Life Stories-2

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photo: sean hawkey

Life Stories

Women Without Borders:

Leaders of their own stories,

agents of change

A glance at the experience of women producers in the organizations

of Cooperativas Sin Fronteras Internacional

Life Stories

Women Without Borders:

Leaders of their own history,

agents of change

A glance at the experience of the female producers

in the organizations of Cooperativas sin Fronteras

Sponsered by:

Hivos, ONG International

Cooperativas Sin Fronteras Internacional


As my fellow associates who precede me in this publication have done, I would like to

introduce myself, my name is Juanita Baltodano, I am a farmer and I live in Talamanca,

land of cocoa and banana. I am one who believes that every person should be in contact

with the land, air and nature. Enjoy the beauty that is to plant a seed in the land, and in a

few days watch the plant sprout, without any effort from me, just with the power of

nature. And even more gratifying to harvest what you have planted.

Every profession is good but farmers are the ones who grow crops and feed us. And that

is why I am proud to be a female farmer. This publication is dedicated to all of us women

who work in agriculture; it is indeed hard work and it is even harder for a woman,

because she is the first one to wake up in the morning and the last to go to bed. But it is

rewarding to know that from your labor many are being fed and you are preserving lives.

Our intention is to bring to light the work of the farmers from Women Without Borders,

colleagues whom I encourage to keep cultivating the land, and to feel joyful of their

work, for we are not only producing healthy food, we are preserving the soil and

biodiversity, taking care of our natural resources, preserving the landscape, and instilling

with our example this respect and love for nature to the future generations, to our


I am going to share with you an anecdote as a female farmer and as a mother. I taught

my children since they were very young to cultivate the land so they realized that we are

fed from Earth. This way they learned to cultivate before high school, and when one of

them graduated he moved to the city. In the capital one day his coworkers made fun of

him because he knew the details of how to grow plantains, his fellow workers started to

laugh when they heard him and did not believe that a boy from the city would know

about sowing seeds. But that did not bother him, he told me that he felt proud that

during his adolescence I taught him to cultivate. This is pleasant, knowing that I did not

waste my time, that growing a seed in a young boy is to cultivate, because even though

he is not working the land today someday he will. That is why I encourage the women

who struggle in the field to keep going and take responsibility of their leadership. It is not

about excluding men, it is about working side by side, just as we can be united on the

field, we can also do it from other circles of the organization, exerting leadership, and

participating in making decisions for the sake of peasant families and to make this planet

a better place, with equal opportunities for all, and where we all win, producers, traders

and users alike.

Juanita Baltodano Vilchez


* She is also vice-president of the Small Producers of Talamanca, APPTA, and member of the

National Coordinator of Small producers Costa Rica-Panama Organizations. (CNCJ-CR-P), of the CLAC.


We are an international cooperative composed of

34 cooperatives or associations of organic and

fairtrade producers from eight different countries

in Central and South America as well as Southern

Europe. Since 2007 we have been working to

strengthen our organizations and improve their

positioning within the food market value chain,

managing new channels of commercialization

and searching to stimulate the market with high

quality products.

photo: natalia lópez

Governed by the democratic principles

of the cooperative movement and Agro

ecology our associates commercialize

agricultural products such as cocoa,

coffee, sugar, tropical fruits and honey,

in markets of Europe, Japan, USA and

Canada, in alliance with commercial

companies and/or cooperatives of


This way, we have shortened the

distance between producers and end

users, created spaces for the exchange

of technical knowledge between our

associates and forged connections for

the establishment of fair and direct

trade between distributors and


Our associates in Argentina, Peru, Brazil,

Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua,

Guatemala and Italy, use clean and

sustainable agriculture systems and

promote the democratic participation

of their members, where women

remain a key element in the

development, sustainability and

strengthening of their organizational

structures and production systems.

This publication is a recognizes the

women of Cooperatives Without

Borders, that with courage, vision and

leadership contribute with the growth

of their organizations and

communities, and the transformation

of a more fair and inclusive society.

Women that with their example have

ploughed their way into positions

where a persistent male presence

exists, as most cooperatives and

organizations in Latin America are. This

publication is directed to all of them,

and the thousands of women without

borders around the world, which every

day plant the seeds of environmental

consciousness, push an ethical

economy and promote biodiversity,

security and the food sovereignty of

their villages.

The statistical data of our women

Without Borders will be for now an

outstanding debt, however, we have

been up to the task of gathering some

life stories of women which in a

symbolic way illustrate what they have

been building from their leadership

positions in favor of agro-ecology and

the production of clean and nutritious

food for the fair trade and organic

markets of the world.

In Cooperatives Without Borders

International we will keep working in

the construction of a different and

more fair economic model, in which

agricultural families, organized in

collective and associative structures,

assume a leading role and are key

actors in the management of a truly

inclusive and sustainable development

for them, their communities and the

rest of Latin America.

2 3

Bernarda Morales is a native Bribri by birth, an ethnic

group settled in the south of Costa Rica, in the zone

denominated as Alta Talamanca. She lives in Yorkin, a

community on the banks of the river by the same

name, inhabited by a little over 200 people dedicated

to cocoa and banana planting as a way of life. In order

to get to Yorkin you have to travel against the current

for about one hour over the homonymous river that

separates Panama from Costa Rica.

Bernarda belongs to the Bribri clan Surariwak, which in

Spanish means guardian of the seed. A

very appropriate title for whom in practice

is also guardian of the culture and

knowledge of the Bribris and promoter of

a clean, healthy and sustainable ancestral

production system.

In the Bribri culture, our grandparents

teach us that we do not have to use

chemicals because it depletes the land

and that we have to know how to farm.

That is the reason why we cultivate this

plot of land this year and the next year

we farm in another place and in five

years we go back to the first plot. They

also teach us not to plant just one crop

in the farm, but banana, cocoa, fruit

trees, timber trees. We have it all there

so the soil will always have organic

material. Therefore all the leaves,

branches, everything that comes will

rot and will maintain the plant.

Surariwak of the seed,

guardian of life

4 5

photo: natalia lópez

That is why when you scratch the layer of

the ground the first thing you see is the

organic layer which will not let land erode.

Bernarda owns two hectares of land where

she plants cocoa and banana to sell,

among other products for family

consumption. From a young age she

cultivated and traded cocoa with her

father as a way of make a living. But when

she joined the Association of Small

Organic Producers of Talamanca, Appta,

she realized that this traditional farming

system has a value in the global market.

I realized that everything they talked

about in Appta was true, that our culture is

the one who best grows organic produce

and not the chemical, this is why I got

involved to support the organization, so

that the system can be protected, and it

always remains organic.

We are now producing organic and

earning money without hurting people.

With our labor you are going to eat

something that is not going to cause you

any harm. This is why I support Appta. It is

true that we want money, but we wanted

money without using chemicals. If we all

sell everything organic it will be better for


Today Bernarda has been with the

organization for more than 15 years and a

few more in the board of directors of

Appta, long enough to recognize the role

played by the organization in social,

economic and cultural development of

native communities of the area.

It is very important because the

organization fights to protect the lands, to

sell organic products, to have a market and

for this practice to never end. If Appta

didn’t exist people would have used


When we started to sell banana, buyers

wanted them without a scratch, just like

bananas from the banana industry, but we

said, what banana are we going to have

without a scratch if it is organic? And if we

use chemicals, birds and bugs who give

life to this land are going to die. But now,

people are not going to be polluted with

chemicals from banana companies,

instead they make their own farms here,

organic, and work, and have the same

income that a banana company would

have. It is a total change. On the other

hand, I think that what Appta is doing is a

dream, to not leave young people without

land, and it will be achieved if we do not

use chemicals.

She also acknowledges that the

organization has been a vehicle for

development of women’s social leadership

roles, but that the rest they made it

themselves, with decisevness and

courage, because in spite of what any one

wants to believe, the Bribri’s matriarchal

society did not escape from male


It has been years of work which started in

the communities,. They believed we

women could not decide, we did not

know how to organize. That is the way

they thought of us, but we said no, we are

going to fight for what we believe.

Now, I think they chose us due to how

responsible we women are. We participate

in meetings more than men do, and the

other thing is we have more patience

managing things than men. We are a

majority now, but we share with them the

things that are right and those that are not,

and just because we are a majority doesnt

mean are we going to take away the

significance of what they do.

Through Appta we have achieved

change. It is no longer just one person

making the decisions, now we all decide

and we listen to everybody.

As a cocoa and banana producer for

export she knows the importance of

being organized and the necessity of

establishing alliances and fair business

relations that guarantee the sale and

positioning of the products in world

markets, as well as the contribution fair

trade has on the development of farming


The main concern as a producer is that

we do not sell the product. Let’s say, if we

work and work and suddenly they tell us

there are no banana sales or there are no

cocoa sales, or that the produce was lost

so it could not be taken to the market.

That is a big discouragement to the

producers, because if I am producing and

they come and say that everything was

lost or the purchaser is not buying,

people get immediately mad because

there is no security in the market.

Fair trade is very important for us

because it helps the community develop.

Every year we discuss what do the with

the award prize, we leave it to invest in

the communities that integrate Appta,

we rotate it, for instance, 7 years ago it

was our turn (Yorkin) and we bought

land for the high school. Six years ago

was Katzy’s, and 4 years ago was the time

for Mojoncito, and so on.

Bernarda Morales is 41 years old, besides

Appta, she is the leader of other

organizations like Actuar and Finca

Educativa. In 1985, she founded the first

organization of Bribri women for tourism

purposes named Stibrawpa.

6 7

photo: natalia lópez

The Tubolwak, from

organic roots & tradition


photo: cyril mischler

In the Costa Rican Caribbean, guarded by

the mighty waters of Telire river, is the

native community of Boca Uren, in the

Bratsi district of Talamanca. Here live

about 40 native Bribri families dedicated

to the farming and trade of

agro-ecological cocoa, banana and

plantain. Candida Salazar and her family

is one of them. She owns three plots and

on each she has an average of 60 crops, a

very common characteristic of native


Candida belongs to Tubolwalk clan,

which means root of yam, a very popular

tuber in tropical regions. And it is

precisely from root or tradition that our

leading lady is guided to cultivate the

land without chemicals.

My relationship with the organic comes

ever since I was born, back in those days

chemicals were unknown, everything

was organic, and nobody used

chemicals. We never saw the necessity,

because the crops yielded really well, and

if a chemical was expensive or not, we

did not pay attention.

But it wasn’t always like this, as years

went by, intermediaries arrived to the

river with their trucks demanding bigger

banana clusters and they punished the

producers by buying two, even three

bunches for the price of one.

Once they started to talk about bigger

clusters, the people started to say that if

natural crops are not going to give me a

very big bunch I do not want them to

punish me by buying two for the price of

one, and they started asking, what can I

do so the plant gives a big bunch? That is

when the people from outside started

saying to fumigate and use chemicals.

Those were difficult times in which

several families from the region were

tempted to use chemicals in order to

avoid their production being punished

with low prices, but luckily, by that time,

Candida found out about an

organization which had different pay

scales. It was Appta.

In those times, I heard that Appta paid

one price to their members and another

to their non members, and that was what

caught my attention, so I thought, why

don’t you get into Appta and sell

directly? So I became part of Appta and

in the beginning I was selling them my

cocoa. Then I convinced my husband,

because he was selling to a different

company, and he said alright. Anyway, it

was the same, because what we needed

was to sell our product, and maybe, with

a little bit more of an advantage since in

Appta a member has more priority than

one that is not a member. From that

moment on I started to sell them all my


Becoming a member of Appta meant for

Candida and her family an economic

security and tranquility that their product

would not be wasted. Also, it meant the

beginning of a new stage of learning,

opportunities and personal


I was already a member and at the at the

time of the board of directors election I

had the chance that people who knew

me gave me the confidence, they saw

that I could work well in the organization,

so they proposed me and I accepted. For

me the first year was a very beautiful

experience that I would never forget.


I received trainings, got to know more

about my organization, learned about

Fair Trade, which we know is security for

us, because our product is paid at a

good price and I learned a little bit

more of what needs to be done in the

organization. That first year helped me

as well, how can I say, it helped me

learn a little bit more and how to

interact with more people and that to

me was very good and I am grateful

ever since. I was able to show my

capacities to people and other

members which is why I keep having

the opportunity to stay on the board of

directors. Perhaps, one year they dont

need me, but the following year I am

there, at this moment I assume the

fiscal roll.

It changed me, of course it did. Actually,

the way I am, the way I think is not the

same as I used to before, because if you

have the opportunity of interacting

with more people, you start to change

the person you are, your thoughts

change, it is no longer that I am

embarrassed, or that I will not be able

to do it, or they are looking at me, and

all those things. Today I feel secure of

what I can do and say. I know that what

I used to be, I am not anymore, I am a

whole new other me.

there comes the moment when a

company says: we do not want more

banana, do not bring any more, and

maybe you only have one buyer, so you

become paralyzed because there is no

way to go back and find someone else

who will buy from us. So that is the

biggest problem for all the families

because their product will remain in

the farms and to whom are we going to

sell it to? You cannot sell it in the

community because they all have


Candida teaches catechism of the

Catholic Church, she is president of the

neighborhood board of Boca Uren, and

member of the Association for

Development of her community,

activities which she conducts with

proven leadership, a leadership that

she claims comes from birth but which

she has been able to develop thanks to

the opportunities she found on the

way and to the partner in life that was

given to her. She recognizes the

support which the farmer’s

organizations have given women in

social matters, and the environment

they create, where male and female

producers break through old

stereotypes and acknowledge each

others as people with capacities.

it, and now they are realizing that we

can. Now our partners got used to it,

and they even respect us and they

know that when we make a decision it

is a firm one.

Candida Salazar produces between

700 and 800 pounds of organic cocoa

and 1000 organic banana bunches a

year, which are traded in European and

US markets.

Candida has been part of Appta for

more than 18 years, and another eight

as member of the board of directors.

From her experience commercializing

remains the biggest concern of the

organization and its producers.

Selling the product is what has been

the most problematic, as an example,

During the training courses these days

we, mostly women, can see that people

acknowledge that women, also have

equal rights as men have. So today you

can observe more women

participating in the organizations,

where before they wouldn’t. Before

only the males participated. Perhaps

they thought that women coudln’t do


Association of small

producers of Talamanca,


1200 native families 38%

women and 62% men. They

trade banana and cocoa in the

US and European markets.

Average production of cocoa

per year 200t

photo: natalia lópez

10 11

Profitability of cocoa

for Ngäbe women

photo: natalia lópez

Rosita Guerrera Castillo is 45 years old, she is a cocoa producer,

wife and mother of 4 teenagers. She owns 2 hectares of land in

the region of Barrio Lindo, in Valle Rico´s community, at Bocas

del Toro, Panama. A district inhabited by natives of the Ngabe

Bugle ethnicity.

Since she was little, she was involved in the growing of cocoa.

Her father was a cocoa grower and even though he didn’t have

much work he was able to send her and her eleven brothers to

elementary school. Despite being the daughter of one of the

oldest members of Bocatoreña Cocoa Organization, COCABO,

R.L., for her all the affairs pertaining to the farming of cocoa and

above all its commercialization were her husband duties.

For many years she pulled the weeds from cocoa plants, she cut

the excess shoots and joined her partner with the harvest work,

who would then be in charge of commercializing the product

as a member of the cooperative. Even though the work load

was shared, profits were not that much, because from the

income, Rosita at best received enough for groceries and


All that changed for the better two years ago when she decided

to become a member of COCABO R.L. Since then she has had

nothing but progress in every aspect of her life. She went from

total social anonymity, to being involved in activities of public

responsibility and generating and managing her own economic


Before, I received when my husband sold cocoa, I did not pay

attention to the money he earned, he was the one who would

buy food, he bought clothing for me or my family; he had the

money. I did not pay attention to money, because I did not

know about money, I did not sell my own product, but now, as

a member, I earn from my own farming, now I know what it is

like to have money.

But the economic and social standing were not the only things

she achieved by becoming a member, for her it also meant the

possibility of distancing herself from the domestic violence

many country woman are surrounded by.

So I realized that it is better like this, living on your own, because

this way what you earn is yours, you can buy things, and your

man will not be able to say anything.

12 13

Because if your man is a rude or mean man, who

does not want to give you money, and out of

necessity you take one or two dollars, then he

will reprimand you. On the other hand if you

have your own profits and you want to spend

them, nobody is going to tell you anything, so it

is better to have your own. Women are worth as

much as men.

Rosita has gained economic independence, due

to her joining the cooperative. She adds her

courtesy of: COCABO

technical knowledge

acquired to improve the

quality in her production.

My cocoa is high quality,

COCABO demands we only

cut pure ripe cocoa, since

the one that is not mature

will damage the cocoa. Then

we place the cocoa in a box,

and during 8 days we turn it

until it is fermented and

then we lay it under the sun.

Before, we did not know

about this procedure, we

would cut the cocoa, put it

on a sack, we did not

process it so the cocoa did

not come out well. So

COCABO demanded that

we have to do it like this, so

cocoa can turn into

chocolate, we tried it and it

is turning out very well.

COCABO taught us to

produce better cocoa, of

excellent quality. Being

organic means more money

and more benefits for me.

When you grow organic you need

to work properly so you can get

good pay. We do not use

chemicals, a machete is all we use

and here in our community

nobody uses chemicals. In the

cocoa fields we produce different

kinds of banana, plantain, yam,

avocado, lemon, orange and araza.

Mariela’s courage and

cooperative pride

In the community of Rico Valley, also lives Mariela Palacio. She is 32 years old and a

mother of two girls and three boys. She owns a farm of 18 hectares where she grows

cocoa for export and other grains and fruits for the support of her family such as rice,

corn and banana.

14 15

foto: natalia lópez

Since she was very young Mariela

learned to earn her living by

cultivating cocoa.

I lived with my grandmother, and she

taught me that to grow cocoa was

good, because it is a resource for us to

send our children to school, for food,

nnd clothing. This is why I have

dedicated myself to cocoa since I was

a little girl.

Since then, cocoa was her main source

of income, but it wasn’t until she heard

about cooperatives and the

economical benefits of being a

member that her economy jumped

and she went from earning five dollars

to one hundred and eighteen dollars

from selling cocoa.

I used to sell conventionally grown

product, sometimes only ten pounds,

and they gave me five dollars, and that

was nothing. But now I sell 100

pounds and up to 300 pounds, and I

get a lot more. In these last days I sold

130 pounds and I charged one

hundred and eighteen dollars, there I

had profit; that is why I feel proud of

being a member right now.

to be a producer. In Costa Rica I went

to Appta, cocoa there is very beautiful.

I got into that group because I want

more knowledge; I want to learn more

about cocoa.

Like her, Mariela expects that other

female producers will discover their

potential by getting involved in their

local producers’ organizations.

They are afraid, but as I had the

courage I want another girlfriend to

also be brave and become a director. I

encourage my girlfriends, I tell them,

women can be organized and we can

be leaders in the cooperative. Look, in

Costa Rica there are mostly women, I

want people in the cooperative to be

like that, is not only for men, there are

also women who work in the farm,

which is why I had the courage and

got in as an associate to have more

knowledge, because a woman’s

contribution makes the difference. I

explained to them that it is good to be

an associate. Because they buy your

produce as premium quality, you earn

a profit and they take your product to

another country.

,that is when there is a little cocoa tree and we

remove all the dry leaves that are there, so no

disease would get in there. The older ones

trim the trees. The sprouting is my husband’s

work and my work is to cut any infected

cocoa, I cut all that down. That is our work on

the farm.

They all collaborate with me in any way

because they see there is money, my oldest

son is 15 years old, the girl is 13, the next boy

is 10, the other girl is 9 and the youngest of the

boys is 8 years old. This is pure family work,

with my children, that way they can see and

learn how to work the farm; if some day they

will plant for themselves, they now see how I

work with them, so they can do it in the future.

As Mariela and Rosita there are many other

women in COCABO R.L. and all of them have

found in associations or cooperativism a way

to grow and transform their environment.

According to the organization’s records in five

years female members have become a third of

the total members. The increase in the

number of female affiliates could be related to

Fair Trade and the social standards that Fair

Trade demands of the organizations of

producers. But also, to the own characteristics

of sharing and storytelling, which makes them

spread the voice amongst themselves about

the benefits and advantages of being a


Whether it be Fair Trade, or a matter of gender,

the truth is is that the role of native

countrywomen, so many times invisible, is

starting to become public through their

access to cooperatives and producers’


* Make small rows around a plant.


Cacao Cooperative Bocatoreño, COCABO R.L.

1,199 indigenous Gnäbe families and afro antillean

419 women y 780 men

Commercializing organic cacao in markets in

Central America, U.S.A. and Europe

Annual average production of cacao 408 t

But economic independence and

better income was not the only thing

she achieved, she also gained access

to knowledge, the exchange of

experience between organizations

and the social empowerment which

catapulted her to occupy the

vice-president position in the

cooperative’s surveillance board.

Before, I didn’t have the courage

because I was afraid, now I have

courage because I have traveled to

Costa Rica to see other producers who

grow cocoa, there I found the bravery

since I want to learn more about how

Mariela’s cocoa production is special,

since every weekend her farm

becomes a space for her family to

gather, to be educated and to learn

about values and principles.

I tell my kids, let’s go to the farm to

work, because that is where our

resources to survive come from. If we

do not do anything, there is nothing

here, so I take them to the farm each

weekend they are free and we clean

the cocoa, furrow the new cocoa

plants, we cut the intertwined

branches, we do it all on the farm. The

little ones are in charge of the furrow*

16 17

photo: natalia lópez

Agriculturalists are

appreciated more

Bonifacia Calle Zapata is 60 years old. She is a producer of

organic coffee and sugar cane and president of

APPAGROP 1 of Chonta, base organization of the Peruvian

cooperative of Norandino, from the region of Piura.

Bonifacia commercializes her produce in markets of

France and Italy, through Ethiquable and the company

of biologic commercial food Alce Nero, both associates

of Cooperatives Without Borders.

It makes us proud to sell abroad; people come to visit

and congratulate us because we have a good product. It

means our work is positive and that they are living off of

what we produce, she points satisfied.

She knows well that in order to penetrate the market,

small producers must unite in cooperatives or

associations to strengthen their negotiation capabilities.

My life before was a real sacrifice because there was no

market, no support at all, nor knowledge. Incomes were

very low, only during the coffee harvest they were good,

but we did not provide the coffee in parchment, but in

its shell, and we sold it dry to the local market and they

would pay 100 soles 2 per 100 pounds, even 89 soles

when it went down. That was not profitable, for all my

harvest I received 400 or 500 soles for an entire year.

Then, when CEPICAFE 3 started, they were looking for

market, but they did not want the conventional farming

and told us how to change and we changed to organic,

trying to remove all the impurities our crops had.


Association of Small Scale Agricultural Producers of



32.4254 USD, according to the exchange rate of the month

and year of this publication. sol 0.324254 = USD).


The name that the Cooperativa Norandino was created with.

18 19

photo: natalia lópez


Cooperative Norandino

More than 7,000 farming families

Commercializing coffee, cocoa, sugar cane, marmelades y juices

in markets in North America, Europe, Oceania y Japan

Average anual production of sugar cane 900 t

photo:giovanni aloi

With the organization it was a total

change because we were given

knowledge, technical assistance, quality

control and training about sowing and

production in order to have better

productivity. So my life changed when I

entered, because we obtained better

benefits, a better market and now we sell

more. Joining the organization not only

improved material and economic

aspects of Bonifacia’s life, but also social

aspects and her self-esteem.

I learned many things, I acquired different

knowledge, we traveled and had

internships where we had an

opportunity to exchange ideas; that was

a total change. I feel different, now we are

different people, with better knowledge

about everything and more respect.

There were men who had been

presidents of the organization, but

maybe, they trusted me to be the

president because they saw that I was

gaining knowledge, that I was

enterprising, that I liked it, Bonifacia says,

arguing the reasons for which she was

promoted to the position of president in

an organization where men prevailed.

There are only three women in my

organization. I am a direct member, but

they are the widows of former associates.

We plan for other women to join as

members, we hope that in the future we

will be more. Women have more

participation now because they have

studied and because they are starting to

appreciate us more, to see that we can

participate and be good in agriculture,

and that we can carry out our work and


A bigger participation and performance

in the field hasn’t exempted her like

many other women from the

reproductive roles socially learned, and

that reveal the versatility of the gender.

First I do all the chores in my house, after

that I take my husband his lunch, and

that is when I start work in the nursery

and go oversee the loading of the cane. I

also work controlling or saying how

things need to be done at the farm, and

when I grind my cane, I also work at the

module, in the cleaning and sieving cane

zone. During the coffee harvest, I

supervise the pulping and the drying of

the coffee beans to then send it to


Bonifacia Calle also has two hectares

dedicated to coffee and one with sugar

cane. She started cultivating coffee, but

the vulnerability of the crop to the pests

made her considere growing sugar

cane to produce panela as an

alternative crop, and she was not

wrong, since it turned out to be more

resistant than coffee and with greater


In the beginning we were dedicated to

coffee, then, we saw that other

members were cultivating cane and

obtained good benefits so we started

with a half hectare and start to grind

and we saw there was a good profit and

so we started, my husband with two

hectares and I with one, now we have

tripled our production.

It was a big change with panela, we

produced between from 2000 to 2500

pounds 4 per workday, and we were

earning more than 2,000 soles 5 , from

which we paid the workers around

1,500 and we kept the rest for the

benefit of our household.

The village of Chonta is located in

Montero, the Peruvian district with the

biggest organic sugar cane production

of the country in the hands of small

producers. Norandinos’ panela is 100%

peasant production and Italy is its main

destination, with yearly exports of

around 900t in 2014.

Sugar cane grows year round which

allows for the continued production of

panela, generating permanent income

for the farmer’s families.


2.5 tons (t).


648.508 USD, according to the exchange

rate the month and year of publication.

(1 sol = 0.324254 USD).

20 21

Creating conditions for

better participation

She has been producing coffee for 20 years and 16 in

the base Cooperative Ramon Sevilla, in the municipality

of Dipilto, land of coffee, plantain and corn, in New

Segovia, Nicaragua. Alexa Marin is 42 years old; she is the

mother of two teenagers and also a delegate of her

cooperative in Prodecoop, a second level organization

member of Cooperatives Without Borders which

involves 38 base cooperatives integrated by 2,300 small

producers, where 30% are women.

Alexa is convinced that there aren´t more women in

cooperatives, not because they do not want to, or do

not have the necessary leadership, but because there

are still not enough adequate conditions for a bigger

participation in the organizations.

Sometimes I test myself and say, if I have training at 8

o’clock in the morning. I think twice about going,

because that means I need to wake up while it is still

dark to cook, push the kids to get ready, I am going to be

tired by the time I get there, and after that I have to

come back and continue working. So it is easier not to

go, but not because I do not want to, rather because

they do not adjust trainings to the pace we have.

The life of a female farmer is different, maybe even

harder than that of a man, and when it comes to

participating in the organization the difference is as

clear as day.

I think that we all contribute, but women more so,

because we wake up very early to feed the ones who go

to work at the parcel, we take care of the children. Aside

from collecting coffee, the women work in the quality

selection process of the grain, then drying the coffee, or

checking if the coffee is at its best to take it out, it is a big

contribution and it she is the last one going to bed but

the first who wakes up.



photo: natalia lópez

She asserts that one thing is to produce

coffee but it is different to participate in a

cooperative: learning, bringing ideas and

sharing abilities she did not know she


I used to be shy; I thought the world was

smaller, in a sense that in order to

participate you needed to know more,

but not really. I realized that with your

organization you can go places, meet a

lot of people, to understand many things

and work with enthusiasm for others that

might be in more disadvantage than you.

It has been difficult with our male

partners, not because you need to

confront them, but because sometimes

they say yes to you, but in the end you

never get to see it materialized, that is the

hardest struggle: when you say -to your

partners- look, let’s work on this, they tell

you yes and then you see that those

procedures never start and those are the

struggles that frustrate you. However, we

do not blame them since it is part of a

patriarchal and chauvinistic culture which

we have been carrying as a society and

not only in Nicaragua. We know that in

the cooperatives there are spaces for

making decisions that culturally has been

reserved for men only.

Alexa is coordinator of the Prodecoop´s

Central Commission of gender and

considers that advances have been made

regarding a greater participation of

women in cooperatives, but it still needs

more sensibility and commitment.

Working with women needs to be put on

the table, because sometimes in order to

not start a fight with the organization,

you do not mention the topic, since a

project for coffee renovation is easier that

you coming to tell me, look I need to

organize a self-esteem workshop for

twenty women, so what?, What is it going

to produce?… the other thing is easier,

because, sometimes, these personal

changes are not given much importance,

but changing people is what produces

more, because there is no use in having a

parcel if the person is down and has very

low self-esteem.

I think the topic has been addressed in

the organizations, but to me its not

enough yet. Give her boots and shovels

she will need it, but next to it give her

training, empower her, fill her with

motivation so she can work, otherwise,

the boots, the shovels won´t be of any

use to them. Cooperatives are not plants,

cooperatives are people and people

need to be motivated. Aside from the

efforts that country women have been

conducting to venture into social and

development processes, Alexa knows

that there are common battles that male

producers and female producers have

been encountering.

One of the greatest challenges, I think, as

a cooperative and as an organization is

competition from, agro-industrial

companies that are coming in, and even

certifications of Fair Trade that are

benefiting companies, and they do not

demand as much as they do from

cooperatives, they request a lot from us,

so that is when the challenges begin,

how to fight so Fair Trade can really be for

what it was intended for, to improve small

producers´ life.

It is a long road for small scale female and

male producers, and the efforts are and

will be consistent, but the benefits of

being a member are worth it.

A Small producer by himself does not

have access to the market, he cannot

compete because of his small volumes,

you cannot have technical assistant with

such a small parcel. you won’t be able to

compete in the market, nor have access

to credit.

On the other hand, in the organization

you have long lasting direct relations,

because the member knows who his

coffee buyers are, but when you are out

of the cooperative and from that market

you go and sell to a “coyote” that will be it

for your coffee, and after that, nothing.

But when you are in the cooperative, you


PROODECOOP, 100% certified coffee cooperative

Consisting of a 38 cooperative base, 2300 associates,

70% men y 30% women

Commercializing organic coffee in European

American and Japanese markets

Annual average coffee production: 30,000 sacks of coffee

photo: sean hawkey

have technical assistance and your

market. As well as, social projects like

scholarships, school materials for children

from first to sixth grade of elementary

school, and for the ones in high school

and fees payment.

With the premium of Fair Trade

Prodecoop one dollar per every hundred

pounds is destined to buy land for

women. This fund works as seed capital

for the benefit of the daughters of the

producers’, for those who do not possess

land, and for those who having it, need

technical assistance, renovation and


24 25

Quality Without Borders

Throughout the years Cooperatives without Borders has

shortened the distance between organizations of

producers and end users, promoted spaces for technical

exchange among associates, and forged solid liasons for

the establishment of fair and direct commercial relations

between buyers and producers, allowing us to build an

identity of quality for European markets.

agricoltori di coop without borders

As a result of this work, cooperatives like

Prodecoop, Cooproca from Nicaragua,

Norandino from Peru, La Alianza and

APPTA from Costa Rica, hold a solid

commercial alliance with the Italian

company of organic food Alce Nero. This

commercial relationship, based on

quality and mutual trust, has been of

great value in order to create an identity

in the European market, with the

product line of agricoltori di coop

without borders. We talk about

chocolate, panela, juices and organic

coffee which Alce Nero, acquires,

processes and commercializes

respecting the identity of the

organizations, country of origin of the

product, but above all, generating

value-added at the source.

As a result, this solid commercial

alliance has brought quality recognition

of the products by other companies,

like the supermarket chain COOP of


Bar of Chocolate

made with cocoa from

APPTA, Costa Rica.

courtesy of: alce nero

Produced by The Alliance of Costa Rica,

PRODECOOP from Nicaragua and

Cooperative Norandino from Perú

Cane sugar produced by the Peruvian cooperative


26 27

courtesy of: alce nero

The organization

Cooperatives Without Borders

International is coordinated by an

Executive Team, with offices in San

Jose, Costa Rica, and directed by a

Board of Directors which

periodically meet to follow up and

execute decisions made by the


According to the structure of

Cooperatives Without Borders, the

maximum authority is the General

Assembly of associates which takes

place every three years.

The current Board of Directors for

the period of 2012-2015 is chaired

by the following members:



Juanita Baltodano

APPTA - Costa Rica

Vice president

Lucio Cavazzoni

Alce Nero - Italy


Alvaro Almengor

Copiasuro - Guatemala


Pablo Granados

La Alianza - Costa Rica


Merling Preza

PRODECOOP - Nicaragua


Santiago Paz

Cooperativa Norandino - Perú


Adriano Martins

Red Cooperativas Sin Fronteras - Brazil

photo: giovanni aloi

Associate Producers

Argentina: Cosar ( ) and Cooperativa Norte Grande

( Costa Rica: APPTA (,

Asoprodulce ( ), La Alianza

( y Coopecañera

(www.coopecañ ). Guatemala: Copiasuro

(, FECCEG ( ).

Italy: Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto (, Conapi

( Nicaragua: Prodecoop ( ) and

COOPROCA RL. ( ). Panamá: Cocabo R.L.

( Perú: Cooperativa Norandino ( www.coopnorandino. )

Brazil , Network Cooperatives Without Borders:

Ecocitrus ( ), ABSUL ( ),

Instituto Morro da Cutia( ), Cooperativa Grande

Sertao (, FEA, Coapampa,

Apomis, Casa Apis ( ), Copabase ( ),

Cocaram ( ), Copercuc ( ),

Agreco ( ), Coapismel

( ), Coopercaju (

coopercaju), Copeg ( ), Apismel - Cooperativa de

Produtores Rurais Organizados para Ajuda Mutuan




Italy: Alce Nero ( France: Ethiquable

( Canada: La Siembra (

Other Associates

Costa Rica: CEDECO ( Brazil: Centro Ecológico

( Italy: Etimos(

photo: natalia lópez



photo: sean hawkey

Origin of the products




La Alianza





Norte Grande


Red Cooperativas Sin Fronteras








Cooperativa Norandino

Copiasuro R.L




Cooperativa Placido Rizzotto






· 34 producer


· In 8 countries in Central and South

America and in the South of IItaly.

· More than 28 thousand . families

· Commercial Associates

in Italy (Alce Nero), France

(Ethiquable) and Canada (La Siembra).

· Methodologies: agroforestry,

biodynamic and organic.



Sales by category

products 2014





A publication from:

Cooperativas Sin Fronteras Internacional

Design, art and printing: Lara Segura y Associates

Writing y editing: Natalia López Espinoza

Translated by: Sylvia Ramos and Jesse Trace







Total of tons: est. 2,900

San José, Costa Rica

March 2015


Tel + 506 22315929

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