Interview with Nicaraguan coffee producer and member of CECOCAFEN

17  March, 2016

Ivania Calderón Peralta  is a small producer of the ‘Organic Café’ in Northern Nicaragua. Single parent of 5 children, fighter and worker, partner of the ‘Providencia’ Cooperative and board associate of the cooperative CECOCAFEN.

CECOCAFEN is an organisation that encompasses smaller cooperatives from the North of Nicaragua, and which currently covers around 2450 small producers. Around 22% of them are women producers.

Ivania’s mission is to commercialise coffee of her partners. At CECOCAFEN she performs the role of coordinator of the Board of Oversight. Her visit to London marks the 30th anniversary of the twinning between the communities of Matagalpa and Lewisham.

On the afternoon of the 4th March, two CAWN members had the chance to meet and interview Ivania in the Lewisham Civic Suite.

CAWN: We would love to know, how did your career in coffee begin?

IVANIA: I initially joined the cooperative as a coffee producer. At the time I didn’t know much about cooperatives but I soon realised there were many dedicated coffee producers in the organisation. I became increasingly involved with the cooperative and after seeing the benefits made available to producers, of course I did not want to miss out! (laughs) From then on I began to dedicate more time to my farm.

CAWN: That is highly understandable and it’s great to hear of the benefits. We are aware that CECOCAFEN works with Fairtrade. Could you tell us about the benefits of this and a bit more about your thoughts on Fairtrade?

IVANIA: CECOCAFEN was one of the first pioneering organisations in the North of Nicaragua which was Fairtrade certified. Through Fairtrade, many small producers in CECOCAFEN have received benefits, that cannot be denied. However, currently our sells to Fairtrade represent 38% of all coffee we produce, and we would like to be able to sell them 100% of our coffee production. Initially Fairtrade started an initiative to work with small producers but overtime, with the realisation that production of Fairtrade coffee was low and demand was high, attention shifted to companies with large scale production of coffee. Of course, there may be small producers benefitting within the sales of these larger companies, but I wonder how Fairtrade can be sure of this? I know for sure that smaller coffee producers organised through cooperatives like CECOCAFEN have less opportunity to sell their coffee through Fairtrade now. Perhaps this is something to do with marketing? Even I cannot be sure.

CAWN: You mentioned that 22% of the producers in CECOCAFEN are women. How are women involved in the trade and are the roles of women and men fundamentally different?

IVANIA: Some of the production roles are not necessarily the same because it can be difficult to compare the physical strength of a man with a woman. But we can run a farm, we can give direction on how to work. Women know very well how work in coffee production should be done. Being a women does not limit us in our work in that sense.

CAWN: In your personal experience as a producer, do you think you’ve encountered certain challenges that you may not have faced as a man doing the same in this sector?

IVANIA: Well, for me it’s a bit more complicated because I’m working in the cooperative and I’m a producer. So I’m not 100 percent on the farm. I spend my time between the cooperative, the farm and at home with my family. Doing all of this as a woman can be challenging at times. I’m not too sure where we women find the energy to do it all. Responsibilities of men and women in my country are different from here. For example, a man working on the farm, in the office, can go out any time; if he’s in town and he’s worried he goes to a bar or restaurant for a beer, forgets about work, relaxes and leaves behind any worries. The woman, however, is always thinking “what am I going to do? What awaits me tomorrow? ” And it’s even worse without that man to help. She thinks “How am I going to make it? Tomorrow I have to find help for the farm, take the children to school in the morning, I have to make dinner, I have to go to the office … “. Everything. Thankfully God has given us the wonderful gift that is power in everything we do (laughs).

CAWN: It really is inspiring to hear of your story. What makes you most satisfied with what you have achieved?

IVANIA: What I have achieved for my family makes me very proud, since I started working when I was just 15 years old. First my family, then my surroundings. I do what I can for my community, the environment. That motivates me because as a woman to know that we are representing, to see what we can do for the community, what we can bring to the women, the children, the families who need benefitting from our work is just wonderful. And well, the organisation is the means, the support for us to be able to develop in the field. I have been very lucky because there is no money to pay for all the opportunities I have been given.

CAWN: What advice would you give to young women who may want to work in the production of coffee?

IVANIA: Women should approach cooperative organisations, because if we are organised we can achieve a better income, better projects to bring to our families and communities. As a coffee producer, if I am not organised no-one will approach me to buy my coffee unless it is to trick me to sell it cheaper than the market price, which would not generate any benefit for me. If one is organised it awakens you, it broadens your mind, it gives you training and knowledge about your environment, the way the business works. I would tell women to fight for success, to be leaders, because us women are exceptional. I am very proud of being a woman and a member of an organisation looks after our families and communities.

The interview was translated and edited by Christina Katsianis and Margarita Rebolledo. Christina Katsianis is Communications Assistant of CAWN, and student in MSc Emerging Economies and International Development. Margarita Rebolledo is the current Coordinator of CAWN.

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