The SICA of Fond Saint-Jacques

A universe not to forget!

In 2018, many members of the Fond Saint-Jacques cooperative proudly celebrated sixty years of their working tool, efforts, sacrifices, successes and concerns. We rejoice with them!
Conceived in 1957, then set up in January 1958, the SICA of Fond Saint-Jacques still stands out today and maintains a remarkable dynamism. But in addition, we pay tribute to this study conducted on the oldest SICA in Martinique, because it fills a void.
Its author apprehends the context of the end of the 1950s and the turn of the 1960s, when a new transformation of the Martinican rural world began.

The outline of a history of the post-slavery peasant world

So let us decide for our part to go back much further in the past, to better understand the situation of the peasant world at the beginning of the sixties!
In 1958, when the SICA of the Saint-Jacques Fund was born, it had only been 110 years since slavery had been abolished and the post-slavery world of the countryside had accumulated transformations, reversals, upheavals, conversions , metamorphoses, that is to say multiple and rapid mutations.

The first transformation came from the contemporary economic movement of the end of servitude. This economic shock led to the construction of seventeen central factories between 1843 and 1871. Over this period of thirty years, new rural families of small ex-slave owners or former free people of color wishing to enlarge their plots. These new peasant owners were much more involved in their activities in food production, in secondary export crops, and in artisanal activity for which they and they were suppliers of the markets of the towns and hamlets. But they and they supplied a certain amount of sugar cane to the many small distilleries and traditional sugar factories.

The second reversal came from the three serious world capitalist crises which struck cane sugar between 1884 and 1905. There was a series of bankruptcies in the country, the decline or death of small sugar refineries and distilleries sold at auction, the increased weight of the large central factories who bought up small indebted farms, thus reinitiating concentration and agrarian consolidation. It was consequently the rural exodus towards the large towns, the port of Fort-de-France or emigration for the Panama Canal. We saw the production of coffee and cocoa weaken considerably, and we witnessed the de facto disappearance of the cultivation of cotton and tobacco. These products lost their status as secondary export crops; they became provisions for local or even simply family consumption, of which small farms, along with the manufacture of cassava flour, became the purveyors. The rural landscape was strongly marked by it, but so was the social structure of the rural population. Finally, it was all the same the rise of rum Z'habitant (that is to say agricultural rum) manufactured by the better off distilleries, many of which belonged to mulattoes. Alongside the large planters, these formed one of the strata of the rich peasantry, each and every one distinguishing themselves from the mass of poor peasants.

Third , many other twists and turns occurred in the period from the start of the Great War (1914) to the end of the Second World War (1945). It was first of all, until 1921, a dazzling period for rum, a real strategic product during the war of trenches and position in France. Useful for the supply of the troops mobilized and necessary for the hospitals, its export made explode the fortune of the large planters. The culture of the cane knew in that time of the flourishing summits.

But the situation changed with the French legislative measures. first of quota of rum of 1922 and 1924. By 1925, the number of distilleries had decreased drastically. Wages were heavily eroded, social struggles multiplied (revisiting the workers' mobilization of 1923 counting the tragic death of strikers in Bassignac). With the quota on sugar production in 1933, the 1930s prolonged the crisis of the previous decade. The famous hunger march of February 1935 inflamed the social climate of a Martinique plunged into the agricultural doldrums.
Then the Second World War amplified the problems. It was no longer the same conjuncture as that of 1914-1918; nothing was sold anymore because of the maritime blockade. Stocks had increased but above all the materials and equipment of factories, distilleries and farms were little used and almost sometimes in a state of abandonment.
Throughout these thirty years from 1914 to 1945, the small peasantry fell heavily into debt. Other small farmers suffered from hunger for land while some civil servants, including many teachers from the new rising layer of the black and mulatto elite, invested in small farms. It is within this framework that the general council committed in 1931, for the small peasantry, the parcelling out of the domain of Fonds Saint Jacques which was property of the colony and located on the territory of the mayor of Sainte-Marie who is also president of the general council. , Joseph Lagrosilliere. The end of the Second World War had not greatly improved the lot of the small rural world.

Fourth, a harsh conversion was imposed in the period from 1945 to 1960. At the end of the Second World War and the serious economic deterioration at the time of Admiral Robert, the essentially agricultural economy based on the monoculture of sugar cane sugar is struggling to get up. Exports to France and commercial circuits having been interrupted for six years, the equipment for lack of fresh money, underused, poorly maintained has become largely obsolete. Despite a timid desire for recovery and government aid, the big béké landowners and millers (békés and European investors) no longer believe in it.
Between 1948 and 1960, the agony of the sugar economy and the old plantation economy became apparent: the hectares planted with cane went from 12,000 to 5,000, i.e. a drop of 58.33%, while the workers in the sugar cane sector fell from 38,000 to 22,000, i.e. a decrease of 42.11%. It is established that the world of habitation and plantation is dying. In these same twelve years (1948-1960), the number of distilleries is reduced considerably (from 185 to 30), the large central factories are floundering (reduction from 16 to 8). From then on, restructuring raged (mechanization, new farming methods); they eliminate small distillers and small farmers and push them and unemployed agricultural workers to a huge rural exodus to Fort de France and large towns like Lamentin.

New trends are emerging. The sharpest of the big landowners, the békés, converted. Those who still invest – or partially! – in agriculture, use part of their capital for other export crops, in particular bananas. However, despite the strong trend towards land concentration and a resumption of land consolidation, there is this apparently contradictory movement of these large landowners who proceed to partial parcelling of their estates or the fragmentation of their properties. It is often a question of having these small producers still able to supply cane to what remains of the factories, sugar refineries and distilleries.
In absolute numbers, the population of the countryside fell by more than half between 1940 and 1960, with the effect of the rural exodus affecting not only the agricultural workers hardest hit by the closures of factories and distilleries, but also small farmers. The rural world is sinking into a great malaise and feels left out of the great upheaval after 1945. In 1960, the Martinican population is no longer predominantly rural.

A new world for small and medium farmers

In 1957, the birth of the Sica du Fonds Saint Jacques took place at this moment in the rural history of Martinique, the social history and the anthropology of a human community in the post-slavery context, the he political history of a former colony living its new status as an overseas department and the economic history of an island undergoing rapid change over the past twelve years.
In this book, Guy Flandrina addresses all these aspects and shows how a new stage in the world of the Martinican countryside is opening up.

rural history when Guy Flandrina talks to us about the previous experiences of parcelling out and dividing up large properties, as well as the notable decision of 1931 to divide up the domain of the Saint Jacques Fund.

social history when the author describes the different types of property and the relationships between the various social strata present in the countryside, including his analysis of the work and the brutal dismissal of women dockers.

political history when the essayist underlines the mutualist, socialist, communist options of these cooperators in the new agricultural schemes between land reform or agrarian reform. It also marks the weight of the famous law of July 18, 1961 for the overseas departments.

Economic history when the journalist was able to trace the constraints of maritime transport imposed by the GGT-CGM-CMA and the important place of credit and expertise organizations including Créditag and then SATEC.

This work constantly refers to sources listed in the appendix, administrative sources, sources from the press, photographic sources, but also testimonies to which I will return later.
It also includes a few key dates to refine a chronology of rural Martinique: the fragmentation of the Saint-Jacques Fund on June 12, 1931, the creation of Créditag in the first half of 1957, the program law of 1960 or the bill of July 18 1961 relating to land tenure in the overseas departments.

Guy Flandrina opens up avenues for future researchers when he begins the pointing (like the beginning of an inventory) of operations of parcelling or dividing up agricultural properties. The list of the following dwellings (Petite Anse in Anses d'Arlet, Bellevue in Sainte-Anne, Dominante in Marigot, Étoile and Bois Séguineau in Lorrain, Ravine Plate in Vauclin, La Pagerie in Trois-Îlets, Morne Vert in Ducos, Leyritz at Basse-Pointe, Concorde, Fourniols, Ferme Saint Jacques, Reculée, Anse Azerot all at Sainte-Marie, Haut Galion at Robert, Anse Couleuvre at Prêcheur, etc., because I have not mentioned them all) encourages us to suggest that Investigators (PhD or students) will inform us in the near future, more fully of the mutations and experiences that have taken place there. The fact remains that the fragmentation operations, as well as the parcelizations begun in the years after the abolition of slavery, as well as the partial subdivision of certain large properties on which the small holdings nevertheless remain dependent, are a theme that we can no longer elude in in-depth studies.

Guy Flandrina did not seek to ignore the debate between what differentiates a land reform from an agrarian reform. He shows this through the parliamentary discussion of the bill of July 18, 1961. He insists on the position and the various arguments of Victor Sablé deputy who defends the government's point of view in very elaborate remarks. This underlines the role of this parliamentarian who was given the title of deputy for bananas and attracted the attachment of the new stratum of medium-sized and small farmers.
In fact, the events of December 1959, the program law of 1960, the two-thirds/one-third commercial division of bananas between the West Indies and French-speaking black Africa, the asserted demand for autonomy, the Cuban revolution , the asserted turn of De Gaulle on Algeria, the political tension in the Antilles with the ordinance of 1960, the shooting of Lamentin on March 24, 61, the prohibition of the youth congress, the dissolution of the Front Antillo-Guyanais, had in the space of 37 months upset the West Indian political scene and above all once again concealed the difficult question of land. It will be necessary to return in other research to this other aspect of the political and social life of the country at the time of the first establishment of the SICA.
Among the small cooperative farmers, many of whom are hungry for land, there are leaders with mutualist orientations, several are either socialists or communists and some are former agricultural workers, but there is already an obvious weight of minor civil servants, including teachers and also young doctors.
To all these, Victor Sablé makes proposals that he describes as unprecedented in their formulation, even if in reality they already existed. He speaks of an agricultural capitalist project to give “increased dynamism to the West Indian economy”. He insists on the fact that access to property is to be reconciled with the modernization of the infrastructure. It makes prevail for the reform, the doctrine of regrouping with a concerted action of the individual initiatives from where the choice of the SICA which are not there only for the parcelling out. The step is therefore taken clearly and the cooperative form has nothing to do with what many initiators of the collectivist idea had in mind at the beginning. We miss a study of this paradigm shift.

The Fond-Saint-Jacques, its history, its myth!

To return to the Domaine du Fond Saint Jacques, we were delighted to find part of its history. The domain comes from the spoliation of the Kalinago community (the so-called Caribs) in 1658, which twenty years earlier had been confined to the lands of Cabesterre (Atlantic coast) by the treaty of partition of the island between the "Francois and the salvages”. Of course in this famous massacre of the Borgne hut, there is the indisputable role of the Dominican fathers who arrived before the group of Jesuits, but there is the fury of the excited settlers from the vicinity of Fort Saint-Pierre who have only one one desire: to exterminate all they can of the Kalinagos. We specify that the Saint-Jacques fund, obtaining its name in memory of Governor Jacques du Parquet, is the triple symbol of the elimination of any remnant of the political significance of what survives from the Kalinagos, of the confirmed role of the clergy in the conquest colonial, and especially of the definitive establishment of the French in Martinique. The famous Treaty of Basse-Terre in the island of Saint Kitts (current Saint Kitts) on March 30, 1660 establishes the fact of the defeat of the Kalinagos against the English and French conquerors following the occupation of the east of the Martinique. Father Labat, managing at the very end of the 17th century the sugar estate of the Saint Jacques Fund, improved the sugar-making techniques of Brazilians of Dutch origin and left his writing on the New Voyage to the American Isles . We find there many details on the farm but also on the daily life. Jacques Petitjean Roget, from the Martinique Historical Society, explained the genesis of this place which has become legendary. He talks about his place in the eighteenth century, his life during the revolutionary era and the requisition of the property of the clergy. In the nineteenth century, the house became the property of the crown where state slaves were assigned, non-slaves recovered from slave trade ships, it was then leased. Then after the abolition of slavery, the habitation gradually declined and the premises of the old habitation were largely abandoned and even invaded by cursed fig trees. We will arrive in 1931 at the operation of fragmentation then at the ex-purgery which from 1957, is intended to serve as store and garage for the future SICA. The premises of the old 17th century sugar factory, a place of reception for Quebec university studies for a good decade after 1966, and later a museum site, a crossroads of cultural activities are close to this very active SICA.
But what remains most endearing in this writing on the sixtieth anniversary of this Sica is the profusion of testimonies and tables on people you have sometimes met but for whom you had little perceived the richness of their commitments. These recollections of memories and experiences are an invaluable part of the book.

  • Find the known figures or the evocation of the Riffard Lordinot (Sugar Loaf), the Dolor Banidol (SICA de Bois Rouge), the Albert Platon (François), these were militant agricultural trade unionists, communist militants but first of all small farmers who had faith in collective work and who we find in this new adventure in the world of the countryside.
  • Recovering the traces and memories of Valère Gabin, Louis Venkatapen, Théodore Dubousquet who marked the steps of the agricultural environment of this country is a contribution to our knowledge of a history of our time.
  • Rediscovering the alert Guy Renard, passionate farmer, former occupant of fallow land, municipal councillor, general councillor, president of the SICA of the Saint Jacques Fund, whose dynamism he still fuels. See again the experts and instructors of the first hour such as the militant Marianne Malsa or the elegant and talented sportsman of the Franciscan club that was Alfred Arimone, whose immense agricultural activity in the SICAs we are told.
  • Reevaluate the considerable and specific place of women. This is Joséphine Glombard, known as Afine, administrative secretary of the Sica du Fonds Saint Jacques from the year of its creation. She is only 18 years old and left high school because her large family, whose father died, is too poor. She spent four years at the SICA but passed the Elementary Certificate which allowed her to become a teacher. Here is also Renée Bénéteau de la Prairie, assistant accountant first at the SICA of Morne Étoile (Lorrain), then straddling the SICAs of Morne des Esses and Fonds Saint Jacques, she spent her entire professional life from 1962 to the year 2000 in the agricultural world. Here are a few more of the small number of women in the life of the SICA: They are Annette Varasse, Lucie Jacqua née Flobinus, Véronique Julienne, Muriel Richer, Valérine Bizet. There is undoubtedly another subject for research and reflection on our peasant world.

Readers of this fascinating survey can only draw valuable lessons. That this study still arouses the desire to go further and to continue is the best praise that can be given to Guy Flandrina.

Gilbert Pago
Associate of History

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