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El Salvador Case Study

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the south, Guatemala on the east, and Honduras on the north and west. Located in the western half of the country on the central plain, the capital city of San Salvador is linked to the rest of the country by highways and railroads. A Spanish colony until 1821, El Salvador became part of the United Provinces of


Source: Blutstein, Howard I., et. al. 1971. Area Handbook for El Salvador.
Foreign Areas Studies, The American University, Washington, D.C.
Central America in 1823. El Salvador has been independent since 1838.

El Salvador has a per capita income of only US $314 (1974). Nearly half of the population is engaged in agriculture, although only 32% of the total land area supports crops. Most farmers are engaged in subsistence agriculture, producing beans, rice, and corn; coffee, cotton, and sugar are grown for export. Because so little of El Salvador's land is arable, much of the country's food must be imported. Among El Salvador's major problems is a high rate of population growth; the country has the second highest density in the Western Hemisphere. Other problems include poor housing, inadequate medical care, illiteracy, and malnutrition resulting from a lack of protein in the diet. The government of El Salvador first requested Peace Corps assistance in agriculture programs in 1962; marine fisheries volunteers were requested six years later.

Fisheries in El Salvador: An Overview

El Salvador has three good ports along a 160-mile Pacific coastline and for many years has supported a commercial shrimp fishery. Most shrimp produced is exported and never reaches the domestic market. However, during the 1960's most fishing in El Salvador was done on a subsistence level. Fish caught by fishermen were used primarily by their families; what fish were left over were sold in local markets. The fishermen of El Salvador were independent, illiterate, and for the most part, distrustful of the government even when offering aid. Fish processing consisted of smoking and drying fish; very often fish were not even gutted first. As a result, most fish sold at market were of very poor quality. Although there were good fishery resources off the coast, few fishermen had the proper equipment or boats large enough to fish in deeper waters far from shore. Fishermen had no history of cooperative action, and even though the government promoted the development of fishermen's associations, few fishermen became members. When the government tried to promote gutting and icing of fish to improve the quality of fish reaching the market, people refused to buy them. Most people believed that fishermen only gutted and iced fish when they were about to go bad.

Recognizing these problems, El Salvador became part of a regional fisheries development program funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1965. The goals of this program were to improve the methods of production, harvesting, processing, and marketing of fisheries resources, solve nutritional problems, and promote the growth of commercial fishing industries.

The Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project

Early in the 1960's the Central American Economic Council (CEC), composed of El Salvador, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, requested help from the United Nations in response to widespread malnutrition, unemployment, and under and irrational exploitation of their living marine resources. In 1965 the Food and Agriculture Organization took up this request and designed the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project. In 1966 the CEC created a Department of Fisheries (CCDP), composed of representatives from each country's national fishery agency, to serve as a counterpart to the FAO. The FAO and the six countries involved recognized the need for trained field staff to work with local fishermen, but such people were not readily available in any of these countries. The FAO suggested that perhaps Peace Corps might participate, and each country made a formal request to Peace Corps for assistance. As a result, Peace Corps recruited and trained 45 volunteers who were placed in six countries to work in various aspects of each country's fishery sector. El Salvador requested five volunteers to work with the Seccion de Pesca y Caza Maritima, the fisheries agency attached to the Ministry of Economics.

Peace Corps Involvement with El Salvadorean Fisheries

In 1967, the first Peace Corps group to work in the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project was recruited and trained at Peace Corps' Puerto Rico Training Center and in Miami and St. Petersburg, Florida. The volunteers in this group had little experience in fisheries, although a few had biology degrees and had worked in some aspects of fisheries. They received training in the use of fishing gear such as gill nets, lobster traps, snapper reels, and long lines, and language and training. Training was fraught with difficulties due in part to bad weather which prevented much actual fishing, poor organization which resulted in speakers who did not show up, and the uncertainty until near the end of the training program of where each individual volunteer was to be placed. The training program, the first to be done on a regional rather than country specific basis, was not considered to be a success even by the program's coordinator Nevertheless, in December 1968 five volunteers arrived in El Salvador to begin work.

One volunteer, a marine biologist, was assigned to an FAO research vessel to do oceanographic research. This volunteer worked on board the SAGITARIO in the Pacific off El Salvador's coast. He collected and classified Central American fish species as part of a study with the University of Costa Rica. He also surveyed the spiny lobster fishery of El Salvador, and experimented with raft culture of mussels. Although nominally assigned to the Seccion de Pesca y Caza Maritima, this volunteer was directly supervised by the FAO.

Three volunteers were assigned to coastal fishing villages to help form and administer cooperatives, improve methods of fishing, processing, and preserving fish, and provide other technical support to local fishermen. These volunteers worked in La Libertad, La Union, and Acajutla along the coast. The fifth volunteer! a gear specialist, also was assigned to La Libertad to introduce new fishing gear and techniques to the fishermen in the cooperative. Although all of these volunteers were assigned to the Seccion as well, most of their support and technical assistance was received from the Peace Corps and FAO.

The Government of El Salvador had chosen La Libertad as a "pilot project" site, and from the beginning most support and interest was shown to the cooperative and the two volunteers there. Fishermen in La Libertad had had bad experiences with cooperatives in the past, and although 60 fishermen were listed as members only 18 were active. The majority of the fishermen could not read or write, had few resources, and saw no reason to be part of a cooperative. There were no community organizers among them, and most preferred to remain independent.

The two volunteers began their work by conducting a survey of their area to determine the number of fishermen and boats, types of gear used, species and numbers of fish caught, how fish were marketed and the type of processing that was done. They began to work with fishermen, introducing new fishing gear such as monofilament gill nets, lobster traps, pargo and shark longlines, single hook lines and trammel nets. As the fishermen saw the usefulness of these new types of gear, more interest in the cooperative developed. The Seccion de Pesca y Caza Maritima donated a boat and motor to the cooperative, and the gear specialist volunteer received a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development that enabled him to purchase two more boats and motors. With this equipment, the cooperative members began to catch larger amounts of fish and the cooperative began to make some money. More fishermen joined the cooperative. It began to function more efficiently and capital was built up to be used for collective purpose C

As the cooperative grew, the cooperative specialist volunteer assigned to La Libertad organized it more efficiently, trained cooperative members in cooperative functions, established a bookkeeping system, and began to explore markets for the catch. Both volunteers promoted the smoking, salting and icing of fish, and by the end of their two years, construction had begun on an ice room and ice box in the cooperative building to store the catch until it was marketed. By the end of 1970, the cooperative at La Libertad had grown to 190 members, and its capital had grown from US $120 to US $12,000. By all accounts, this project was a success and the volunteers were able to see positive change during their stay.

The cooperative volunteers assigned to Acajutla and La Union also undertook surveys of their respective sites including number of fishermen and boats, types of gear used, and fishery catch statistics. The volunteer in Acajutla worked with lobster traps and a 50-hook longline for red snapper, and was able to get some interest in forming a cooperative started among the local fishermen. He was able to interest local businessmen in financing some experiments in fishing gear as well. The volunteer in La Union worked on modifying the local fishing boat, the cayuco, to enable it to be sailed farther from shore where fish were more plentiful. He added an outrigger, centerboard, and tiller, and taught fishermen new sailing techniques. The volunteer did not have experience in boat building and although the boat was large enough to handle modern gear and large catches, it was poorly designed and inadequately powered. However, the volunteer was able to stimulate local interest in boat design. He also introduced the use of clam rakes to local fishermen. Both of these volunteers received very little support from the government and as a result, their projects were not considered successful.

All of the volunteers in this group participated in an FAO fisheries marketing survey in El Salvador, and were supervised by technical experts of the FAO in certain aspects of their work. Volunteers were assigned to the Seccion de Pesca y Caza Maritima but, except for the volunteers stationed at La Libertad, received little direction or material support from this fishery agency. The Peace Corps also had a regional director for this project who traveled from site to site advising volunteers and providing technical help. Volunteers thus received support and direction from the FAO and the Peace Corps, but little from their host country agency. As a result, there was much confusion over which agency ultimately was responsible for the volunteers. This issue was resolved eventually with a decision by Peace Corps that volunteers were responsible first to the Seccion, since that agency had made the original request for volunteers.

Another problem that surfaced during this time was the different ideas the FAO and the Seccion had about the role of volunteers. The FAO wanted volunteers to act as technical staff members, doing research on the development of large-scale commercial fisheries in El Salvador, while the Seccion wanted volunteers to supplement their technical abilities and work in small coastal villages with artisanal fishermen. This problem was resolved in favor of the Seccion, and when a second group of volunteers was requested by El Salvador to work in the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project, it was clear from the start that they would be responsible only to the Seccion de Pesca v Caza Maritima.

The Second Group of Volunteers

Peace Corps again recruited volunteers for the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project, of which four were assigned to El Salvador. The volunteers had backgrounds in biology and received technical, language, and cross cultural training in Puerto Rico and in Miami, Florida. This group was given instruction on fish marketing, cooperative structure and functions, boat engine maintenance and repair, and in construction of handlines, traps, cast nets, gill nets, and net mending. These four volunteers arrived in El Salvador in late 1970.

One volunteer was assigned to work as a marine biologist with the Seccion de Pesca y Caza Maritima in carrying out biological studies on El Salvador's marine resources to help guarantee their rational utilization. The volunteer participated in studies on the ecology of lobster, cultivation of mussels in the La Union-E1

Tamarindo area, migration of post larval shrimp, and collected and classified different marine animals for inclusion in a newly-created museum. Part of his work included advising the government on fishery administration policies.

Three volunteers were assigned to work as fishery extension agents to improve artisanal fishing techniques, improve existing cooperatives and organize new ones, and provide education in cooperation administration and management for cooperative members. One of these volunteers worked with a fishing cooperative that was formed in Acajutla helping to define and administer initial cooperative projects. The other two volunteers were assigned to La Libertad where they were to provide technical assistance on fishing gear and methods, provide education to cooperative members, introduce proper methods of processing, transporting, and marketing of fresh fish, and assist in the organization of other fishing cooperatives nearby.

One of the volunteers assigned to La Libertad set up an accounting system and trained three cooperative members in bookkeeping skills. He was able to convince them of the need to hire an accountant to manage the finances of the cooperative. He worked with fishermen, teaching the use of gill nets, but only five members were using gill nets by the time the volunteer left. However, faith in the cooperative continued to grow, and more fishermen were willing to work through the cooperative to market fish. When the two volunteers arrived 90% of the boats were owned privately by fishermen; by the time they left, over 60% of the boats were owned by the cooperative. Support for these volunteers came from the Peace Corps and FAO; the Seccion's representative in the field felt threatened by volunteers and did not cooperate with them even though the Director of the Seccion was favorable towards volunteer activities.

In 1971 FAO assistance to the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Program was completed, and FAO pulled out of fisheries development. Peace Corps was asked to continue its support to El Salvador, however, and a third group of volunteers was recruited as part of a larger program for El Salvador's rural development.

The Third Group of Volunteers

The Peace Corps recruited three volunteers for El Salvador in 1973. Two of the volunteers had degrees in fisheries biology, while one had a doctorate in zoology. The volunteers received language, cross cultural, and a little technical training prior to their arrival in country. Two volunteers were assigned to work with the cooperatives in La Libertad and El Tamarindo (La Union), and the third worked as a university professor, teaching biology to students and training them in research methods.

The volunteer assigned to La Libertad was told to introduce whatever the cooperative needed, but the volunteer's background did not prepare him to give the kind of help the cooperative required at this stage of its development. They needed someone to help with marketing and fish processing, and this volunteer had no training in either subject. He left the cooperative after nine months and began an independent project on shrimp research. He arranged to go out fishing with a private shrimp fleet and conduct studies on shrimp populations. In the course of this work, the volunteer began to document a problem with overfishing in one shrimp area; he also found a new shrimp area that had not been fished before. Although he wished to complete a year's study of the area that was being overfished, the government asked him to work on the new area, so his research was never finished. He did have a counterpart, however, and was able to train him in scientific techniques. This volunteer felt his project was a success because he was able to get research started that was important to the development of a commercial fishery.

The volunteer assigned to the El Tamarindo fishing cooperative helped to set up the business and accounting system for the cooperative, but that job only took eight months. Although he retained an interest in the cooperative for the rest of his tour, the volunteer began doing research in oyster culture. He developed a methodology for the research and trained five technicians in identifying larval forms of oysters and conducting field studies, and helped them identify studies of their own. This project had support from the Ministry of Agriculture which had taken over the fisheries project, and from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provided U.S. $1,000 for the research. Peace Corps did not support this project at all. Because this research was going so well, the FAO offered to give the U.S. $8,000 to continue the research and Peace Corps recruited another marine fisheries volunteer to continue with this volunteer's work. However, the new volunteer lost interest and changed to a public health project. No other volunteers with a background in marine fisheries were available at that time, so the project stopped.

Of these three volunteers, the only one who felt he had been placed in a position commensurate with his abilities was the university professor. He was treated as a professional, and taught students and did research as he would in any university. Although there were some problems with other professors in the university, in general this volunteer was very pleased with his Peace Corps experience. Apparently so was the university; they asked him to stay as a full staff member at the completion of his tour and he did so. Throughout his tour this volunteer was given support by the university. He also felt that his Peace Corps training in language was excellent; he taught all his courses in Spanish.

After this group of volunteers, Peace Corps recruited several more in marine fisheries to work on individual projects, including assistance to new fishing cooperatives organized on the model of the cooperative in La Libertad. However, El Salvador's focus shifted to the development of freshwater fisheries in 1977 and most volunteers at this time are involved with freshwater fish culture, particularly of tilapia species.

Evaluation of the Project

Because the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project was a pilot project for the Peace Corps, it was subjected to a series of evaluation reports beginning in 1969. The major statement made in all of these evaluations is that there was never a clear understanding among Peace Corps, FAO, and the national fishery agencies of each country involved over which agency was responsible for the volunteers. The volunteers spent much of their time trying to figure this out for themselves, and thereby wasted time that could have been used more productively. One evaluation makes the point that the national fishery agencies were pressured into taking volunteers by the FAO, and that they did not understand why volunteers were there nor what it was they were supposed to do. Peace Corps itself was led to believe that FAO would provide financial and material support for the volunteers, and was very surprised when such support was not forthcoming. In El Salvador, the Peace Corps Director believed that support should not come from Peace Corps, but from the agency to which the volunteers were assigned. As a result, volunteers who were supposed to demonstrate new fishing gear often had no gear to work with until FAO or the Seccion de Pesca y Caza Maritima was able to give it to them.

Other evaluations make the point that training received by volunteers did not prepare them adequately for their roles, especially those working with cooperatives. Volunteers with biology backgrounds needed more understanding of the functions of cooperatives, accounting methods, and fish marketing and processing. Peace Corps is criticized also for failing to prepare adequate volunteer job descriptions, with the result that of three volunteers in the last group, two changed jobs within the first year. However, the marine fisheries projects in El Salvador usually are considered to be successful both by Peace Corps and by the volunteers themselves. Volunteers were able to make a difference in the development of fishing cooperatives and introduce new fishing gear and methods to artisanal fishermen along the Pacific coast of El Salvador.

Successes end Failures

Although the Central American Regional Fisheries Development Project failed to work on a regional basis, individual projects within El Salvador were successful. The reasons behind both successes and failures in El Salvador marine fisheries projects include these:

· Although Peace Corps failed to get a clear understanding of which agency was to be responsible for the volunteers, they did provide a regional coordinator who gave technical direction and supervision to volunteers who were caught in the confusion. This coordinator worked with Peace Corps staff in El Salvador to ensure that volunteers were supported.

· The FAO, more interested in research for commercial fisheries, nevertheless supported volunteers working in artisanal fisheries when it became clear that that was the role the Seccion and Peace Corps had in mind.

· Even though the Seccion may have been pressured into accepting volunteers, it was able to impose some of its own priorities on the project, placing five volunteers in its pilot site of La Libertad. These volunteers all received excellent support from the agency and the results justify that support. However, volunteers at other sites were more or less ignored by the Seccion, and they had few lasting successes.

· The first group of volunteers had little background in marine fisheries, and their training was not adequate to prepare them for their jobs. The support they received in the field, however, enabled them to overcome this deficiency (except for volunteers placed in areas not given priority by the government). The second group of volunteers benefitted from the first group's experience; they were placed in sites that had priority standing with the government, even though most support still went to La Iibertad.

· Volunteers were able to begin research in several marine species that could provide food for Salvadoreans. They trained counterparts in the use of simple scientific techniques and left several projects in their hands.

· Artisanal fishermen were distrustful of volunteers at first because they were associated with a government agency. Volunteers were able to change some attitudes and gain the interest of local fishermen by becoming part of their community. This led to involvement of fishermen in fishing cooperatives. Volunteers also received good language training which they felt helped them to communicate at all levels in El Salvador.

It is clear from the discussion of these projects that much of the success of a project in El Salvador depends upon the amount and kind of support given to volunteers. Those with good support from the government were able to do more than those who received only passing interest. It should be remembered that those projects that received the most aid were the projects given priority by the government. Even without much support, however, individual volunteers were able to do research, train counterparts, and contribute to the development of new food resources for the country. The original purposes of these projects were to promote the growth of commercial fisheries, improve production, harvesting, processing, and marketing, and solve nutritional problems in El Salvador. Volunteers were successful in moving the country towards these goals.