Paraguay Indians receive MEDA land

Erie and Orlyss Sauder with a Paraguayan cattle rancher and his family in 1985. Erie Sauder made many trips to work with indigenous groups in Paraguay. | Erie and Orlyss Sauder photo courtesy the Sauder family

As part of celebrating MEDA’s 70 years of investing in entrepreneurs, The Marketplace magazine looks back at significant events in the organization’s history. The Mennonite Central Committee News Service issued the news release below on June 6, 1976. Thanks to the MCC archives in Akron, PA, for sharing this.

Akron, Pa.: On April 30, 1976, officials of Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and the Indian Settlement Board (ISB), Filadelfia, Paraguay, met to transfer 26,634 acres of land from MEDA to the ISB. A signed agreement states that the land must be sold by the ISB to Paraguayan Indian families who wish to farm. Funds from these sales are to be used to build roads, schools, clinics and churches in the area.

Initially the land will be divided into 100-hectare (250 acre) plots. Each of these plots must have 10 hectares (25 acres) of land on which crops can be raised. The rest will be used for raising cattle. The ISB will approve the settlers’ plans and work closely with each family as it starts out. The land, called the Casaurina ranch, was purchased in the late 1950s by a group of MEDA members. It was first used for growing crops and raising cattle then later rented to an individual for a cattle ranch.

There are 250 Indian families waiting for farmland on which to settle, mostly young families from the second generation of Indian settlers. The ranch, therefore, responds to one of the most urgent needs facing the ISB. A total of 771 Indian families have been settled on their own land under the ISB. Eighty families were settled in 1975. MEDA has been working in credit programs with the Paraguayan groups since the early 1960s. Each Indian settlement has organized its own credit committee to administer MEDA funds. The funds are being used by individual families to purchase horses, harnesses, wagons, and plows.

Cattle at Casaurina ranch in Paraguay

Recently Indian cooperatives have begun using MEDA funds for cattle purchase, fence building, digging water holes and clearing land. When the first MEDA funds were loaned to the Indian people it would not have been surprising if the entire amount had been lost because of the people’s inexperience with handling money. To date, however, no funds have been written off.

This program has become one of MEDA’ s most important and MEDA will continue to work with the ISB to meet credit needs of both individuals and cooperatives. Erie J. Sauder, chairman of the MEDA Paraguay committee, his wife Orlyss Sauder, and Lloyd J. Fisher, MEDA executive director, were present to sign the agreement on April 30.

Lloyd J. Fisher, MEDA executive director

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