Promoting Gender Equality in Nicaragua
Founded in 1993, Promotora de Desarrollo Cooperativo de Las Segovias, Sociedad Anónima (PRODECOOP) is a second-level coffee processing and marketing association serving 2,300 smallholder farmers from 40 cooperatives in Nicaragua’s north-central mountains. A registered Fair Trade organization, PRODECOOP is one of the largest coffee farmer organizations in Nicaragua.
Denia Alexa Marín Colindres, Gender Coordinator
Producer members, approximately 25 percent of whom are women, cultivate high-altitude Arabica coffee in areas of thick forest just west of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, the largest tract of pristine tropical rainforest in Central America, and an essential part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. PRODECOOP’s motto—“Behind every cup of coffee, there is a family”—inspires the cooperative’s gender, education, and health programs for members and their families.
Denia Alexa Marín Colindres is the gender coordinator for PRODECOOP. She spoke to Root Capital about PRODECOOP’s gender policy and impact, and why she believes it is important to foster equality for women.
Q. When did you first become involved with PRODECOOP?
A. I’ve worked at PRODECOOP since its inception. My mom was a small coffee producer, but in her day she was forced to sell to anyone who could pay. There was no quality control, no standard unit of measurement, no consistency. I remember how hard it was for her—coffee wasn’t worth the effort it took to grow. PRODECOOP introduced quality and training, and things started to change.
Q. Can you describe access to credit before the cooperative?
A. Banks expect you to put up your house and parcels of land as guarantees, and if anything goes wrong, the bank takes everything. Small producers on their own aren’t profitable for banks. They aren’t worth the paperwork. So they can’t get loans on their own—they need the cooperative.
Q. Why is PRODECOOP focused on gender issues?
A. When we first started the cooperative, it was comprised of both men and women, but decisions were always in the hands of the men. We aren’t pitting men against women, but we are fighting an entrenched culture of male domination, especially in more isolated communities. At the time, there were women members, but they had trouble accessing training and financing. So we changed our cooperative laws to include equality for women, to draw awareness to women’s issues through education and communication.
Q. What are some of the challenges facing women in the cooperative?
A. If a man wants to attend a workshop, he wakes up, washes up, eats his breakfast, and is on his way. A woman would have to wake up much earlier, as early as 2 or 3 a.m., to take care of household chores, feed her family, and sometimes walk up to two hours to get there in time. She needs special arrangements to be able to access the same opportunities as a man. Men and women have to be conscious that this is a joint effort. We all participate in the coffee chain.
Women especially have to realize their importance. At first, women would say “I can’t” or “I don’t know how to read or write.” I would tell them, “Mr. So-and-so doesn’t know how to read or write, but he is a leader!”
Q. How have things changed for you personally since your involvement in PRODECOOP’s gender initiatives?
A. When I first began, I used to tremble all over. Now, I see how many women participate and speak. I know I have the capacity to educate myself. I am even thinking about pursuing a doctoral program at the UCA (Universidad Centroamericana).