Apr 4, 2011

Religion and Economic Prosperity: A case study (in Guatemala)

Protestant Ethic and Prosperity:
Vegetable Production in Almolonga, Guatemala
[Comments are welcome, this is a draft and belongs to UDADISI]

Weber’s theory of the protestant ethic helps explain economic prosperity in some communities in Latin America. Although these communities have valuable economic resources and also the entrepreneurial skills to transform those resources, the worldview brought by Protestantism has helped maximize the communities’ economic potential. The indigenous community of San Pedro de Almolonga in the Guatemalan highlands has become a very prosperous town through vegetable production and commercialization. Prosperity has emerged due to the high fertility of the soil and its geographic location, to the entrepreneurial skills of its inhabitants, and to the high market demand for vegetables. But Protestantism is probably the factor that has made the difference to maximize Almolonga’s economic potential. Protestantism has provided the informal institutions that direct individual skills towards highly productive entrepreneurship.

Keywords: entrepreneurship, enterprising communities, Almolonga, Protestant Ethic.
La práctica y la ideología no pudieron actuar independiente una de la otra, y, probablemente, Almolonga se hizo a sí mismo en el proceso de creerse a sí mismo (Goldin 1989).
Protestant Ethic and Prosperity:
Vegetable Production in Almolonga, Guatemala

This article proposes that Weber’s theory of the protestant ethic helps explain the current economic transformations that are taking place in some communities in Latin America where Protestantism has advanced rapidly. Although some of these communities produce valuable economic resources, and posses a high entrepreneurial character, Protestantism has provided a valuable institutional framework that have helped capitalize on the rich resource endowment and entrepreneurial skills. This is illustrated in the context of the community San Pedro de Almolonga of the Guatemala highlands.

Almolonga is a prosperous community due to its fertile soil, the entrepreneurial skills of its inhabitants, and the high market demand for vegetables. But institutions linked to religious adherences are the distinctive factor that helps direct talent and innovation towards productive entrepreneurship. Resources are used close to the fullest capacity to generate wealth and material wellbeing. This article reviews the literature on Almolonga and includes the results of our ethnographic fieldwork in the town during January 2011.

The case of Almolonga

Almolonga is a Guatemalan mostly indigenous community whose majority of inhabitants produces vegetables for the national and international markets. Almolonga is one of the most prosperous towns in Guatemala where resource endowment has translated into a wider definition of development (such as improved education). Although quantitative evidence is limited, several researches and commentators have reported on the prosperity in the town (Arbona 1998; Falkowski 2000; Goldin 1996; Goldin and Metz 1991; Goldin 1989; Gutierrez 2007; Sandoval 2009). Some Almolongueños even call themselves “the Jews of Western Guatemala” (Goldin 1989):

For a country in which 85 percent of all citizens—and an even higher proportion of rural Indians—live below the government-designated poverty level, Almolongeños are relatively prosperous. Residents of neighboring municipalities regard them as hardworking people who are economically better off. The considerable amount of time and effort devoted to the production of vegetables is rarely missed by anybody who passes through the narrow valley during any day of the week. Although mechanization is absent, production has more in common with an agribusiness than with traditional Central American forms of agricultural production. Almolongueños dominate every aspect of the market, including trade, transport, and commercial buyers (Arbona 1998: 50-51).
Picture 1 (01/07/2011): Every Thursday a long caravan of pickups from Almolonga deliver vegetables to the nearby town of Zunil. A similar scene can be observed in Quetzaltenango, the CENMA (the wholesale distribution center) in Guatemala City, and other markets in the country. Arguable Almolonga is the town with the highest level of per-capita pickup trucks in the world.
[E]very day approximately eighteen trucks, each with a capacity of ten tons, leave Almolonga for these destinations; eight to ten of them usually proceed to El Salvador alone (ibid).
Almolongueños have successfully maintained and even expanded their markets. In fact, the highest-quality produce still goes to the more distant locations, for farmers make more money selling far afield than in nearby Quetzaltenango (ibid).

About Almolonga

Almolonga, a municipality of the department Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, is located in a valley in the western part of the country. The name is of náhuatl origin that means “a place where water rises.” Around ninety six percent of the inhabitants speaks k’iche’ (Gutierrez, July 2007). To get to the valley, if one is coming from the coast, it is necessary to drive up to 2,250 meters above the sea level. The municipality occupies approximately 20 squared kilometers. The visitor’s first visual impression is filled with a mountainous landscape and a set of volcanoes (Santa Maria and Cerro Quemado). The presence of volcanic soil and numerous water springs feed the ground that has made the Almolonga valley one of the most productive and prosperous areas in Central America. The people of Almolonga had been known to trade and produce vegetables throughout the colonial years (Goldin and Metz 1991). Exports to international markets started between 1930 and 1945 (Falkowski 2000). Regarding land ownership, private property prevails. There is not memory of the existence of communal property in Almolonga, at least since the early 1800s (Goldin 1989).

Agricultural production represents around seventy percent of the economy (Gutierrez, July 2007). Commerce, the second larges part of the economy, moves around the production of vegetables. Vegetables are currently exported to the Central American region (especially to El Salvador) and Mexico. Vegetable production has been estimated in approximately US$ 19 million a year (Gutierrez, July 2007). The pick production period coincides with the rainy season from March to October. High quality flowers are also produced in the town.

Almolonga is a microcosm, a municipality that has translated its rich agricultural potential into increasing productivity and higher levels of income for the inhabitants of the community. This is a rare case in Central America, and the developing world in general, where rich natural resources contribute to economic prosperity (Sachs and Warner 2001). Even in the late 1980s Almolongueños were considered to be quite progressive and better off than other people in the region (Goldin and Metz 1991). Vegetable production has not benefited all the inhabitants equally; large income gaps and inequalities exist (which is a common characteristics of resource-rich communities all over Latin America). Either because of economies of scale or different initial conditions, some households have taken more advantage than others of the fertile soil in Alomonga.

What explains the prosperity in Almolonga?

Almolonga has prospered due to its fertile soil, the entrepreneurial skills of its inhabitants, and the high market demand for vegetables. I explain each of these factors below:

(1) Nature and geographic location

The highly fertile soil, the numerous water springs, and favorable weather, are the main natural resources in the Almolonga area. Almolonga fertile soil is naturally enriched by minerals, most of them of volcanic origin, that favor the growing of fruits and vegetables.

Almolonga is located in a narrow band of highland where vegetable production is likely to succeed (Falkowski 2000). Falkowski explains the uniqueness of the geographic location, and claims that the special characteristics determine the type of crops being produced:

… [T]ransportation corridors, volcanic activity, soils, climate, and water availability appeared to excel the most significant influence upon the unique special cropping patterns found in this region (30).
Indeed, Almolonga is located on the main road to the Guatemalan coast, the same road that goes to Quetzaltenango, the second largest city of Guatemala and the economic hub of the western region of the country (30). This favorable geographic location has bee beneficial for the transportation of products to the coastal and central parts of Guatemala. It is located between the two main highways of the country; one goes to Mexico and in the other to El Salvador.

Water springs are also very common in town, in some cases water springs release hot steam use for thermal baths. The hot steam is also a sign of the geological linkages between the soil and volcanic activity in the region. Besides, the mountains that surround the valley protect the cops from frosting. It has also being argued that the valley benefits from the moisture by raising air currents, which are due to the albedo of the reddish-gray rock of the volcanic field (Falkowski: 30). Almolonga also enjoys a favorable weather all year round. Several rivers surround the valley and the Chinimá flows trough the town. There is a regular rainy season and although tropical storms have affected Almolonga in recent years, producers have recovered soon. Based on his fieldwork research Falkowski concludes: “The influence of water supply upon cultivation strategies was determine to be the most significant factor influencing agricultural practices of the basins of Almolonga and Zunil” (40). Irrigation technology based on three different methods (splash, sprinkler, and flood) has been effective during the dry seasons (45) (Falkowski presents a detailed and comprehensive description of irrigation systems in the valley). Irrigation technology complements the perennial water supply provided by rivers in the valley. Falkowski (50) concludes:

The perennial water supplies, and the irrigation networks that distribute water to field in both basins, appear vital to the development of the agricultural landscape of the region.
Indeed, Folkowski presents a statistical analysis to demonstrate that the parcels of land located closer to the perennial water sources are mainly used for the production of vegetables, but areas farther away from these sources, and in the hills, for example, are used for milpa. He shows that water accessibility determines the agricultural structure and argues that economic shifts (probably market demand) explain the advancement of vegetable plantation over milpa (58). The Almolonga carrots are almost two to three times the size of carrots produced in other parts of Guatemala.

The high productivity of land is reflected in the prices. As Arbona (1998: 50) claimed:

Land is expensive: Just 0.108 acre of the best fertile soils costs up to US$ 10,000. Although the currency has fluctuated, this sum represents more than a threefold increase in just four years, from 1992 to 1996. Land is expensive because it is both fertile and scarce and because, with intensive labor, up to four crops a year can be grown on it.
(2) Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is the second necessary condition for Almolonga’s prosperity. Entrepreneurs develop a deep passion for their business, improve their own living conditions and generally also generate social change within their environment. Entrepreneurship traits include innovation, risk taking behavior, hard work, and a sort of rebellious attitude towards de status quo. For Almolongueños, more than a communal resource, land is a “matter of business” (Goldin 1989). Almolongueños see themselves as hard working people, the same perception about them is also hold Quetzaltenango and in nearby towns.

Entrepreneurial activities have flourished in Almolonga even before the conversion towards Protestantism (Gutierrez, July 2007). Other critics argue that the conversion to Protestantism could have been done to avoid the obligations of the Catholic fiesta system (the Cofradia) (Goldin and Metz 1991).

The last municipal census reports that sixty five percent of the population owns a business (Sandoval, March 2009). One could argue that even without the blessings of nature most of the people from Almolonga would be prosperous. Several Almolongueños are already producing vegetables in land located by different rivers in Quetzaltenango, but also other departments like San Marcos and Totonicapán, sometimes more than fifty kilometers away.

Some entrepreneurs in town not only distribute vegetables to the local and international markets but they also are the main importers of other vegetables into the country. For example, a large distribution company, own by Almolongueños, is the main importer of Hass avocado into Guatemala. It brings the avocado from Michoacán in Mexico to Almolonga and distributes it from here into the country. They use the Almolonga market as an economic hub. The company has branches with personnel from Almolonga in Mexico and El Salvador. Another member of the same family imports sweaters from Ecuador for the Guatemalan market.

Innovation is showed by the development and adoption of irrigation techniques.

(3) Market demand

Growth and development depend largely on the generation of income, and income depends itself on supplying a valuable product to the market. To be successful in the market place it is important to be innovative and to act strategically to face competition, relying on one’s effort and hard work is key. Since the 19th century Almolongueños have demonstrated capacity to respond to market demand (as in the case of the production and commercialization of Cochinilla) (Goldin 1989). Almolonga offers relatively cheaper vegetables to the Guatemalan and international markets. Almolonga has a comparative advantage in vegetable production, which has been consolidated during several decades.

History matters for the economic development path that Almolonga has taken. To be competitive in the international market it is necessary offers competitive prices and relatively better quality. Almolonga does it. But this is the result of the prolonged learning curve discovering what works and what does not. A community can have the natural capacity to produce a valuable commodity, it can also have the institutions to sustain market transactions and peaceful negotiations and conflict solving, but if the individuals in the community do not realize early on the economic potential of its resources they can’t develop a learning curve that allows them to capitalize on market opportunities. Creativity, vision, and innovation have been essential historical elements to explain the effective development of vegetable production in the town.

The demand for vegetables is so high that irrigation technologies such as canals, pumps, and gravity-fed sprinklers systems have been constructed to support intensive year round cultivations, Falkowski (2000: 62).
Institutions in Alomolonga

The system of property rights in Almolonga seems to work quite efficiently. No armed conflicts for arable land have been registered (with some few exceptions). Expropriation has not occurred either. In essence there is no evidence of conflict in the town. Even though there have been some conflicts between the Almolonga and the Zunil municipalities, they remain non-violent, and peaceful negotiations are ongoing. The negotiating skills of the Almolongueños are key for this outcome.

Why in this town, that is almost the perfect textbook example for the existence of conflict for resources (as the theory and evidence of the resource curse suggests), conflicts for land remain limited? An Almolongueño lawyer emphasizes the importance of the Mayan justice system (la justicia maya). He claims that conflicts for land are very rare, and when conflict exists (such as intra-families conflict), people physically fight, they release their frustrations, and this method works efficiently.

Corruption is a common characteristic of resource rich economies. Although there is a perception among some Almolongueños that corruption exists in the town, its level is not considered as substantially higher or lower than corruption in other municipalities in the province of Quetzaltenango.

The economy however is still concentrated in agricultural production and an external shock will harm the town. Diversification of the economy is still low. During my interviews with intermediaries, members of the cooperative, and producers, they express their concern for the need of organic production. They claimed that other vegetable producing regions in Guatemala are taking advantage of this market, such as the community of Patzitzia, located in Chimaltenango, around sixty kilometers from the capital.

The concentration of the Almolonga economy on vegetable production, given the possibility of international shocks and competition from other regions, is indeed a sign of vulnerability, but the real effects still remain to be seen.

Protestant Ethic and Economic Prosperity

The Almolonga case shows the importance of institutional development, complemented with rapid market penetration (fostered by high vegetable demand), which has created intense competition among landowners and vegetable producers (it has been reported that even in the late 1980s individuals worked really hard, since four or five in the morning to six or seven at night (Goldin 1989)). Nowadays, some producers even use torches to light their work in the fields at three in the morning.

There is an emphasis is on individuality and relying on individual effort to achieve goals (Goldin and Metz 1991: 334). Even though there are around 2,500 head of household in the town, less than one hundred belong to the only cooperative in town.

Low corruption, rent seeking, and conflict, remained in check due to the institutional arrangements of the town. Institutions have evolved during the past forty years. The institutions, linked to religion adherence, explain the diligence and dedicated work of Almolongueños as well as their orientation towards highly productive entrepreneurship:


The local institutions (formal and informal) are intrinsically related to a religion worldview in the town. The values that Protestantism has brought into Almolonga are those needed to be successful in the competitive agricultural market. It has being reported that religious conversion in the town is a sort of public statement of commitment with a larger set of moral standards (Goldin and Metz 1991: 330). The transcendental worldview of the current Protestant discourse responds almost perfectly to the demands of the market. It is even possible that the Protestant discourse is adapting itself to the transformations toward free markets and individualism. It is argued that more than ninety per cent of the population is active participant evangelical (Sandoval March 2009). Some argue that it is over fifty percent (Gooren 2002). A study published in 1991 found that 52 percent of the population was Catholic and 48 percent Protestant (Goldin and Metz 1991: 327). Goldin (1989) suggest that in 1989, 20 per cent of the population of the municipio was evangelical. In the 1960s only 13 percent of the population was Protestant. There are thirty-seven temples in town, some of them deliver the service through their radio stations, and some even have Internet radios (Sandoval March 2009). Some evangelical ministers have several (sometimes even hundreds) videos in Youtube.com, they have Facebook pages, and TV stations. Regarding the Catholic Church, since 1988, a Catholic priest has shared his obligations in Almolonga with two other townships (Goldin and Metz 1991: 327).

The combination of high agricultural potential with religious values that promote hard work, high self-esteem, creation and multiplication of wealth (entrepreneurial activity), increased savings, and living a frugal life (but at that at the same time promotes investment spending that generates financial returns), explains the growing income in Almolonga. As Sherman indicates: “Although religious affiliation is not a significant variable in economic development, religious worldview certainly is (Gooren 2002).” Goldin (1989) indicates that the introduction of Evangelism seems to be the result of capital accumulation, or may be a simultaneous process more than the cause of it. It is not surprising that Weber’s Protestant ethic and the origins of capitalism resonates loudly whenever the case of Almolonga is discussed, although it has also been argued that prosperity started in the town even before Protestantism (Gutierrez July 2007). In her book review of Amy Sherman’s The Soul of Development: Biblical Christianity and Economic Transformation in Guatemala, Gooren (2002) indicates:

The conclusions are clear and straightforward: 'joining an Evangelical church leads first to behavior modifications, and then, for true converts who adopt a biblical worldview, to attitudinal transformation as well. The adoption of a morally rigorous Protestant ethic (by both Evangelicals and some orthodox Catholics) frees believers from alcohol addiction and encourages careful, disciplined investments in family well-being, [...] The reformed lifestyle common among Evangelicals usually brings modest, not dramatic, socio-economic improvement' (p. 163).

To understand the effects of Protestantism in Almolonga it is necessary to understand the religious deep transformation that Guatemala has witness over the past fifty years. Goldin and Metz (1991) provide a summary of reasons, from the anthropological literature and research, on the conversion towards Protestantism in Latin America, and Guatemala in particular: political, economic, and social reasons are explained. Even earthquakes and natural disasters have contributed to the ongoing conversion religious (Goldin and Metz 1991).

Mainly American missionaries brought Protestantism into the country. Conversions in Guatemala are closely related to ideology introduced by North American missionaries after the reforms of Justo Rufino Barrios in 1870 (1991: 335). It slowly started penetrating rural areas, during the 1980s the penetration accelerated. Currently Protestantism has overpasses Catholicism in Guatemala. There are several mega churches (churches over 5,000 members) in the country. Practically millions of individuals have found in Protestantism healing to emotional wounds coming from poverty, separated households, domestic violence, alcoholism, civil war, deficient medical services, broken political promises, a large number of car accidents, and a recent violent activity that has killed over 20,000 since the peace accords. The Guatemalan soul suffers deep pain for multiple would, so to speak. Millions of Guatemalans see Protestantism as the way to find the healing that they did not find in Catholicism, or that the Catholic Church partially failed to provide.

Catholicism has lost ground because of structural reasons but also because of pragmatic motives. Structurally, the Catholic Church has not provided the high level of dynamism and engagement that most of the population demanded. The protestant structure is based on biblical cells, relatively easy conversion of pastors (who do not have to keep celibacy), and probably more importantly on the flexible interpretation of the bible. Pastors usually speak the local language and share the same cultural framework (Goldin and Metz 1991:331). Because of this pastors are considered to have a more profound power of translating the Bible to the needs of their congregation (331). In Guatemala there are around 28 thousand evangelical pastors, but only 590 Catholic priests (Sandoval, March 2009). The dynamism of this structure has been more accessible and more satisfying to the soul for many Guatemalans.

The pragmatic reasons that explain the advancement of Protestantism consist mainly on more rigid rules enforced by social pressure. One can’t drink a drop of alcohol, can’t dance salsa, merengue or any rhythm of the world (del mundo). Members of the protestant church, including the leaders, make sure that each of them complies with the norms. Privileges in the church are assigned according to proper behavior, and even improper behavior is denounced and transgressors are ashamed in public at church. Even Catholics or non-practitioners criticize and denounce when a protestant violets the norms of her church. In economic terms, it seems that it is socially more expensive to violate rules in the Protestant church then it is in the Catholic Church.

It is in this context that one can understand the linkage between Protestantism and vegetable production leading to economic prosperity in Almolonga. Of course, institutions linked to Protestantism has been a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the generation of prosperity and he avoidance of the resource curse and the Dutch Disease. There are many other rural and urban municipalities in Guatemala, where Protestantism is also prevalent, but have not reach the level of growth Almolonga has. As mention above, the whole story need to incorporate also natural reasons, and a high national and international demand for Almolonga vegetables.

In Almonoga Protestants exhibit higher levels of economic attainment than Catholics, on average (Goldín 1996) and Protestants are generally well viewed by Catholics (Goldin and Metz 1991). It is widely claimed that Protestantism has contributed to the drastic reduction in Alcohol consumption, to the formation of social networks and social capital, and to the reduction in the transaction costs of solving conflicts and making business. Sandoval (March 2009) includes comments by producers in this regard: “If I am going to do business what better than doing them with a [Christian] brother,” a producer said. “If [he] is a brother I know he is not going to let me down,” another one mentioned.

Theology of prosperity

“The theology of prosperity” is a common phrase to describe the causal effect of religion over affluent economic conditions in Almolonga, and the inhabitants argue that material riches are sign of God’s blessings (Gonzales, March 2009). Individuals in the town claim that they have looked for God first, and material prosperity has followed.

The minister of one of the largest churches in town claim that Almolonga went through a face of transformation based on the biblical principles. Each individual member of his church has gone to a similar transformation. He refers to Romans 12:2 as the based for non conformation, transformation, and renovation; to Genesis 12:2 as the based for the God’s promise of blessings and magnification of the name of the individual who follows him; to Psalms 23:3 as the bases for the fulfillment of material and spiritual needs; and specially Deuteronomy 28 as God’s promise of prosperity: obeying God brings exaltation over all nations; blessings over one’s city and fields; blessings over the fruit of the womb, the agricultural fields, cattle, and livestock. It also brings blessings over one’s basket, craft, and barns. Abundance of goods is promised to those who obeyed. “One will lend to others but will never borrow from others.” “Jehovah will make one the head and not the tail.” Several Almolongueños had these maxims as the core of their worldview. A young lawyer claimed that he wanted to direct at least three law firms, and a leading intermediary wants to promote organic products for export to the European and US markets. Both of them want to be “the head and not the tail.” Even religious activity itself is intimately mixed with engaging into new ventures. The minister founded the church, which now congregates around 3,000 members, around thirty five years ago, after a career as a successful intermediary, he has now branches of his church in El Salvador, Mexico, and even in US (with churches in Alabama, Queens in New York, and Pomona California). He set the covertura (initial mandate or blessing). The church in El Salvador started with 4 members it now has over 400. Close relatives from Almolonga (like his brother) manage some of these churches. He drives the newest Mitsubishi Nativa truck for church activities, owns the newest BMW as his personal vehicle, and participates constantly in crusades in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. In 2010 he was invited to visit the US two times. He sees these activities and material accomplishment as the manifestation of God’s promise.

Social and economic institutions linked to religious practices have help individuals to direct their entrepreneurial skills toward productive activities (Baumol 1990). The practice of Protestantism help individuals focus on work, the largest vegetable producers work more than twelve hours a day during the pick season. Some sermons at Evangelical churches are almost like crash courses on Entrepreneurship, where the pastor talks not only about the teachings of Christ, love, or faith in God, but also he gives advice on why and how to start a new entrepreneurial venture, how to get financing, and how to invest the returns. Goldin and Metz (1991: 331) present ethnographic evidence in this regard:

The minister, besides religion, he gives you advice on how to improve your socioeconomic situation. Such as: "avoid fiestas, dress better, invest money, buy a car, enjoy development..." Because it would be useless to obtain money if one will continue living like before, you have to get a modern lifestyle.

My own fieldwork and interviews in the town confirms this. When asked what is the role of religion in his life, a distributor of vegetables claimed that el Evangelism defines him as a person of success, he was born to be “the head not the tail.” He felt blessed and complies as a [evangelical] Christian by doing his part, paying taxes, and generating employment. Being Christian makes him stay focused on his work and his family, on doing what is right: “Voy a donde tengo que ir. Hago lo que tengo que hacer” (I go where I am supposed to go. I do what I am supposed to do).

Final remarks

The prosperity of Almolonga has been used by several churches in Guatemala as an example of what God does for a community that starts obeying His Word. The social bonds already established between members of Evangelical churches are so strong that there is a high cost of conversion to a new, incoming, religion.

Religion, work, and the use of technology mixed together in Almolonga and it is hard to determine the separated effect of each of them. For example, referring to the combination of praying and the use of insecticides a women producer claims: “Hacen falta las dos cosas, si uno sólo ora no funciona, tampoco funciona el fertilizante sin oración” [“Two things are needed, if one only prays it does not work, but the fertilizer without praying does not work either”] (Sandoval March 2009).

Do Guatemalans need to adopt a Protestant worldview to prosper? Certainly no. Guatemalans are very heterogeneous and we have very different backgrounds. Even among indigenous people there are clear differences in the history, motivations, and attitude towards life and work. There is a portion of Guatemala, however, with a history of marginalization, poverty, and lack of opportunities. Actually, a large portion of Guatemalans grew up in broken homes, witnessing domestic violence and alcoholic parents, etc. For them Protestantism is probably (and has been) the most accessible way to find support and hope.

Amolonga faces some challenges, for instance the economy does not show high diversification. Besides, during the 1990s few Almolongueños migrated to Los, Angeles, California, where it is reported that a sizable community has developed (Arbona 1998: 50). Land remains concentrated among few proprietors, which is a historical situation (Goldin 1989). Nevertheless vegetable production as a whole has benefit the majority, directly or indirectly.

There are indications improvements in human development that go beyond monetary income, for example:

Of the 2,261 housing units in the municipio, 87.7 percent have latrines with drainage for the disposal of excreta; the other 12.3 percent do not have any specific means for disposing of human waste. This is an improvement over the situation a decade ago, when only 33.85 percent of the households had latrines (Gonzalez 1996), (cited in Arbona, 1998: 52).

However, in Almolonga there seems to be a trade-off between material well being and some indicators of human development, and the health costs of using pesticides, for example. Further research is necessary to assess the costs and benefits. From an economic development perspective, one recommendation that emerges from my investigations is that Almolongueños (and consumers) should be provided with the necessary information to put their choices in perspective when it comes to pesticides use.

There is evidence that institutions linked to the role of churches in Almolonga are contributing to a broader definition of socio-economic development, such as gender equality. A pastor commented that he is trying to reduce the historical marginalization of women in the town, he claims that during services and in social activities he promotes women inclusion. When I asked the biblical bases for such actions, he referred to Ephesians 5:

In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies. A man who loves his wife loves himself.

Finally, it has been argued in the political science literature that the coincidence of economic interest between the political sector and the economic sector promotes prosperity. In the case of the Southern-African country of Botswana, for example it has been argued that historically politicians have also been entrepreneurs within a major industry in the country (cattle) (Marroquin and Poteete 2005). The same situation can be observed in Almolonga. Politicians and members of the municipal junta are also vegetable producers or intermediaries. This coincidence of interest might explain why municipal charges (tasas) to producers and distributors remain reasonable. The charge for a pickup truck loaded with vegetables, to enter the market place, is approximately sixty-five cents of a dollar. This hypothesis of coincidence of interests between the municipal authorities and vegetable producers, however, requires further research.


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