Going for the dough : Engaging governmental funds in the Ciénega de Zacapu, Mexico

Servin Juárez, Fidencio


This study follows a planned development intervention involving greenhouse production systems for tomatoes. The intervention played out in Mexico, where the Planning Sub- Committee for Regional Development (SUPLADER) promoted a strategy for the "development" of the Zacapu region in Michoacán, from 2002 to 2005. The intervention is illustrated through a detailed, in-depth ethnographic case study of the way in which the Unión de Invernaderos Ruta de la Libertad (a USPR or Union of Rural Producers Association) sought to materialize a greenhouse project.

Using an actor-oriented perspective (Long, 2001; Nuijten, 2001; Diego, 1997) and the concepts of actor’s agency, networks, associations, collectives and organizing processes, the study aims to understand the character of intervention, and shows how programs and development projects serve different purposes – purposes which symbiotically relate to the prevailing social conditions. As a general conclusion, I argue that what is called “the dough” (la lana) is what drives the dynamics of development intervention. While important, it is central to understand the different roles “the dough” plays in these intervention settings: for planners, it is the means to accomplish development, whereas for project beneficiaries it is a goal in itself.

Chapter 1 elaborates on the general context of planned intervention in Michoacán’s Zacapu region, delineates the theoretical framework, presents the main research question (How do stakeholders organize themselves around the greenhouse project, and how do they redefine the view of planned development by the local government?) and elaborates on the methodology employed.

Chapter 2 describes the organizing processes underlying implementation of the greenhouse project in the Zacapu - Ciénega region. It explains how, in order to acquire resources for the project, stakeholders organized into groups, forming Rural Production Associations (SPRs) and Unions of Rural Producers’ Associations (USPRs). As a result, a total of 28 SPRs were formed. For the most part, members of these SPRs had extensive, prior experience in organizing and participating in programs similar to those promoted by SUPLADER.

Chapter 3 describes the practices of the eight groups (SPR) who got no resources from SUPLADER and seek to compensate for an initial investment from the Alliance for the Countryside (Alianza). To complete the project file, the groups were linked to government agencies, municipalities and communities as well as with external agents (firms) to use the register as a professional services provider (PSP) and enter the file to the Alianza program. In addition, power differences and conflict relationships were evident (Lukes, 1974); conditions that led to negotiation (Diego, 1997).

Advisor firms were considered necessary for the negotiations since their capabilities were required and considered essential for the expected benefit of the Asociación, although they appeared to be a very powerful party. Despite the regulations established by the State to exercise governmental programs, the parties responsible for exercising them applied ambiguous criteria.

Chapter 4 describes the development of an ideal configuration of greenhouses that included technological, social and cultural elements associated with safety practices, automation and demanding consumers located in an international market. This perception was far from the project conditions of greenhouses in La Ciénega; however, it did not prevent generating expectations among the SPRs. For these actors, the greenhouse became an alternative livelihood, income, and development opportunity.

To interpret the processes described I used Latour’s (2008) notion of a sociology of associations; this allowed me to interpret how actor-networks were incorporated in the greenhouse project.

Chapter 5 describes a breakaway attempt from the Asociación spearheaded by 17 SPRs that chose to build their greenhouses with an alternative hardware supplier (ACEA). To obtain the necessary funds new negotiations were started with a range of agencies. The move eventually strengthened the Asociación and its institutional embeddedness.

In Chapter 6, the Asociación is shown to be a heterogeneous collective with different agendas. This resulted in several conflicts, some of them, involving the advisory offices that intended to take the resources (“the dough”) from the project. Nonetheless, a regional bank authorized a cash disbursement for the initial stage of the greenhouse project.

Chapter 7 presents the final stage of SUPLADER Zacapu’s greenhouse project. After complex negotiations and conflicts within the Asociación, complementary credit was obtained for the construction of the greenhouse. However, during a municipal election campaign key figures in charge of implementation changed position; this led to a change in project conditions, and the Asociación had to face interventions from external actors. The negotiation game restarted and triggered a new set of strategies (amongst others to obtain money directly through the new SEPLADE delegate). Eventually, some of the Asociación’s funds were reappropriated and assigned to USPR Agrícola Tsakapu and different factions (vying for of resources) resulted fom this.

Chapter 8 provides the discussion and conclusion to this thesis, with insights that build on Mosse’s (2005) argument that policies to promote development are associated to organizational demands and needs to maintain existing relationships (rather than promoting a previously defined policy). However, in the case of La Ciénega, the agents of change (including the Michoacán Congress) supported and pushed through planners’ development initiatives. In line with Ferguson (1994), I conclude that development must be understood in relation to the political-economic-cultural interests of those behind its design and implementation. Rather than linear, hegemonic and rigid, however, actors’ practices and strategies mould and twist planned development intervention to suit their needs and desires.