Engendering cooperativism: Rural women’s leadership in the struggle to facilitate family farmers’ access to markets.
"The markets are a space of exclusion and exploitation, especially for us rural women. So if we want to thrive in it, we must have a good strategy and join forces."Sandra Bergamin, farmer and head of women’s secretariat
Standardization and scale are still major obstacles for family farmers trying to increase their access to and competitiveness in markets. Additionally, the work and production of rural women have not traditionally been valued, giving them little visibility in family farmer businesses. In response to this, a group of family farmer cooperatives came together to establish a platform of cooperatives that prioritizes the agency of rural women.
Democratization of markets
By combining the capacities of different cooperatives, the platform offers a comprehensive set of services to increase access to markets and the competitiveness of family farmers and rural women.
Rural women’s self-empowerment
Rural women are provided with the means to foster their own agency throughout the process.
EXPLORE THIS SOLUTION
The solution can offer:
- Adequate support to family farmers and rural women so they can access and thrive in markets
- Concrete ways to ensure rural women’s self-empowerment in cooperativism
Unisol Brasil, Concrab
2005 - 2021
Share this solution
Bookmark this solutionBookmark
Standardization and scale are still major obstacles for family farmers trying to increase their access to and competitiveness in markets. Additionally, the work and production of rural women have not traditionally been valued, giving them little visibility in family farmer businesses. To address this problem, a group of family farmer cooperatives in Brazil came together to establish a commercialization platform that prioritizes the ownership and leadership of rural women.
Standardization and scale are still major obstacles for family farmers and cooperatives trying to increase their access to and competitiveness in markets, especially large-scale markets. Traditionally, big buyers have operated through contracts that require a level of administrative knowledge, logistical capacities and standardization that even well-structured family farmer cooperatives struggle to meet.
For this reason, family farmers and their cooperatives remain heavily dependent on intermediaries to access large-scale markets. Those intermediaries normally benefit from highly speculative, little-regulated markets in which they can pay unfair prices to producers and make huge profits by reselling products, sometimes without even adding much value.
Furthermore, the work and production of rural women have historically been invisible, which often makes woman themselves invisible in family farmer enterprises such as cooperatives and commercialization platforms. In a context where family farmers and their cooperatives have to fight for access and to and better position in markets, women’s inclusion tends to be neglected. This increases their economic dependency, one of the most common drivers of gender-based violence and other expressions of gender inequality.
The União Nacional das Cooperativas da Agricultura Familiar e Economia Solidária (UNICAFES), as a large-scale association of rural cooperatives, has partnered with Unisol Brasil (Central de Cooperativas e Empreendimentos Solidários) and Concrab (Confederação das Cooperativas da Reforma Agrária do Brasil) to gather cooperatives and solidarity businesses in a national scale, enacting a triple-duty solution.
The solution includes a platform for different cooperatives to come together, an institutional innovation that allows different cooperatives to combine their expertise, capacities, resources and even production in order to access markets, including large-scale markets, and be more competitive. The platform provides its members with access to credit and other financing schemes, technical support to increase the quality of their products, marketing strategies (including digital marketing) and logistical arrangements, as well as the capacity to negotiate and deliver large-scale contracts as single suppliers.
On another front, the platform operates as a policy forum to promote the ownership and leadership of family farmers with knowledge exchange, learning tools, and engagement with public and private decision makers on issues of interest such as market and price regulation, institutional markets, infrastructure, access to land, seeds and other assets.
The third component is another institutional innovation to ensure the ownership and leadership of rural women throughout the process. A women’s secretariat is positioned at the highest decision-making level with participation of rural women from different cooperatives and different regions. The women’s secretariat has the mandate to organize and promote rural women’s participation in local value chains and to work with different areas of the platform to ensure that rural women’s needs are not only taken into consideration, but prioritized.
-Since the creation of the platform in 2005:
-The platform has engaged 700 cooperatives, with 21 subnational platforms reaching 20 per cent of all rural landowners in 2017.
-The number of rural women occupying leadership positions in the associated cooperatives and subnational platforms has increased.
-National, regional, and local workshops have been organized with rural women to identify priorities and build agendas for action at all levels. In 2021, these workshops reached 200 rural women from 25 states.
-Rural women’s participation in negotiations of legal frameworks and public programmes dedicated to family farming and family cooperatives has increased.
-Rural women’s production (including from gardens and backyard production) has been included in contracts with institutional markets, including the National School Feeding Programs.
-Contracted partnerships with universities and training institutes that provide training and capacity building processes have reached an average 300 people per specialized course.
-The Distance Education System has been developed as a fully online training system that can be used by members anytime and anywhere.
Lessons Learned/Potential for replication
What were the most important lessons discovered and that should be replicated in other context/countries applying this solution? It is recommended to include description of specific socio-economic and environmental context that enabled the solution to work.
The first lesson is that traditional markets are spaces of exclusion and exploitation, so family farmers and rural women must have a strategy if they want to access and thrive in these spaces. Secondly, although traditional markets represent important business opportunities, institutional markets and alternative markets (i.e., consumer groups, the solidarity economy) offer a more adequate environment for rural women to thrive economically while also preserving their identity and practices. Thirdly, it is critical to have ownership and leadership across the value chain, from the means of production to the relationship with consumers, which is why it is beneficial to combine on the same platform family farmers and rural women from different types of cooperatives (i.e. credit, production, processing, transportation, etc.). Finally, innovation is key, so it is fundamental to always be aware of and responsive to the changing context.
The most urgent task for strategic planning is to conclude the development of and launch a new online commercialization platform that will allow new types of arrangements among family farmers, markets and consumers, including consumer groups. Another priority is to intensify the capacity-building program, especially knowledge exchange opportunities for family farmers and rural women. It is also on the agenda to intensify engagement with decision markers to ensure that COVID-19 economic recovery plans will meet the needs of family farmers and rural women.
Last update: 05/01/2023