Gender equality initiatives are giving women in rural Tumaco an opportunity in Colombia’s cacao value chain and the means to transform their communities
“You can’t go if lunch is not ready.”
“Where are you going? Your place is at home with the kids.”
These are some of the things that women in a rural village of Tumaco, Nariño, hear their husbands saying when they want to go out with friends to socialize.
Women in Tumaco, apart from being victims of the armed conflict, have also been victims of several types of gender violence. Stereotypes around the obedient roles that they must play at home, inequality in the access to land, discrimination in the workplace, and exclusion from the decision-making processes are common.
This constant scenario is what motivated five brave Afro-Colombian women to come together in the park of San Luis Robles, a village located in rural Tumaco, to discuss their role in the development and growth of their territory. That day, in 2018, under a cloudy sky, these women recognized the need for women’s empowerment, mutual support, and the vindication of their rights in order to improve their communities.
What started as informal discussions about a better future for women, resulted in the creation of Afromuvaras, a business initiative of female cacao producers that belong to the Afro-Colombian Community Council Rescate las Varas. Today, Afromuvaras is comprised of 586 women entrepreneurs from 10 villages, including craftswomen, housewives, singers and soccer players. Each woman sees in cacao an opportunity to apply their knowledge in a vocation different from housework.
“Not just our husbands, the main challenge is ourselves, because we do not believe in ourselves or recognize our own capacities. Here women think that their only role is to be at home and that this is what they should do until they die”, said Ana Ponce, a producer of Afromuvaras.
With the support of the municipal administration and USAID, and with an increasingly strong and viable economy based on cacao, women in Tumaco are demanding gender equality. Ana Ponce and the women of Afromuvaras are motivating others to fight for their rights and leave a clear path for future generations.
Strong evidence of this paradigm shift is Tumaco’s Secretary of Women’s Affairs, which was created in 2021 to work with local women on strengthening women’s rights and access to land. Thanks to a robust strategy aimed at rural women, the Secretary is raising awareness about different forms of gender violence and empowering women to make decisions that contribute to reversing this situation.
“When we are with women in our workshops and we hear them say, “I have to put up with so much from him because I depend economically on him” or “if I report him, who will sustain me?”, we explain to them that these are examples of patrimonial and economic violence.”
-Patricia Castro, the Secretary of Women’s Affairs in Tumaco
A boost for economic development
In 2021, USAID, through its Land for Prosperity Activity, facilitated the creation of a cacao Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in the region that aims to strengthen producer associations like Afromuvaras so they can improve the quality of their grain and access new markets. In 2020, Afromuvaras installed a cacao processing center, a key meeting point where the women come together for the post-harvest process and to define the marketing strategy.
The women from Afromuvaras are aware of the importance of continuing to modernize the cacao production process, so they can offer international buyers a premium product. Still, producing high-quality cacao is one of their biggest challenges.
Under the PPP, they established commercial relationships with CacaoHunters, experts in cacao and one of the country’s biggest buyers and exporters. Today, CacaoHunters buys dry cacao from Afromuvaras at a premium price that recognizes quality.
To leverage the market linkages with CacaoHunters and other buyers, the PPP is also supporting the implementation of traceability models, being led by other partners such as Microsoft, Logyca, the Agency for Rural Development, and USAID.
“With the traceability system, we will be able to know each step of the process. To know which cacao comes from which farm, what the conversion rate was, and how long it took. And as a producer I will be able to know how much I am producing and what quality it is,” explains Johanna Rodríguez, co-founder of Afromuvaras.
Tumaco is being increasingly recognized for its cacao, which has an artisan touch from these Afro-Colombian women and their knowledge of best processing practices. “Today, clients are asking for cacao with certain characteristics, and thanks to the traceability system I can negotiate better conditions because I know the quality of my product,” says Rodríguez.
Before the PPP, the women from Afromuvaras hardly had an email address. Thanks to USAID and Microsoft support, the association inaugurated a digital center in the center of San Luis Roble at the end of 2021. The digital center, installed with support from the Land for Prosperity Activity, offers the women entrepreneurs a valuable chance to connect with their clients in real-time to share strategic information about their product and build trust around their value proposition.
The center offers free internet to the entire community. In rural Tumaco, young people are the most interested in using these opportunities to further their education and access information. Senior citizens also come to the center to learn how to use the internet.
The women from Afromuvaras are strengthening their association by modernizing the production of high-quality cacao. However, they also want to be known for their support to the community, especially to young people that already have a committee inside the association so that they can learn about cacao production and promote generational change.
“An association also becomes attractive to clients when, apart from a certified quality, they can see that there is a social and environmental commitment that has a positive impact on the community.” – Oberman Torres, secretary of the Technical Secretariat of the cacao PPP in Tumaco.
Today, Afromuvaras are producing 2-3 metric tons (MT) of cacao each month and want to increase production to 5 MT. This goal, essentially doubling production, will only be possible by improving modernization, traceability, and the capacity of their members with up-to-date technology. With improved production of high-quality cacao, Tumaco will be known halfway across the world.
“Nothing is impossible for a woman, it just takes time to achieve it”
Learn more about Afromuvaras (en español) here
Tumaco, San Andres de Tumaco, Narino, Colombia
© 2022 Land for Prosperity
Cross posted from Land for Prosperity Exposure site