“My husband used to give me money for food, but now I have my own resources to provide food for the family. I have independence.” – Sofia, 29, Bolivia
Spending time with her young children in their backyard garden brings such joy to Sofia. The 29-year-old mother of 8-year-old son Gadiel and 3-year-old daughter Areliz strives to give her children the best life possible.
The odds seem stacked against Sofia and other Indigenous women like her in Bolivia, but she is thriving in her livelihood as a vegetable producer after joining a women’s vegetable producers organization.
INDIGENOUS WOMEN IN BOLIVIA FACE UNIQUE CHALLENGES
At Canadian Feed The Children, we partner with local Bolivian organizations who serve migrant Indigenous families living in peri-urban areas, which are areas of land outside an urban city that has both urban and rural characteristics. As an Indigenous woman in Bolivia, Sofia and women like her face many challenges.
- More than 1 in 6 Boliviaians, or 2.4 million people, are living in extreme poverty. Many of those experiencing poverty in Bolivia are Indigenous women, and those who live in the rural areas of the country. Almost 50% of the country identifies as being Indigenous.
- Bolivia has one of the highest levels of inequality between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous peoples.
- Rural Indigenous girls are five times less likely to complete school than a non-Indigenous boy.
- An urban dwelling Indigenous girl is only half as likely to finish school compared to a non-Indigenous boy. When trying to receive higher education, Indigenous women face high rates of discrimination – 25% of Indigenous women face discrimination versus 18% non-Indigenous women.
- When Indigenous women drop out of school, 45% of young women cite lack of economical resources, 9% cite needing to work to support family, 9% cite domestic or care work, and 9% cite pregnancy.
- Indigenous women in Bolivia have a higher unemployment rate, and even though Bolivia has the world’s largest informal economy, an Indigenous woman who is active in this economy will earn an average of $128 CDN a month while a non-Indigenous man will earn an average of $525 CDN in a formal sector.
SOFIA’S STRUGGLE TO FEED HER CHILDREN
Sofia faced many of these difficulties, especially in earning an income and feeding her children. Before she joined a women’s vegetable producers organization, she used to work in a store and daycare centre for meager pay.
“When I worked at the daycare centre, my kids were doing fine. But, once they had to move onto primary school, we didn’t have enough food,” Sofia told us.
Not all schools in Bolivia have school feeding programs, which meant that Gadiel and Areliz were not able to receive daily healthy meals.
To address this, Sofia started to produce vegetables in her own backyard, growing cabbage, beans and chard during the rainy season. But in Sucre, where Sofia and her family live, the majority of the year is dry and sunny with the rainy season only lasting from December to March. There is also a large variable temperature range which can hinder the growing season for backyard gardens. This means that despite her best efforts, her children still faced periods of hunger, and lacked essential fruit and vegetable nutrients in their diet.
GROWING WITH A WOMEN’S VPO
Joining a women’s vegetable producers organization (WVPO) completely changed Sofia’s life and let her take ownership of her own economic empowerment. Through a WVPO, women like Sofia learn not only how to grow diversified produce and properly care for crops, but it provides them with marketing support and training, and money loans to purchase land, greenhouses or a stall to sell produce.
This is similar to Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLAs) that are supported by CFTC donors in Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda. In VSLAs, women receive a combination of skills development, marketing support and access to credit and savings. These skills could be agricultural, like Sofia, or related to another trade such as basket weaving or soap making.
“Before [the WVPO], I used to sell vegetables to the teachers in the school, but I didn’t know if I was turning a profit,” Sofia told us. “But now, I know how to calculate the costs and prices for my produce. After learning the 4 Ps of Marketing, I can identify the best sale point for my vegetables.”
In addition to business training, Sofia received gardening tools, seeds, and materials like nails, wire, and windows so she could construct her own greenhouse to battle against the changing climate. After receiving training and supplies from the WVPO, she diversified her crops to add in celery, lettuce, and spinach and sells them at the local market for a good price.
THE NEXT GENERATION OF GARDENERS
Gadiel and Areliz love to help their mother in the garden, too. Not only are they learning valuable skills, but they are developing an appreciation for food and increasing the amount of vegetables they eat.
“My kids used to hate vegetables and refused to eat them but now they eat them all. The whole family is more active and we have complete nutrition,” Sofia told us.
Joining a WVPO has transformed Sofia’s life. Her growing business has given her economic freedom and the decision-making power denied to many Indigenous women like her. Sofia proudly tells us, “My husband used to give me money for food, but now I have my own resources to provide food for the family. I have independence.” The opportunity has allowed Sofia to gain economic empowerment and ensure that her family has everything they need to stay healthy and successful. None of it would be possible without generous CFTC supporters like you. Thank you!
EMPOWER WOMEN LIKE SOFIA
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