By Kate Schecter
The immigration crisis is once again in the news. Of course, this is a decades-long movement of often desperate people fleeing poverty, violence, corruption and oppression in search of a better life.
Many of those seeking to enter the U.S. now are fleeing Venezuela and Haiti. This is a shift from prior years, when most people came from the Central American “Northern Triangle” areas of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
But fewer migrants from the Northern Triangle is likely just a pause. Conditions have not fundamentally improved there.
Along with development experts, the Biden administration understands this. Through its “Root Causes Strategy,” it seeks to attract primarily private companies to invest in Central American countries. Efforts to generate employment and income, including through the production of goods for export, could help. However, it is important to have realistic expectations about what relatively large scale outside investment can achieve when the legal and the regulatory frameworks remain weak. Even if this recent effort to encourage foreign investment in Central America is more successful than those in the past, its effects will take time to make a difference.
There is a different approach. While also focused on capital accumulation, this strategy relies on capital generated by local communities. This is in turn invested in businesses and other initiatives that meet local needs.
An example is what is being achieved in Olopa, in Guatemala’s Chiquimula Department. Women there have traditionally made rope bags for their families’ use. With assistance from the development organization World Neighbors, they have developed and incorporated different designs for their bags. With training in basic financial and marketing techniques, rope bag production has been successfully commercialized. Women sell their bags in Olopa and surrounding villages. The bag business is producing significant income for a large number of women.
This is income that helps coffee farmers in particular diversify their income. That is important, given coffee–like any commodity–fluctuates in price and climate change is making it even more difficult to earn a living from just farming coffee beans.