As part of our segment on diving into some of our seed projects, we give you a closer look into the workings of our eleventh, COOPEREDE and its bakery (to see our previous entry on the cooperative, click here.)
COOPEREDE has its roots in The Bahia Producers Network (RPB), which was founded in 2001 at the invitation of the Women’s House of the Northeast to the Community Organization Movement (MOC). In this part of the country many women have seen their space denied, and were disqualified in their identity as a family farmer and social entrepreneur, often seen as little more than “help.” The MOC were trying to coordinate groups of women to participate in the Meeting of Producers of the The MOC, and started the dialogue with the incipient groups of women in the region. In 2001 five women’s groups from the region participated in the FENNEART (National Handicraft Business Fair). MOC and the group representatives decided on April 17, 2002 that the groups and the MOC would join efforts and invest personal and financial resources to build the RPB, and participated in a number of national fairs in the following years. 2006 was the milestone for the RPB, as it was the Network’s first participation in international events: the Terra Madre Event that took place in Italy, where it became part of the movement “Slow Food, Slow Food or Craft”, a worldwide movement that advocates healthy eating and clean production. Also in this period participated in the Rural World Fair in Chile, being one of the 6 projects that represented the production of Brazilian rural women.
Although the RPB made many advances, the access to markets was pointed as a great challenge, since its informal identity did not allow the organization to access many markets. Thus, motivated by the desire to occupy spaces of political representation and commercialization, in 2007, Cooperativa Rede de Productores da Bahia (COOPEREDE) was created. In the last three years the cooperative has intensified the process of mobilization for fundraising, the expansion of the marketing process, and the formation of a solidarity fund for the capitalization of affiliated enterprises. COOPEREDE is made up of 75 Solidarity Economic Enterprises (EES) formed by about 800 women family farmers and artisans in 16 municipalities and work in food production, handicrafts and services. This consists mostly of cassava derivatives, which is fruit growing through the production of pulps and jellies, as well as poultry farming and handicrafts, using natural fibers and fabrics. Currently, it has a rented space where a training center operates, which is used to provide lodging, food, and children’s recreation services during events and a store to sell the products of its affiliates. It has several partners that have contributed in its development process, such as the MOC, Unicafes Bahia, and the Union of Cooperatives of Family Agriculture and Solidarity Economy, and the Cooperative of Consulting, Research and Services to Support Sustainable Rural Development (COOPESER). Its mission is to articulate and strengthen the cooperation and empowerment of women producer groups, through organization and commercialization, aiming to consolidate the participation of women in the construction of solidarity development, promoting autonomy and generating income, with the goal of being recognized nationally as a reference for the self-organization of women in family and semi-urban agriculture.
COOPEREDE is structured the following way:
General Assembly: Comprised of representatives appointed by the women’s groups that make up the RPB, it meets ordinarily once a year.
Collegiate Coordination: Aiming not to lose the horizontal structure of a network, the cooperative is managed by a system of coordination as it works in many other cooperatives. The Collegiate Coordination is elected in Assembly and its composition is formed by the General Coordinator, the Coordinator Treasurer, the Coordinator Secretary, the Marketing Coordinator, the Communication Coordinator, and the Training Coordinator. All the positions that comprise the collegiate coordination have the same coordination status, and there is no hierarchy between them. The coordination meets monthly.
Fiscal Council: The fiscal council is composed of 6 members, with 3 members and 3 alternates, all of whose members are elected at a general meeting. The fiscal council meets monthly in the same period of the collegial coordination meeting. In order to maintain a frequent dialogue among the women members of the RPB, in addition to the formal spaces established in the Bylaws, the RPB has the other spaces:
Collective Network of Producers of Bahia: The collective of the RPB is a space for planning, monitoring and evaluation of the actions of the Network, in addition it is a space for the exchange of experiences and knowledge of the Network. In the collective all the affiliated groups participate, having 1 or 2 representatives per group, the meetings of the Collective happen every four months.
Expanded Coordination: The expanded coordination is a space composed of the Collegiate Coordination and the Municipal Coordinators, and the groups that integrate the same municipality elect 1 coordinator among the women who are part of the municipality. The expanded coordination meets every two months and is the space for planning, monitoring and operational evaluation of the Network’s actions, as well as being the space that bridges the coordination with the groups affiliated to the Network. At the moment the cooperative is without collaboration in the area of communication, and no other person was identified to assume this area, so that this function has been assumed by other coordinators. COOPEREDE has a partnership with the MOC and COOPESER.
COOPEREDE was formed exclusively by women who work with the extractive and agroecological production, within a participatory and solidarity process of production and management. The production process is based on the principles of agroecology, with inputs produced locally, which confers quality and competitive price to the products offered. The search for healthy and quality products is increasing, being an opportune moment for the installation of agroecological fairs with the direct sale to the consumer, as well as, the commercialization for the institutional markets. In relation to handicrafts a good business opportunity has been the participation in fairs of family agriculture and solidarity economy. The RPB perceives the conventional market as a great opportunity to expand marketing, mainly through different kinds of markets and supermarkets. It recognizes the need to qualify the products, from the standardization and improvement in the visual image, in addition to the use of the nutritional table and bar code of the products. Part of the raw material used in the production process is cultivated by women, but this practice has become increasingly difficult due to the long periods of drought that has hit Bahia in recent years, already a semi-arid region. However, there are still plantations, such as cassava, vegetables, fruit and small animals. It does not perceive competitors in relation to the supply of the raw material, something that is visible in relation to the finished products.
The cooperative has low standardization of products, since different groups produce the same product, many items that are only partially observed by the Network, the logistics pose many challenges, and is limited in terms of productivity and commercial capacity. The management of the products needs to be improved in the points of construction of the technical datasheets of the commercialized types. The fact that the products are processed in different units makes it difficult for the network to monitor the quality, processing, equipment, safety and health aspects of the work. In relation to handicraft, one of the main competitors are the industrialized products imported from China that has been gaining more and more space in the local market and they present a price far below so that it has expanded in a frightening way in recent years. With regard to in natura products there is a competition of the conventional products that are marketed in the free markets of the municipalities and that also has a lower price, but with low quality.
COOPEREDE can still cite as competitors the restaurants and inns that can offer lodging and food services at a more affordable price and have a more appropriate structure for this purpose. It has several target audiences, including students of municipal and state schools, in the case of the supply to the National School Feeding Program (PNAE); persons in situations of social vulnerability such as those assisted by socio-welfare organizations in the case of the Food Acquisition Program (PAA); audience attended by civil society organizations that participate in fomentation activities, through contracts with NGOs; and the public that visits the Fairs and Solidarity Economy Stores and purchase the crafts. The financing of Moeda will bring working capital to purchase raw materials and supplies, equipment acquisition and a car to facilitate internal logistics, sales and marketing.
Current Treasurer Coordinator Patrícia Nascimento is thrilled to talk of the cooperative: “Over time we struggle for income generation, but we always stop when it comes to money, first because of the difficulty of accessing credit and also because of fear and lack of documents, since most of the time the land is in the name of the husband, and when you leave for the group it becomes even more difficult to access the credit since the groups are informal.”
According to the farmer and cooperative Jonalice Santana, from Riachão do Jacuípe, the brand of the network demonstrates an example of overcoming and conquest. “Being part of the Network of Producers is part of the emotions, achievements and overcomes,” she points out.
“The women of the Semi-Arid are made strong like the fibers with which they weave their arts, they reclaim the right to dream and feed that dream with solidarity, with their knowledge and with their actions. This is how women as historical subjects contribute to the construction of a better world for all,” says Célia Santos Firmo.
Thanks for checking out COOPERPEDE! More to come from Moeda soon!