Reducing hunger through agricultural cooperatives
25 September 2015 – It was the wish to educate her children that inspired Ana Sofía Amaya to start her own farm.
Living in the village of Caserío Chaguantique, Cantón Cabos Negros, Jiquilisco Township, in south-east El Salvador, she used to work long hours with her husband as a labourer on other farms.
“My husband and I would earn five dollars a day for six hours of heavy work. When we had our two children, we realized that this was not sustainable," says Ana Sofía.
"With that money, we were not able to pay for our children’s education. So, we started planting our own small garden and began to sell the vegetables."
Ana Sofía and her husband grew maize, elote (a type of corn), pipian (a type of pumpkin) and bananas. But, again, it was not enough. The family still struggled to make ends meet.
Together with her husband and other neighbouring farmers, Ana Sofía tried to set up a producer association; but without receiving any proper technical, legal and financial advice, it failed.
It was only after being approached by staff from the IFAD-funded Rural Development and Modernization Project for the Eastern (PRODEMORO), that the association finally took off and the Brisas de Chaguantique Cooperative was born.
The project taught farmers like Ana Sofía how to develop a viable business and marketing plan, and identify needs for technical assistance. It also provided credit to help capitalize these initiatives.
Being part of a larger group, Ana Sofía felt empowered and negotiated better prices for her products and lower prices for agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilizer and equipment.
"Before entering the farming cooperative, I used to think that I couldn't develop myself, that I couldn't grow. I didn't think that a 'campesina' like me had the right nor the ability to get to where I am today."
The cooperative also helped Ana Sofía secure land rights and better access to markets – benefits she would not have been able to negotiate on her own.
“We knew nothing about the formal market - where or to whom to sell. The informal market and the coyotes (middlemen) were eating away our profit," explains Ana Sofía.
"They would say ‘I pay you this’ and we would accept it without question. It is no longer like that. Now that we know better, we're empowered.”
Over the years, financial support from the IFAD-funded project has also allowed her cooperative to set up a plant nursery, warehouse and two big greenhouses where farmers grow sweet chili.
The project has also provided the association with training to help farmers maximise and diversify their production, so they could sell their products to local, national and international markets.
Ana Sofía is currently working with four other cooperatives in the area to set up a large storage facility, which will allow them to sell to larger retail outlets such as Grupo Calleja – one of the biggest supermarkets chains in El Salvador – Walmart and local restaurants.
"We have more activities planned, such as hiring employees and buying a vehicle which will help us transport our products easier and faster," says Ana Sofía.
Her future dreams include building a bigger house and improving her family’s economic situation so that she does not have to resort to asking for loans so frequently.
But whatever dreams she may have, Ana Sofía already feels very proud of how far she has come.
“The Ana Sofía of four years ago is long gone. I am a new person now. I know who I am, what I want and fight for it.”