Exporting vegetables: a new challenge for Guatemalan indigenous women

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Exporting vegetables: a new challenge for Guatemalan indigenous women

©IFAD/Santiago Albert Pons

Margarita Ventura Pinula selling her vegetables at the Chicamán market. She belongs to AGRISEM, a Cholá based cooperative.

In the central highlands of Guatemala, indigenous rural families depend primarily on the land to make a living. The project Productive Capacity Building for Mujeres Cuatro Pinos, has worked with a cooperative made up of 275 indigenous women producers and their families, to diversify their income sources and improve their livelihoods.

The goal was to strengthen the women-led branch of the Cuatro Pinos Cooperative — Mujeres Cuatro Pinos — by increasing its productive capacity and improving marketing opportunities. The project has financed training in post-production methods as well as constructing a collection and storage facility for their produce.

These improvements were meant to facilitate the women's cooperative Mujeres Cuatro Pinos' access the highly regulated European Union market, while creating new post-production employment opportunities.

Focused on capacity-building, the project provided training on matters such as implementation of good practices in the areas of agricultural production, product manufacturing and compliance with international sanitary requirements. Other areas of focus included sustainable management of natural resources, access to technology, climate change mitigation and diversification of production.

Core issues and challenges

Guatemalan indigenous women constitute the country's most marginalized group. They rarely participate in community decision-making processes or in the political sphere and continuously struggle to affirm their rights. They are significantly poorer than men and their access to education and health services is limited. As a result, maternal mortality and malnutrition rates are high.

When women producers began their horticulture business, they initially received support from the Cuatro Pinos Agricultural Cooperative Union. They learned the basics about the cooperative model and the rules governing the international agricultural market, where value-addition and quality control are crucial.

However, business opportunities remained limited because they were mostly selling to Cuatro Pinos, who had quotas for purchasing from the women's group. This mechanism was a barrier for the increase in productivity and narrowed any further possible extension to the membership of the women's cooperative, Mujeres Cuatro Pinos.

The project was therefore aimed to open up new markets for the group and make them completely independent to produce, collect, stock, process, package and sell their produce.

Results and achievements

Overall, the grant helped improve production performance and enhance business skills for the members of the cooperative. It financed the construction of a packaging plant for the classification and packaging of vegetables for the export market.

The project's results include:

  • New employment opportunities for the community at the plant and in the field.
  • Development and strengthening of partnerships with the male-led Cooperativa Cuatro Pinos and with the Guatemalan Association of Exporters (Asociación Guatemalteca de Exportadores — AGEXPORT).
  • Increased production and marketing opportunities.
  • Ownership of assets that facilitate access to credit.
  • Higher income leading to reduced income gap between men and women in the community.
  • Empowering of indigenous women as community leaders.
  • Improved time management and reduction of workload.