Williams Serafin Novoa Lizardo: interview transcript

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Williams Serafin Novoa Lizardo: interview transcript

Williams Serafin Novoa Lizardo is a farmer living in the village of Ramos in the province of Rodríguez of Mendoza, Amazonas region, Peru. He was aged 20 when he was interviewed on 22 April 2010 for the Rural Poverty Report 2011. The interview was recorded in Spanish and carried out by a staff member from Calandria. The interviewer had an existing relationship with the community but was not a professional researcher.


Interviewer's introduction: We walked for some 30 minutes around the houses of the community of Ramos to find Serafín's house – that's how he is known in Ramos. His house is made of mud and straw bricks, with a roof of local tiles, that don't allow the rain to soak through.
We found Serafín's mother and brother beside the house; they told us that he was in the backyard.  We walked through a farmyard and a poultry pen and finally found him. He was grinding coffee in the middle of the farmyard, and he welcomed us with a big smile on his face.

Serafín has dark skin, eyes and hair, and strong muscles due to his dedication to agricultural tasks. He was wearing trousers, a T-shirt and a sweater, and his hands smelled of coffee and were stained with it as well.

Serafín showed us his house, which has three rooms: a big one where the living room and kitchen are; we saw a sink made of cement and bricks, with the water piped in from the ground. We also saw a table with chairs and benches, and a device for grinding grain: corn, wheat, herbs or other products. Then he invited us to visit the bedrooms; one is his parents' and he shares the other with his younger siblings.
We sat and talked before starting the interview. Despite his deep voice and his initial nervousness, he projected a feeling of much friendship and willingness to confide to us. He has a light way of talking, and he smiled a lot.

Well, now we are with Williams Novoa, and the point is to talk a little with him about his life and his family… Williams, how old are you?
20 years old.

Williams, tell us something about you… What do you do for living, what are you doing now?
Well, for the moment I am just working here at the farm, I am sowing the crops.

Do you live with your parents?
Yes, with them.

How many siblings do you have, and how old are they?
Well, we are 12 children.

Two siblings?
No, 12 children...

Tell us who the oldest is, and how old the youngest is.
The oldest is María, she is aged 48. The second is Aquilina, aged 46; then comes a man called Fidel, he is aged 42; the fourth is Lina, aged 40. Then comes my brother Johnny, he is 38; and Carmen follows.

So you are about two years older between one another?
Two, two years…

 And after Carmen, who is next?
My sister Yolanda, and then comes Abigail, my brother Johnny, my sister Asunta, Berli; then me, Williams, and the youngest is my brother Manuel.

So you are the penultimate.
Yes, the penultimate.

 OK, now let's talk a little about what you do… you say that you are not studying for the moment?
No, I am not.

And tell me… did your older siblings have the chance to study at school? Maybe they studied only primary school or secondary also?  
Well, my brother Fidel, the third, actually studied, but he moved out to Lima at the age of 12, an aunt of ours took him away. In Lima he studied and worked; now he is working at a mining site called Antamina in.

And what about your older sisters, did they study only primary? Or didn't they have the chance to follow studies?
Well, my oldest sister studied secondary school, then she met her partner - they are still together – so she stopped studying, she only studied up to secondary.

And you, up to what school grade did you study, did you finish studying?
I only studied primary school.

And the rest of your siblings – besides your oldest sister, who did study secondary school – did they reach secondary?
Two of them have studied secondary, the others only reached primary.

Did they attend to school?
No, they only studied here in Ramos.

What can you say about the primary education that you received at school'. Do you think that it is necessary for the things that you are doing now, or would you have liked to study a little higher?
Well, for the activities that I perform now, I can say that primary school is enough; in fact, most of us spend our time at the farm. I would have liked to study more and become someone significant in life, but regrettably I haven't had the chance because I didn't study enough.

And such possibilities have to do with the topic of economical resources, or is there another cause that avoided you to keep on studying?
Well, it actually has to do a lot with economic resources. As you see, we have no money, so we don't have many chances.

Do you think that there would be more chances or opportunities if there were a secondary school in Ramos or Santa Rosa, or in a closer community?
It would absolutely be useful, because there are many, many people here who suffer fin order to study. They have to move out very far to attend a school. So a school is very necessary here in the countryside. 

Do you think that such education would allow you to get a better job? I mean, if you had studied secondary school, or maybe a superior education?
Yes, certainly, because everything has to do with studying nowadays.

And do you think that superior or secondary school, or even primary school, should include some activities related to agriculture, I mean, that you be taught to sow and harvest at school?  
Yes, certainly, it could be.

Let's see… you also told me that the reasons or circumstances for which you dropped studying had to do with the economical. Was there another reason additional to the economical aspect?
Well, my parents couldn't afford education for us all. We are 12 children, right? So if our parents gave education to one of us, maybe they couldn't afford it for some of the rest, so we stayed just like that.

Tell me something about the work that you perform at the farm, what do you usually grow?
We grow almost everything, so to say…a little of everything, and it does grow…

But what do you usually grow?
OK, we start with pineapples, and then we sow yucca, coffee, bananas, oranges, sweet potatoes, guavas…

But there are also some works that you perform for assisting your family, for how many hours a day approximately?
See, we usually work from 8 to 12 and from 1 to 5.

And do all your siblings devote to those works, or only you and the men, whereas the women devote to the household chores?
For the moment my siblings are outside the area, I am the only one who is staying by my parents' side.

So who lives in your house besides you…?
My mum and my two dads.

And you
And me…

And your siblings live somewhere else… in separate houses?
Yes, separate places. Some of them live in Lima, and the others live in different districts.

How long have you been involved in agriculture labors, ever since your childhood, or just recently?
Ever since I was a kid because I have lived here ever since I was born.

And do you think that your support has contributed to the family unity, and getting an extra income? Or maybe your family would have been the same with or without your contribution?
Well, I don't think so.  As you see, here we don't have many possibilities to help one another, we only work for ourselves.

Do you think that you would need a higher qualification for improving your work at the farm, or is it not necessary to have a higher qualification?
Yes, I would.

For example, in what topic?
For example… see, there are some people who know about agricultural techniques, and I would like to know more about that.

How come… what do those techniques mean: management of machinery, improvement of the crops, and melioration of the lands?
Yes, improvement of land, for instance, selecting the seeds, working the land in a better way, fertilizing it for better yields, and right? All that  is necessary here.

From now into 10 years in the future, do you see yourself doing the same work, William, or doing something else?
Well, I would like to do some other things.

What for example?
I would like to study mechanics, I like it.

Mechanics, well… And what could you do for achieving that dream, for making it happen?
Well, make my own effort, right?  And leave my district because here there are not the same chances that we could find somewhere else. I would like to move out to the capital city Lima or to another city where I can learn, see, practice, study… regrettably, here we cannot do that.

OK, now tell us a little about what you do at the farm… do you work with your father, or on your own?
Well, both my dad and my mom are elderly, so sometimes we hire assistants; if not, we couldn't work the farm.

 How many assistants do you have, and what are their working hours?
Sometimes we work with four or five assistants, when there is a good harvest, but most of the times we work by ourselves.

What are the main challenges that agriculture faces here in Ramos every day?
There are many diseases that affect the fruits, for instance pineapples, yuccas, oranges…. too many worms.

What is the name of the "pineapple worm"?… I have heard a lot about it, but I don't know its name…
It's called gomosa… and the oranges also grow small worms, but we don't know their name, we just realize they are there when they appear… the "orange worm".

So we can say that the appearance of plant diseases is a challenge; and the land is still fertile, or is it less fertile than it was 10 years ago?
No, the land doesn't yield the same, the land is tired, so we have to work more to make it yield. But we have no options, so we cannot stop working.

Would you like to change the way in which you and your family presently work the agriculture, that is, turn it more technical maybe, or do you think that the way you do it now is OK?
Well, in my opinion, it's not good, and we would like it to get better, but as you see, there are no chances here, we don't have the opportunities that others have somewhere else, and we would like to have them.

OK, let's talk a little about the environmental topic… have you heard about the climatic changes?
Yes, yes…

What is the meaning of that for agriculture?
Well, let's say… there are too many problems here, for example, the more trees are burned, the poorer the land will get, right?  Because the leaves that are burned are natural fertilizers, we have a lot of that here.

Do you think that these climatic changes will affect the community of Ramos, your farm and what you do?
Certainly, of course…

In what way would all that be affected?
For example, many diseases come, pollution comes and spoils the environment, you see? And when there is no reforestation it gets even worse.

 Is it possible that the population can face this unexpected situation, so to say?
I think they can.

What could the population possibly do in this case?
Well, make an agreement for preserving the mountains, do not burn [trees], collect garbage… that would be good.

And besides the agricultural activities that you and your family perform, is there another activity that you do, or just that?
Just that, there's no other alternative, only that.

Neither for you nor for the rest of the families around here?
For nobody, that's right.

However, would you like to dedicate to another economic activity, can you imagine yourselves creating your own business?
Yes, we would like to change…

But what would you like to do?
For instance, maybe not selling pineapples, but exporting coffee. Coffee has got a good sale [price], and here it is widely produced.

Is the coffee good, does it have a good reception? Do you grow it just for personal or familial consumption?
Well, now we grow coffee here in Santa Rosa, but we lack the capacity and land to produce more.

Tell me something: besides pineapples, what other crops do you grow in large quantities, so to say?
Well, besides pineapples, now we are growing yucca, it's becoming more commercial now.

These two products – pineapples and yuccas – how do you sell them? What is the selling circuit?  
Some people come over here from other places; they buy the products and take it away with them.

And how many pineapples – as an average – do those people take to other places a week?
Well… two years ago they took tons of pineapples

And now?
Now, due to the problem of the gomosa worm, that disease, not even half a ton is taken.

And how many of those pineapples come from your family's farm?
My brother told me that they used to harvest sacks of fruit: 10, 15 sacks… now we barely manage two or three sacks.

So we can say that it has reduced…
A lot reduced…

 And does the yucca have the same circuit, or do you take it somewhere else?
It is taken somewhere else, to the province of Rodríguez de Mendoza.

And the yield for yucca is high or low?
Well, the yucca has become a good product to sell over the last two or three years.1

How good a product?
The sacks of yucca used to be sold cheaply before, but now the price has increased a lot, it's almost twice as high.

Do you think that if the people of the community of Ramos made an agreement and gathered together all their pineapple yielding, could you organize yourselves in order to carry all your yielding instead of having an intermediary?
Well, the reason why we cannot go out to sell our products is because the transportation fees are very expensive.

And is there any board, any group, any organization here in your community, or do you do all in an individual manner. Have you organized yourselves together as pineapples growers?   
Well, there used to be a committee, but when the disease (AH1Ni – swine flu)2 spread people withdrew, the committee became disorganized and resulted in nothing in the end.

So now each one…
Each individual sells his products separately.

Tell me something about you and your family… you told me that some of your relatives live in Lima, and others in Mendoza, right? So it means that they have migrated far away. Were your older siblings born here or somewhere else?
They were born here.

But afterwards they made up their minds about moving away?
Yes, they realized that there were no possibilities of living well here, they said they would improve their lives, and they moved away.

And you, have you ever moved away, or have you always lived here?
Well, I have visited my siblings from time to time, but I always return here to my home town.

And do you think that either your sisters living in Lima, or your brothers, live better?
My sisters in Lima.

Do your sisters living in Lima have better life conditions than when they lived here?
Well, in my opinion, they have better conditions now.

So, they live now in a good place, in better conditions than in Ramos?
Well, in my opinion, they are living in a good place, they have their jobs in the city, and you don't need to kill yourself working to make progress, as you do here. Here we suffer a lot if we want to get something to improve our conditions of living.

And do you think that you will migrate, you will move away from Ramos to somewhere else in the future, or will you keep on living here?
Well, I would love to move away, because, as you see, people suffer a lot here.

So you would like to migrate… and where would you like to move?, maybe within Amazonas, or are you thinking about the capital city, or even abroad?
In my opinion, there are many districts here that are very attractive, they are better: better production, better land. I would definitively like to move away from here, but without leaving Amazonas.

Here in Amazonas? And keeping on with what you have been doing so far?
No, a new field.

Do you think that moving away from here is a way of leaving poverty behind, is that what it means for you?
Well, not exactly. Wherever you go, if you don't work hard, you mean nothing.

But let's say that, for example, if you moved away from here to Rodríguez de Mendoza, and you found a place to grow your crops… Do you think that by moving away from here you are leaving poverty behind? But you are moving out to keep doing the same.
Well, both things, improving my life and keep on doing the same.

So you are thinking about moving away from Ramos as a mechanism of leaving poverty behind.
Exactly.

Tell me: do you join any organization, any sports club?
I joined the sports club of Ramos.

And what do you usually do in the club, do you play soccer, are you a member of the board of directors?
I play soccer and I am a member of the board of directors.

How long have you joined that club?
Practically ever since I got through primary school, because I live here, I belong here, and I have joined that club.

Approximately how many people of Ramos participate in this club?
About 30 people.

All young people?
All young people.

Now let me know about the topic of the information, the news that you receive…. What is the mass medium or the manner in which you receive news about what is happening in Amazonas or Peru.
We get informed through radio or television.

And how long have you had electricity here in Ramos?.
Ever since last November.

And what do you prefer to listen on the radio: musical programmes or news programmes.
Well, I can say that we listen to a little of each kind, because it's good to know the news, and then we listen to music.

About the news that you listen on the radio or watch on TV, is there any opinion leader or any special news that has caught your attention?
Yes, there are some news items that grab our attention because we like them. For instance, about what is happening in sport, because you like sports. We even want to know what happens in other countries, see?

When you are having problems or worries, who do you share them with?
Well, when we go out to play or work with our friends, we comment and share our things. Sometimes what somebody doesn't know, we do know, so we share it.

Is there anyone that you consult within your extended family or your community in front of any worry or problem in order to take better decisions?
Well, only the mayor, we go to him for asking for some support.

Do you think that this leader reflects the community's opinions or interests, that he is close to these problems?
The former mayor was very involved with the problems of our district, our village, but the present mayor has only a little regard, he doesn't care about agriculture or any other problem that happens here, he disregards them.

Let's see… I can imagine that one of the things that you do when you are not working is playing soccer.
Yes.

And what else do you usually do in your spare time?
Well, talking, being around with my parents at home, exercising a little, jogging or maybe playing something besides sports.

What is for you being poor here in Ramos, what are the characteristics?
Being poor means not having money, and not having opportunities. You cannot even eat, or help your neighbour, your friend.

Do you think that there are very poor people here, are there some people who have more and people who have less?
Yes, some people have more, but there are some people who have nothing indeed.

What do you think are the main causes of poverty, why does it start?
Because one helps someone, and he gets accustomed to that support; but also because people don't have a place to work and produce.

Do you think that your family is less poor than others, I mean, are there poorer people than your family, than you and your parents? 
Maybe there are…

And people with more resources than you?
Yes.

If you could score yourselves among the ones having more and having less, what place would you be in a range 1 to 5, so to say?, understanding that 1 has more and 5 has less.
Could be third or fourth…

Do you think that your family economy has improved or decreased over the last years?
Well, I can say that it has improved a little…

How can you see that?  Why do you think it has improved?
Because my siblings have a steady job in Lima, and they help us; that's why we can work our farm, the land, and it's somehow producing.

What are the aspects that you think can push people to become poor?
Well, it can be having too many children, and not getting education; another reason might be not to have possibilities to move out from here.

Can you save money, or just spend it day by day?
Day by day.

And what about if someone in the family gets sick… if you get sick, for example, could you be taken to Santa Rosa or Mendoza to be healed? Would you have money to buy medicines, and if you required surgery, would you have resources enough?
Well, about that matter… we could have just a portion [of the necessary funds], but not enough. But people are very united and collaborative here, and we help our neighbours to make sick people better whenever disease occurs.

If a drought happened here in Ramos, a season with no rain, do you think that the community people would help one another?
I think they would.

How can you imagine that, what would you do together?
Well, we would unite and ask an institution or the government for help, so they would support us.

You say that there are some people who are very poor because they cannot grow their crops, but there are other families, for instance your parents, who are privileged because they have you, right?. But I imagine that there are other people who are very old who cannot work, so do you think that there actually exist people with a higher risk?
Yes, there are many people like that.

So, let's picture a very particular, personal situation. I suppose that people should have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and supper. Does your family have these three meals every day, or are there some occasions when you don't?
Well, here in Ramos we do count on having the resources to afford these three meals a day.

So we can say that you always have some food on your table?
We always do.

Now let's talk about the future, can you see yourself doing the same within 10 years from now?
No, I don't think so; everyone has to look for his own way of living.

Do you think that young people have enough opportunities to move ahead here in the community of Ramos?
If there were a school here, then I think that young people would have more opportunities in the future.

So we can say that the main reason why young people cannot succeed is because they don't have access to secondary education.
Exactly, because of that reason.

And do you think that, within five or 10 years from now, when you have children, do you think that your children would have the same life than you, or would they have new and better chances?
Well, I think that it would be different.

How different?
Well, we shouldn't expect that our children be the same than we are now, right? We have to do something so our children would succeed in their life, so they wouldn't follow the same ways that we are having.

What do you opine about the new generations, about little children, do you think that they are growing in a good setting. I mean, besides the fact that the community of Ramos is a tranquil place, do you think that this new generation can expect a better development in the future? Or do you think that they have little chances to develop themselves?
I think that they will have better opportunities to achieve better things over time.

What does "to have better chances" mean?
Well, the thing is that now most people don't study, and studying is good, because if you study you will get a good job anywhere; you will have chances. But here we don't have those chances, the same chances that we would have in the city.

OK, and if the elections were held tomorrow, and William were elected as mayor, what would William do on behalf of his community?
Firstly, I would build a school.

A secondary school?
Yes, secondary.

And what if, within 10 or 15 years from now, you would become not mayor, but a congressman or  a president, what would you do on behalf of Peru, of the young people?, that would be a bet.
I would support young people, so that they would keep studying and have a better future.

What does it depend upon? What should we, Peruvians, do in order to move ahead?
Work hard.

What does success mean to you?
It means that, if you have a dream, you can make it real and become proud of such achievement. Success means to achieve your goals.  

Do you think that it's easy to achieve success here in the community of Ramos, or do you think that it's still very complicated, that it's a process that hasn't reached the community yet?
I think that it's a process that hasn't reached us yet.

That means that there is nobody successful here in Ramos?
Not for the moment.

Do you think that this will change from here within some years?, I mean, if I returned here within 10 years from now, and asked you the same questions, would you tell me that there have been some people who have reached success?
Certainly, it can be, I think so.

Who would depend it of? Who could get success: adults, young people, children…?
Young people and children most of the time.  

 Do you think that you could do something on behalf of your community? You, William, with the skills and capacities that you have, can you contribute with something?
I think so.

In what, for example?
For instance, help others to reach their goals, encourage them, give them support and lead them to become something they want to become. 

Interviewer:
Thank you very much, Williams.


1/ The yucca is mainly sold in markets as a foodstuff. The reason for the prices going up recently is because there is a shortage of it. This occurs mainly during the rainy season in the Amazon, from November to January (which is when the interview took place).

2/ This disease caused a lot of worry, particularly in the Amazon region, where there were 3 cases.