The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada's Minister of International Development and La Francophonie recently visited rural Colombia to meet with small producers representing associations supported by CCA's IMPACT project.
The main event took place in Guamal, a 90-minute drive
from Villavicencio, the capital city of the department of Meta. The Minister was joined by women and men small producers from across the country who shared their experiences and showcased their wide range of value added products.
Minister Bibeau (centre) and CCA Country Manager Lydia Phillips speak with producers about their value added products.
The visit featured a roundtable where women producers shared with the Minister how they have changed their lives for the better through their co-ops and associations. Minister Bibeau asked them about the obstacles they encounter as they strive for equality between men and women in their homes and on their farms.
After hearing from project representatives, each woman producer spoke in turn, engaging the Minister in a lively conversation about the needs of rural women and their accomplishments as leaders in rural development.
"My mom and I are leaders," said Deisy Rincón, who represented 24 coffee growing families from Villavicencio at the event. "We take part in replicating what we learn at IMPACT trainings specifically to women and youth so that a generational change can take place and equality can exist."
Many of the women spoke of their gradual growth as leaders and role models for others in their small communities, never dreaming that they would one day voice their views with the top Minister of the Canadian Government for international co-operation.
"I found it very interesting because I was able to tell the Minister that I was introduced to the topic of gender equality through the IMPACT Project," said Susana Fino, a blackberry producer, leader and member of the board of directors of Coagroboyaca Co-operative.
"I came to understand the importance of this knowledge and have been able to replicate it in the spaces available to me to talk to other women about the importance of their role in the workforce."
Minister Bibeau applauded the women for the gains they have made, and pledged that women and girls will be at the centre of Canada`s international development portfolio. She said that Global Affairs Canada would start by ensuring that women and girls are consulted in all project designs, are fully involved in the implementation of projects, and that there would be careful monitoring to ensure this takes place.
"The Minister's visit and attention to the project was most appreciated," says CCA Executive Director Michael Casey. "It was a rare and valued opportunity for such accomplished rural women producers to meet a leader of Minister Bibeau's stature and to hear the Minister's words of support and appreciation."
The Minister stayed on longer than originally scheduled to converse with the producers and to see their many products, including processed coffee, cocoa (chocolate truffles), fruit (juice, marmalade, honey), and dairy products (cheese and powdered milk).
This was the Minister's first official visit to Colombia, in support of the country's peace process. The Government of Colombia views co-operatives as a key plank in its program of rural peace and development.
IMPACT (Improving the Economic Performance of Agriculture Co-operatives) is a five-year food security project that is helping farmer associations in Colombia become registered as legal co-operatives, providing farmer groups with technical, management and marketing training, and facilitating commercial trade among co-operatives. The project is supporting and improving the ability of rural co-ops to manage productivity and growth, to expand into regional, national and international markets, and to access the financing necessary to allow this to occur. IMPACT is being implemented by the Canadian Co-operative Association and Gestando and is funded by Global Affairs Canada and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada.