Cooperative “New Dawn” –Women Organic Coffee Producers in Nicaragua.
Miraflor Natural Forest Reserve, Department of Estelí, altitude 1500 m.
Cloud forest. Abundant trees, coffee farms, family vegetable and herb gardens, and fragrant flowers.
It is a community of friendly neighbors living together in harmony; many years after a process of gender liberation.
The coffee producers necessarily organize in cooperatives in order to have access to the best conditions and sell their products at a more reasonable price.
Thanks to the agrarian reform process in the 1980’s here in Nicaragua, many rural families received a parcel of land to cultivate.
For cultural reasons, these lands stayed under the power of the men in the community.
The rural communities situated in the mountains believed the production of coffee to be the only economic activity that could make a difference in how they lived.
The women, wives, mothers, grandmothers, also searched for an opportunity to transform their lives.
At first, the women tried to work within the existing mixed gender cooperatives, but this resulted in negative experiences for them and their self-esteem.
They were victims of constant psychological violence.
A woman would be silenced and did not have the right to vote or make decisions, because they did not have their own land.
After much discussion and disagreement, a new initiative to divide the cooperative was born.
The women and the men both agreed to attend trainings about gender equality, administration, production, leadership, and the protection of the environment.
From that moment on, the women of the community decided that they had the capabilities necessary to form their own independent cooperative of women producers.
But the road was not easy.
In order to form their cooperative legally, they needed a minimum of 20 women, and of course, land to plant coffee.
They did not meet either of those requirements.
A group of 12 women started to meet in their backyards and work together in their family gardens.
At the same time, they began to get the word out around the village about the possibility of this opportunity for the women of the community.
Then one day, 30 women were ready to realize this dream.
Thanks to the support of a German man familiar with the initiative, the “New Dawn” Women’s Cooperative was born.
He loaned the cooperative $5000 to buy 2 parcels of land and finally form a legal entity.
This gave them the ability to start producing and planting organic coffee.
Conflict for the Men.
It was something that the men had never seen in their lives. A woman abandoning what they considered a woman’s natural habitat.
At first, they scoffed at the idea. They thought that the women would not be successful. But their theory was weakened by the women’s accomplishments, and they began to protest.
“Women who have independence can be unfaithful to their husbands, and the house is in disarray, and the food is not ready on time.”
The strong impact of these highly ingrained cultural beliefs even led some women to leave their marriages rather than leave the cooperative.
After 3 productive years, the women had been able to pay off 80% of their loan.
They were close to earning profits for the first time.
No one expected that a terrible disease would affect 90% of the coffee plants in the north of Nicaragua that year.
“La Roya” or Coffee Leaf Rust is a fungal blight that spreads quickly and gradually destroys the plants leaves, leaving the plants decimated and resulting in lower crop yields for years to come. In the same way, it decimated the women’s hopes of finally being repaid for all their years of hard work.
The Cooperative Today.
The women of the cooperative are ready to harvest again for the first time since the renovation of their coffee plants after the destruction.
They succeeded in surviving by cultivating grains and working in different parts of the coffee process outside of their farm.
In addition, the crisis solidified their entrepreneurial spirit.
They re-dedicated themselves to their vegetable gardens and to the harvesting of citrus fruits and cacao.
They opened a plant to begin processing organic fertilizer that they sell to community members and other cooperatives.
Moreover, they created a structure to promote educational tourism.
The families of 6 women producers host visitors in comfortable lodging options, built in their homes, for eco-tourists eager to learn about organic coffee cultivation.
Several North American Universities have brought their students to visit to learn about their history, their work, and their dreams.
The universities helped the cooperative start a scholarship program. So far, the program has succeeded in helping 15 people from the community, all women coffee producers or their children, receive a higher education.
Even though we have not achieved any financial profit from our harvest yet, we are very proud to have changed the reality of these people in the community through education.
“Our profit has been knowledge.”
When talking with the women of the cooperative, one can feel the satisfaction and tranquil spirit in each one of them.
The most valuable of all is to have respect and the opportunities we deserve.
This article is based on a conversation with Mayra and Marlon Villareyna. During our investigatory trip, they received us in their home in Sontule and shared their delicious breakfast, gallo pinto, plantains, soft cheese, tortillas, and hot cup of coffee after hot cup of coffee from their farm.
With their charisma we started out on the right foot for a very memorable day.
Archive of our conversation:
Mayra is one of the founders of “New Dawn”. Marlon, her husband, belongs to a men’s coffee cooperative.
They shared their perspective of the life of a family of coffee producers.
Every year, coffee is harvested during the months of December, January, and February. These months are considered a time of family celebration because they coincide with school vacation and the prosperous months for coffee farming families. It is only during these 3 months that money comes in to compensate for the year’s work on the farm.
This is the first article published as part of a private investigative series.
Made by Sarah Sanders, Kat Shiffler, Amaury Herrera y Rafael Fu.