Long viewed as an exporter of agricultural products, the Dominican Republic in recent years has grown in the service sector. The GDP per capital is $9,500 USD with its economy being highly dependent on the United States. The country suffers from large income inequality with the poorest half of the population receiving less than one-fifth of GDP. The growth of the economy is one of the fastest in the region although it remains weak financially.
The Cafe Femenino Foundation has been working with the coffee cooperative FEDECARES since 2006 to bring resources and projects to the southern regions of the Dominican Republic. In 2013, projects were implemented in the regions of Polo, Azua, Bani, and Pedernales. These are coffee production regions where women coffee producers, lacking access to resources and living in poverty, are working tirelessly to better their lives and those of their children.
Faced with a poor roadways system, lack of telecommunications, and lack of electricity in many cases, the women coffee producers are also faced with the recent increases in rain and decreases in production due to coffee rust. All of these challenges are added to by the lack of value and status that women are granted within their culture.
It is with the coffee infrastructure that has been created by the FEDECARES cooperative that information, education, and social resources are more readily accessible in these communities with grants funded by the Foundation. The project oversight on the ground for this country is Maria Isabel Balbuena, who is the President of FEDECARES cooperative as well as the Café Femenino Coordinator for the Dominican Republic.
Meeting in a general assembly twice a year, the members of the Cafe Femenino Women’s Group have continued to come together to develop projects that address local issues. The project requests that the Cafe Femenino Foundation received from this women’s group reflect two of this year’s initiatives: 1) Income Diversification and 2) Food Security.
Farm families in coffee producing areas have maintained a traditional division of labor in the production structure in which the man is in charge of the coffee and the woman in charge of the home garden and livestock. Gender inequity inside of the coffee producing culture has led to a lack of access to productive resources for women. The lack of access to land and agricultural credit are one of the main causes of poverty of rural women, which tends to perpetuate their economic dependence on men. With the Passion Fruit (known as Chinola) projects, the women are given the decision making power to manage these crops and manage an additional source of income.
The Café Femenino Foundation has been supporting passion fruit projects in the Dominican Republic since 2009. This year, the project was expanded into two new areas, Bani and Azua.
Passion fruit is one of the crops best suited to the conditions and climate of the coffee growing mountainous regions of the Dominican Republic. It takes 2,044 meters of land to raise passion fruit to guarantee profitability of the production. This amount can be adequately handled by the family and not diminish the woman’s ability to focus on her coffee production. It is reported that this crop can be harvested in as early as eight months with a typical harvest at nine months. At this point in time, weekly collection of fruit is possible. Passion fruit is high in vitamins and calories, and is commonly used in juices, jams, ice cream, liqueurs, desserts and cocktails. Because of its various uses, there is substantial local demand for the fruit.
The costs included the purchase of the passion fruit seedlings, organic fertilizer and pesticides, and the materials for construction of the trellis such as staples and wire. The labor was provided by the women themselves in the form of planting, pruning, and weed control.
Results: In Bani, this project benefited 13 women and their families, which equates to an indirect benefit of 91 people in this community. 26,572 square meters of passion fruit have been planted. The 13 women directly involved are managing their own plots and have reported the project has lead to income diversification within their homes. In Azua, the project was expanded to two new neighboring communities where 12 women were chosen to participate; planting 24,531 square meters of passion fruit. In this region, households typically have 10 to 12 persons. For this reason this project directly benefited 130 people in Azua. The beneficiaries and their families contribute 49% of the total value of the project in the form of work; rehabilitating the land, planting, and maintaining the plantation.
In a statement by the project coordinator Maria Isabel Balbuena of the FEDECARES cooperative she says, “in Patria’s interview, of the women’s group in Azua (see full interview in Most Significant Change Stories section), she explains how the sale of the passion fruit has contributed to the education of her three children, two that have already become professionals.” She also adds, “Patria’s testimonial is similar to all the women of the passion fruit project. If a parent is able to cover the education of the children with income outside of coffee as is the case with the passion fruit, without a doubt, this constitutes an achievement of the project in improving the quality of the lives of the family.”
Lessons Learned -Chinola/Passion Fruit Project
There are benefits to diversifying the agricultural production of coffee communities so that coffee is not the only crop a family depends on. With this, additional training and organization by the women is required.
The women are successfully harvesting the passion fruit and selling it in the market. They are able to invest that money in any way they see fit to support their family. Typically, this money will go to the education and nutrition of their children. With the addition of the passion fruit crop, fresh fruit is also readily available to them to feed their children.
By creating an additional income stream, the women are no longer relying solely on the income of the coffee harvest. With these projects, women become more knowledgeable about why they should diversify their income. By recognizing the benefits of diversification, they can ensure supplementary income if the coffee harvest is reduced. In video interviews, beneficiaries reported that the additional income has helped them maintain their family’s level of income through a reduced production cycle of coffee due to the prevalence of coffee rust this past year.
As this milk cow project completes its third year, the Foundation is pleased to report that this project was expanded into two new regions, Azua and Pedernales, in order to benefit additional women coffee producers. In the communities of Azua and Pedernales, there is a need to provide access to food that is nutritional and includes protein. This project will provide to the families access to fresh milk daily. Without a cow or a goat to give milk, a family must buy it. Because it is usually too expensive, the children go without a source of daily nutrition in the form of protein.
In 2013, 12 women in Azua and nine women from the Pedernales were selected to receive calves. This project also included educational training on animal care, leadership, and gender. Each group received training in animal care as well as materials to build enclosures for the cows. The project was established with the idea to continue supplying livestock into the community. As each cow matures, reproduces, and gives birth, that calf is given to the next woman selected from the group. This continues until every woman in the group owns a cow. Slaughtering the cow for meat or sale is prohibited. This long term project begins with the purchase of one calf of approximately 6 months of age for each beneficiary. At 24 months of age, the cow is able to give birth to its first calf. After 6 months, this new calf can be delivered to the next woman in the group. It is at this point the first cycle of rotation is fulfilled. To date, this project is still in the first year so the calves have not sufficiently matured to have their first calf.
Lessons Learned – Milk Cow Project
This is a sustainable project that once implemented in a new coffee community will continue until every participating member has benefited. However, there is a risk that the cows could become sick, be stolen, or that the beneficiaries refuse to give the calf to the next family. For that reason, oversight, education about the project, and follow-up is critical.
This project was originally designated as a “Family & Community Gardens” project for the women’s group of Polo. The group reported to our in-country coordinator that due to the timing from when the project was proposed to when it was funded, there were environmental changes that occurred in their region. Finding themselves in an unusually raining season, they felt it would not be prudent to risk the funding on gardens. Rather, they decided to invest the funding in a project they knew would be successful. The $2,700 project moneys that were designated for Family & Community Gardens were re-directed instead to a Goat Breeding Program.
Our in-country coordinator found out about this after the group made this decision and implemented the project. She understands that this is not proper protocol and is aware that any changes to a project must come to the Foundation first. However, this group made the decision independently without any prior communication.
As a result, this is the first goat project we have funded. 15 women, located in the Polo region, were selected to be the recipients of young goats to begin this project (please see Appendix B for a full list of recipients). The project included an educational workshop on the care of the animals. The gestation period for a goat is 5 months and each goat gives birth to 1-3 offspring at one time. Offspring can be separated from the mothers at 3 months. This project is designed so that once a goat gives birth, the offspring is given to the next women in this group and this process continues indefinitely. The family is not permitted to slaughter the female goats. The goat will provide fresh milk for the family’s consumption and when the male offspring reach the appropriate size, it can be used for meat for the family. Raising goats was preferred for the group because they reproduce rapidly; they provide nutritional milk products which provide daily access to nutritional protein for the family. The goats require a small space to live and they can live on grasses making them more desirable for this group to utilize.
Lessons Learned – Goat Breeding Project
On the forefront, communication with new groups such as this one is extremely important. Although the Foundation has good communication with the country coordinator, it was not until we received mid-year progress reports that this issue was brought to the Foundation’s attention. For the future, we have implemented a quarterly check-in with the country coordinator.
The Foundation now has additional preventative measures in place to ensure that unapproved use of funds will not occur. The Contract Agreement clearly states that the funds must be used only for the contracted project unless prior approval is granted by the Café Femenino Foundation.
With the execution of these projects, an additional three communities have started a breeding program with animals that will provide improved nutrition for their families. These projects provide access to cow and goat milk which increases the nutritional value of what a family consumes daily. Over time this will reduce the malnutrition rates in children and provide a consistent source of nutrition.
Additionally, each participating family can produce a variety of milk products to sell and add a supplemental income. Upon visiting one of the projects, there were other items being produced from the milk such as cheese and butter. Not only are these foods containing nutrition and protein, they can be sold to add income to the family.
By giving the first female offspring to the next woman selected to be a recipient, a large number of families will be involved rather quickly and have access to yet another tool for nutritional diversification.
The reallocation of the Family Garden funds to a Goat Project demonstrates one positive impact of the Café Femenino Program as a whole. The women assumed control and leadership of the project, and decided as a group to change their project to one they felt would be successful rather than to stay the course with certain failure due to the weather conditions. These women felt empowered to make a decision for success independently, which demonstrates autonomy, leadership, and planning skills. Another positive impact of this project is the comparison of the two animal projects in the Dominican Republic. While the cow project has been successful, when comparing the two animal sharing programs, many women have reported their preference of goats to cows because it requires less space and maintenance. This is something we will consider in the coming year.
During a visit to the Dominican Republic, the Foundation met with the women coffee producers who live in the communities where coffee is produced who participated in these projects. During these meetings, the women communicate that these projects do bring about positive changes in both their homes and their communities. The women talked about how they notice their own increase of participation and increase of taking on leadership responsibilities within their organizations.
The country coordinator explains during a video interview with project beneficiaries that she sees visible changes in the women of the groups, in terms of self-esteem development, the ability to express oneself, and leadership within their families. These changes are difficult to measure but are visible when interacting with the women who participate in these projects.
One woman we met during a women’s meeting in the Dominican Republic was Juana. She was 70 years old. As she held out her hands to show us, she said,
“I was born in coffee and raised in coffee. With Café Femenino, this is the very FIRST time I’ve been valued for my coffee.”
- Juana, Café Femenino Coffee Producer, Polo, Dominican Republic