Paraguay: Growing crops, co-ops – and women agricultural leaders

Just a short time ago, Claudelina Portillo was the only woman in an elected leadership position on the Guayaibi Poty cooperative board. Many of her female friends wanted to join the co-op, but couldn’t afford the $3 monthly fee. When she found no Woman co-op founder with banana for a solution to help them join, Portillo quit the co-op. She then formed the women’s Paraiso Poty Committee, which produces and exports bananas and pineapple to Argentina.

Other co-op leaders said Paraiso Poty would fail because the women would just argue with each other. This attitude was soon dispelled when the women-led co-op secured a space in the central market in Asuncion and received an award from the Ministry of Agriculture. That award, an essential piece of banana-processing equipment, helped them increase their volumes: in 2013, the co-op produced 497 tons.

With USAID support, ACDI/VOCA’s Cooperative Development Program (CDP) worked with Paraiso Poty and 15 other small to medium-sized cooperatives with promising business models that were in need of technical, operational or organizational knowledge to build their capacity, in order to increase members’ incomes, fight rural poverty and build a sustainable future.

CDP began working with Portillo and Paraiso Poty in 2010, aiding in the adoption of good agricultural practices and the development of plans to manage production and pack the bananas. When the CDP project ended in July 2015, the Paraiso Poty Committee had not been registered yet as a formal cooperative. However, as of May 2014, their numbers had increased to 71 members: 62 women and nine of their husbands.

This is a significant trend that differs from many cooperatives where only one member of the household – typically the male – is a registered member and therefore, the primary recipient of cooperative benefits. Dual membership of both husbands and wives exemplifies Portilllo’s vision for Paraiso Poty to become a family-oriented cooperative.

The CDP in Paraguay program featured gender training and raising awareness about the importance of women’s roles in cooperatives. Approximately 100 men and women from seven of the 16 co-ops have been trained in gender awareness. This awareness will go far in building a sustainable future.

Learn more about ACDI/VOCA and its sustainable international cooperative development. ACDI/VOCA is a member of the U.S. Overseas Development Council. Follow OCDC on LinkedIn and ACDI/VOCA on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Posted 6/21/16