Progreso Network

Gender in value chains or how to improve women's position and role within producer organisations?

best practices for progreso network.doc

Dear all,

How to improve the position and role of women in economic value chains is a question I and many others are working on/with. Within the gender in value chains trajectory of AgriProFocus, a group of academics and practicioners are sharing experiences. Perhaps this Network can also be helpful in finding examples of how producers organisations work on gender equality and women's rights. We would be really greatful for contributions from the field.

Below, I do post two examples I found, but do not know from first hand experience. Videos of both cooperatives are included. The attached file contains the same text (and the table looks a whole lot better there...).

Hope to hear from you, and please visit the 'gender in value chains' ning.
Best, Gudule Boland

Coffee from Nicaragua - SOPPEXCCA and Las Hermanas

In 1998, Fátima Ismael, an agronomist by profession, was asked to manage a struggling co-op plagued by poor management and a growing debt of nearly one million dollars. Fátima set out to develop a business plan that would help the co-op run efficiently and immediately
initiated systems for training, education and cupping evaluation. To pay off the co-op's debt, she also established a 30-year payment plan with creditors. As Fátima explained, ‘For me, it was about protecting the lives of the farmers first and foremost.’

Coffee quality
For Fátima, coffee cupping is critical to quality. As a result, Soppexcca invests heavily in technical support with on-going education and training for farmers, as well as stringent evaluation standards for all coffee produced.

This process was initiated with the installation of a cupping lab - the only one of its kind in Jinotega - where Fátima, along with her expert cuppers evaluate each producer's coffee for body, acidity and flavour. As Fátima explains, ‘By evaluating our coffees with buyers we also learn their likes and dislikes. This allows us to better understand and communicate with them. It also challenges us to continue to improve our methods of coffee production.’ As a result, a sample from every 5th bag of a producer's crop is cupped and evaluated, and a database is maintained to track all aspects of production, including the number of trees and cup quality.

Worth noting is that during the early years of Fátima's management, coffee produced by both men and women of Soppexcca was combined and then sold; over time, however, it became evident in the cupping lab that the women's coffee was more than worthy of standing alone. ‘Because I knew it was good, I wanted to promote the visibility of these women and inspire them to continue to produce quality coffee,’ said Fátima. In 2001, she made the decision to separate out the women's coffee and Las Hermanas was born.

Fruit of their labour
The success of these women is evident in several ways. Since 2001 purchases of Las Hermanas coffee have empowered these women to invest back into their communities, protect their way of life and improve it for the future. Families have access to a community pharmacy and lower priced medicines subsidized by the co-op, education beyond the 3rd grade local norm, more schools and teachers, as well as community libraries to support child and adult literacy.

With respect to coffee, the women of Las Hermanas and Soppexcca continue to work together to improve the traditional areas of coffee cultivation and seek viable, organic solutions for production, as well as continue to facilitate the sale of Soppexcca and Las Hermanas coffee to a wider audience on the world market. As more women join Soppexcca, they are required to maintain standards necessary to produce quality coffee through continuous education and cupping.

The installation of the cupping lab, a solid business plan that incorporates on-going training and education, and an enormous amount of confidence, laid the foundation towards achieving these amazing results. In 2004, the sixth year under Fátima's stewardship, and in the midst of several years of historically low coffee prices, the co-op was already 85% debt-free. The coffee they produce continues to be recognized annually at the prestigious ‘Cup of Excellence’ competition in Jinotega, consistently edging out the coffee produced by some of the male members of the co-op.

About the farm
Las Hermanas (sisters) coffee is produced by a small and innovative cooperative headquartered in Jinotega, Nicaragua. Hermanas represents the beans of the 200 women members of the co-op. Women in Nicaragua can own the title to their own land. This is different from other Central American countries. It is a result of the progressive reforms of the Sandinista revolution and has been maintained under subsequent governments.

Table 4 Figures about Soppexcca, 2001 and 2007
Organizational structure in 2001 In 2007
General assembly (in 2007: number of delegates) 25 women (16%), 130 men 22 women (29%), 53 men
Board (in 2001 called junta directiva; in 2007 called consejo de dirección)
0 women, 5 men 2 women (40%), 3 men
Junta de vigilancia
0 women, 3 men 2 women (67%), 1 man
Members of the cooperative
25 women (16%), 130 men 185 women (33%), 377 men
Boards of the cooperatives (in 2001 called juntas directivas de coop’s (in 2007 called consejos dirección de las coop’s)
3 women (6%), 50 men 22 women (29%), 53 men
Juntas de vigilancia en las coop’s
- 11 women (26%), 32 men
Commisiones Territoriales
- 13 women, 0 men

Shea butter from Burkina Faso - Association Songtaab Yalgré

Songtaab Yalgré has no relation with Solidaridad. We have chosen to describe the association’s work here because it seems to be a good example of how women empowered themselves through economic enterprise.

In 1992 women from Burkina Faso established an association for the production of shea butter (beurre karité). The association currently has 3,100 (female) members and is selling shea butter both nationally and internationally. It has been noted that earning regular incomes allows the women producers to earn the respect of their family and the right to speak out in the community. Their economic position is also enhanced, not only through the additional income they earn, but also through the technical skills and organisational capacities they acquire. The men in their villages take them more seriously and have started to include them in community.

The following are the key contributing factors (combined for both the coffee from Nicaragua as the shea butter from Burkina Faso):
• The main factor in the group’s success is its dynamic founder, Fatou , who was able to mobilise her colleagues to resist the violation of their rights by a foreign company and to establish their own shea enterprise. In the coffee case it was the dynamic and inspirational Fátima.
• It was advantageous that the group selected a sector where women were already the main economic actors and had a wealth of local indigenous knowledge (shea butter).
• Separation of the women’s produce because it is of higher quality (coffee).
• The increased international demand for shea butter, for cosmetic use and for use in chocolate manufacturing ensured a ready market.
• The government and other donors decided to support the sector. Donor coordination avoided the duplication of resources.
• The minister in charge of donor coordination was a dynamic, high-profile woman.
• Direct links with foreign buyers who provided quality training and paid in advance which gave the group greater economic security during the production phase.
• The association’s purchase of appropriate technologies significantly reduced the time and labour needed for processing and this has not only boosted production but leaves women with more time for other activities of social en cultural value to themselves and their communities.
• Literacy training for the members

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