. As always I like the rhythm, the music and the sensibility which spring through the words of  Frédérique. I feel inspired. Writing, Argentina, music. It is time to buy my tickets for Buenos Aires!

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Tuesday evening, it is with a different kind of writer  I am meeting. His name is Bernard Ollivier, a confirmed hiker who wrote 3 beautiful books about his long walk on the silk road. I heard about him recently through the charity SEUIL. He founded this charity after walking on St James way. He was convinced that sending, on the camino young people in social exclusion with an educator is the best way to help them to not dive into delinquency. A great initiative which pushed me to contact him. Finally he was late and in hurry and I had only half an hour to ask him my questions. I am a bit disappointed. However he brought me some interesting elements for my article in progress, especially because he disagreed one of my basic ideas. Nothing better to move forward!

Bernard Ollivier

                                                   cc réseau des médiathèques de Clamart

Two weeks at domain of Bayssac

   Having new experiences and getting inspired by new encounters, these are  2 things very important for me this year. In the domain of Bayssac I am not disappointed!

 

   In this house I live at the whim of the a activities of tidying, gardening and cooking, in exchange for free accomodation and  food. The rest of my time I focus on writing: my blog, my online writing workshop exercise and my on-going article.

 

   Step by step I discover  who are my hosts. I am in the house of artists & entrepreneurs. Sylvie had a previous life as dancer and choreograph. When she stopped dancing she went back to Uni to study philosophy. Now she is studying literature to get a qualification from Montpellier University in order to lead writing workshops. She is actually already leading 3 workshops per week and it is having a great success. Moreover, Sylvie is a lyric singer. Philippe as well is a musician: a professional pianist and piano teacher at the college of music. Together they bought the domain of Bayssac, 10 years ago with the objectif of being able to host every summer some music master-class. Now the project has evolved and each summer they also host tourists and from next summer some writing week workshops. No need to mention that days in this house are cadenced by music scales, vocalises and repetitions, for the delight of my hears.

   The domain is huge. Step by step, they renovated the house, cleared the garden, revived the chestnut grove, set up a discovery trail which lead to the river and created a vegetable garden and an orchard. I admire their project and they have been able to realise.

   In this peaceful place, I already count many nice moments. There were the encounter with Chloé and Chechek  (Tchetcheque for the french prononciation), a nice franco-polish couple who is travel through Europe by van. With them, one afternoon, I tried the writing workshop of Sylvie.

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I also enjoy the walks with my new friends Toby & Petit-Monsieur, 2 beautiful and bright border collies. They are great players, always asking me to send them the ball.

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       And there are  week-ends with the visit of the parents, the children and the small children. The big tables, the aperitivo-concerts where all the family go successively behind the piano and play for the others. I really love those kind of family atmosphere and totally felt in my element.

    This week I welcomed a new arrival of volunteers. A Swiss couple Anne-Catherine and Raphaël, and a German girl: Nicola. Anne-Catherine and Raphaël are bqck in Europe after 6 months travelling around South America. They came back with a project of vegetable  and insect farming to provide for their food needs. They are now looking for a place to settle. Here is an original and interesting project!