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CBC reporter John Otis reports from CCA's project in Colombia

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Volume 11, Number 2, February 7, 2017

Women in rural Colombia
turn milk into artisanal cheese - and jobs.
By: Eliana Pereira

By 2030, to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men.  
Seven women farmers climb Cerro Azul hill in the municipality of BolĂ­var, Valle del Cauca on their way to their jobs producing their own Cerro Azul brand of cheese. And, for the first time in their lives, they receive an income for the work they do.   
These women are from a region where massacres, killings, and torture resulted in the displacement and uprooting of inhabitants from villages around Trujillo and throughout Bolivar, home of the cattle ranching association ASOGANABOL, to which the women belong as active members or as the wives of male members of the association.
Luisa Fernanda Padilla (2nd from R) blazed a trail for women members to participate in the cheese processing business.

Among these women is
twenty-three-year-old Luisa Fernanda Padilla, the Association's manager and legal representative. She has begun raising awareness among the men of the Association regarding the importance of recognizing the role of women within the value chain and throughout the organization.

"Locally and nationally, the cattle ranching business is very sexist" says Luisa Fernanda. "ASOGANABOL has relatively few women members, but they make their presence felt. Women play a key role and, in fact, the president of the Association is a woman, the manager is a woman, and we now have ten women members and wives of members."
Luisa Fernanda's role as legal representative changed the organization's vision to the point where members began considering the transformation of milk into cheese as a way of increasing milk profits. This led to the idea of producing a semi-aged artisanal cheese made by the women of the Association, thus including women in the value chain. Instead of limiting their role to that of housewife, they now make a wage, producing cheese for the organization.
Luisa Fernanda (left) with her father and mother.
"More than the money, I emphasized to the women that we are capable of doing many things," says Luisa Fernanda. "Although it's difficult to be a mother, a wife, and a housewife, we can do more, and gain that little bit of independence, so we can say, 'I earned this money with my work, with something I learned to do.'"
IMPACT, a project sponsored by the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), and Incubadora Gestando provided members of the organization with support strengthening their manufacturing, agricultural, and environ mental practices, identifying company strengths and weaknesses,   and planning a business strategy along two major axes: gender equity and generational change. Both are exemplified in ASOGANABOL's choice of L uisa Fernanda, who has taken over leadership of the organ ization and blazed a trail for other women members to participate in the cheese processing business.
"Seven of the women here know the recipe and are familiar with the process used to produce semi-aged Cerro Azul cheese," she explains. "We cover for each other when one of us can't make it to work." The cheese is m ade on a farm owned by Luisa Fernanda's parents, where they built a kiosk and set up an industrial kitchen, counter space, and the basic furnishings needed to make the product. They are especially careful about compliance with food production regulations.

ASOGANABOL - specifically this group of women members - is transforming milk into artisanal cheese available in three presentations: spicy, smoky, and herbs. Women members of the Association and members' wives manufacture the product and have become an important part of the Association's production chain, receiving a salary which perhaps would not have been the case prior to this experience. Their husbands provide support with household chores at home while the women are at work producing cheese.
Currently, the Cerro Azul cheese produced by the women at ASOGANABOL is sold at local farmers' markets and at the food fairs to which they are invited. But the biggest challenge - after securing a trademark - is placing their product with supermarket chains. "We're getting ready to supply the market with quality cheese," beams Luisa Fernanda.
CCA's IMPACT project is helping farmer associations in Colombia become registered legal co-operatives, providing farmer groups with technical, management and marketing training, and facilitating commercial trade among co-operatives. The project is improving the ability of rural co-ops to manage productivity and growth, to expand into regional, national and international markets, and to mobilize the financing necessary to allow this to occur. IMPACT is made possible with funds from Global Affairs Canada and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF). Find out more.
THE CANADIAN CO-OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION (CCA) is a not-for-profit co-operative incorporated under the Canada Co-operatives Act and which operates as a subsidiary of Canada's national association of co-operatives and credit unions, Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC).  CCA's mission is to establish and grow co-operatives, credit unions, and community-based organizations to reduce poverty, build sustainable livelihoods, and improve civil society in less developed countries. CCA proudly delivers programs for the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF), a nationally registered charity which helps communities fight poverty and create more secure lives through community-owned co-ops. 
THE CO-OPERATIVE DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION OF CANADA (CDF) is a registered charitable organization that works to alleviate poverty by building and strengthening financial and non-financial co-ops in Canada and around the world. CDF works with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and other organizations to implement development projects on its behalf.   

 Charitable Number: 11887 5517 RR0001 


CCA is a not-for-profit
 co-operative with a mission to establish and grow
co-operatives internationally that build a better world.


To achieve this mission, CCA works closely with Canadian co-operatives and credit unions to channel their knowledge and experience to partner organizations and 
co-operatives in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Eastern Europe and Caribbean.