#FillTheGap! Equal rights are brewing in Colombia

This is the fifth post of Farming First’s #FillTheGap campaign to highlight the gender gap facing rural women working in agriculture.

For 15,000 families in the remote and rural towns surrounding Tumaco, western Colombia, the cocoa growers’ association (COMCACAOT) has been something of a lifeline.

Established only five years ago, most of the union’s members come from Afro-Colombian communities that suffered from Colombia’s internal conflict and opted to grow cocoa as a means to overcome poverty. Around 40 per cent of COMCACAOT members are women.

Lidia Grueso, 41, manager of COMCACAOT, has felt the impact of this violence herself and was forced to move from her home close to the police station for fear of being caught in the cross-fire.

But having overcome gender bias to become a union manager, Lidia is now leading the charge to improve access to credit for all COMCACAOT farmers, including women.

Due to its recent creation, COMCACAOT had never previously had access to financial services. After receiving an initial COP$50 million pesos loan (approximately US$18,000) from governmental bank Banco Agrario in March 2016, COMCACAOT was able to start building its credit history and improve their economic conditions.

USAID’s Rural Finance Initiative (RFI) supported COMCACOAT in accessing their first loan and given their limited managerial skills and unorganized ledgers, RFI gave targeted technical assistance and organizational development training prior submitting the loan request.

Thanks to these additional resources, COCACAOT was able to buy cocoa at a better price and in time in order to comply with their clients: national and international buyers interested in buying cocoa for large-scale chocolate production. COMCACAOT was able to repay its loan on time and have two new credits for different amounts approved by Banco Agrario: a second credit on December 2016 for COP$12 million (around US$4,000), and a third credit for COP$44 million (around US$14,000).

Furthermore, COMCACAOT continued working together with the bank and with RFI to help individual farmers access loans.

COMCACAOT has been able to vouch for 374 of its members – 70 to 80 per cent of whom are women – who have already had their own individual loans. Having access to these additional resources enables the organization to improve their production and income, since they can now buy fertilizers to improve their crops and pay wages for day workers who help gather the harvest.

These joint activities with Banco Agrario has allowed COMCACAOT to close not only the gender gap but also promote financial inclusion in the region. COMCACAOT intends to continue working with the Bank to increase the current number of individual loans among its members.

For more stories of bridging the gender gap, visit Farming First’s Fill The Gap page or follow #FillTheGap on social media.