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Social / 05/03/2021


Women who grow cassava in Suriname to sell it in the Netherlands

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Women who grow cassava in Suriname to sell it in the Netherlands

Fonte GELEDES

Female cooperative drives tuber cultivation to local and international markets and begins to change the lives of hundreds of families in a rural area men and jobs are scarce

Tania Liew-A-Soe is the president and founder of the Wi! Uma Fu Sranan (WUFS), which in Portuguese means: We! The Women of Suriname. A cooperative that was born in the remote communities of the Brokopondo region, in the interior of this Caribbean country that until the seventies was a Dutch colony. There, almost the entire population is made up of women and children. There are very few men. Employment is scarce and they go hunting for weeks or months or, in the worst case, migrate to work in coastal areas or in gold mines. They stay to look after the family and the land.

In Brokopondo, the population is mostly descended quilombolas, enslaved Africans historically excluded. Cassava was a basic and very special food that helped to subsist the communities. This tuber present in Latin America and the Caribbean has multiple forms of cuisine. “Women know well how to grow and produce cassava, which is why they are the real protagonists of the value chain. Thanks to their perseverance and determination, in 2014 they were able to put their first products on sale ”, explains Lieuw-A-Soe by videoconference.

The work of the cassava women has attracted the interest of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). “They formed a cooperative and we saw the opportunity to strengthen their entrepreneurial capacity. It drew our attention that they had a vision and ambition to grow, improve production in terms of quality and quantity and become more involved in global value chains ”, explains by video call Michael Hennesey, specialist in the Competitiveness, Technology and Innovation Division at IDB. Thus, focused on the market and commercialization, they no longer only grow cassava to survive, but transform it, developing innovative products based on this tuber, such as bread ready for the oven, gluten-free cassava pancake or their famous porridge for babies and the elderly. “At the IDB, we believe that it is important to identify and support projects with growth potential that improve lives, and cassava was a traditional product to which value could be added.”

Thanks to their perseverance and determination, in 2014 they were able to put their first products on sale ”, explains Lieuw-A-Soe by videoconference.

The work of the cassava women has attracted the interest of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). “They formed a cooperative and we saw the opportunity to strengthen their entrepreneurial capacity. It drew our attention that they had a vision and ambition to grow, improve production in terms of quality and quantity and become more involved in global value chains ”, explains by video call Michael Hennesey, specialist in the Competitiveness, Technology and Innovation Division at IDB. Thus, focused on the market and commercialization, they no longer only grow cassava to survive, but transform it, developing innovative products based on this tuber, such as bread ready for the oven, gluten-free cassava pancake or their famous porridge for babies and the elderly. “At the IDB, we believe that it is important to identify and support projects with growth potential that improve lives, and cassava was a traditional product to which value could be added.”

For the president of the cooperative, the most important part of the project was and is to change the lives of women. “See what they have shown and their joy in making their own money. Simple things for the western world that are a big step for them. ” Because one of the secrets of this cooperative is to generate a sustainable income for women and that this experience can be extended to similar projects.

Sometimes it is forgotten that women are entrepreneurial in nature, that they need to be entrepreneurial to take care of the family and generate income

But not everything was successful. During the process of forming the cooperative, 50 started and three remained. According to Lieuw, many of them heard that they were being deceived, so they concluded that they were wasting time. But the perseverance of the other two women boosted the cooperative, now with 38 members. "Most come rural areas and all are trained in good agricultural, hygiene and manufacturing practices." In addition, the necessary requirements are followed throughout the process so that the product is organic, without the use of pesticides. On the other hand, faced with the threat of migration the countryside to the city, the cooperative seeks to reach young women. "It is important that they stay on the land, that they are part of the sustainable value chain that reduces migration."

Although she understands that people migrate. She herself was created by a peasant family and never dreamed of being a farmer. Specifically, her mother was the farmer, who took care of 15 children and a farm with more than 10,000 chickens. In 2002, Lieuw decided to go to Holland for a season and, when she returned, she fell in love again with a country she discovered the importance of unity between women for any project. Hers became her life purpose. “Now that I'm older, I understand that agriculture is the key to sustaining life. And I'm also a business woman, so now my biggest goal is to bring agriculture to big business. ”

Thanks to IDB support, supported by resources the Japan Poverty Reduction Program Fund (JPO-JSF), around 700 women Kapasikele and other villages in Brokopondo received training in good agricultural practices and how to improve processes production and marketing. With this perspective, eight of them even traveled to Holland to participate in a gastronomic festival that helped them to expand their vision even more.

The path was not an easy one. The rules of the market are demanding and integrating into the value chains with all the guarantees required effort, with new production methods and a lot of training. Women were able to innovate and reinvent themselves. Now, they say that each month they harvest 12 million tonnes of cassava, produce and distribute 12,800 packages of cassava baby food and their products are in more than 100 supermarkets in Suriname. In addition, they managed to export to the Netherlands, a large part of the Surinamese diaspora lives. “All of this empowered them a little more. Seeing that their products are sold in supermarkets, exported and people are interested in the work they do also makes them very proud and increases their self-esteem. These are important changes in the lives of women because they also earn more money that helps their families ”, considers Hennessey.

A group of women the Kapisekele village (Surinam) showing their proud packaged products, made with yucca.

A group of women the Kapisekele village (Surinam) showing their proud packaged products, made yucca.TANIA LIEUW-A-SOE (ASSIGNED)

The star product is cassava baby food, which is used mainly to feed babies and the elderly. In addition, they also mix cassava with bananas, rice flour and soybeans, to obtain more nutrients without the need for imports, favoring local production and making the work of the farmers visible. “It is sometimes forgotten that women are entrepreneurial in nature, that they need to be entrepreneurial to take care of the family and generate income. And in agriculture, work is underestimated, even though they are responsible for food security in the world. ” Michael Hennessey has no data to back this up, but he realizes that projects run by women tend to have greater guarantees of success. “Your participation is essential for the economic and social development of the region. There is a lot of talent and a lot of ideas. They have been an underutilized asset. ”

The covid-19 hit the group very hard and stopped the work. They have had no income for more than six months. Now, they begin to resume their activities. The processing of international Fairtrade certifications and the Global Gap for good agricultural practices they wish to achieve have been paralyzed by the pandemic. The trainings also had to be postponed and stopped being in person, being replaced by five-minute animation videos that the women shared through their cell phones.

Gender difference

Suriname is a country of great ethnic diversity. In addition to the quilombolas, a large part of its population is descended Indian, Indonesian and Chinese workers brought by the English, French and Dutch colonists. Today, in this country of almost 600,000 inhabitants, between 50% and 70% of their households, depending on the source consulted, live below the poverty line. Much of that poverty falls on women.


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