Women and the caatinga
Women and the caatinga
More than flavor, stories:
Discover the cooperative that gives new meaning to the relationship between women and the Caatinga
By: Raissa Testahy
Taking the Caatinga to all regions of Brazil - and for some countries in the world - we found Coopercuc, located in the backlands of Bahia. But to tell the story of this cooperative we need to go back a few years.
Working with prayer and action
In the 1980s, social movements originating from CEBs (Base Ecclesiastical Communities) played an essential role in the fight for the transformation of society. In the backlands of Bahia, it was no different.
In the municipalities of Canudos, Uauá and Curaçá, three Canadian Catholic nuns, Monique Fortier, Martha D'aoust and Jaqueline Aubly, began to diagnose the region's problems and identified three main needs: water, earth developing and income generation.
Until then, the federal government worked to combat drought in the Caatinga and, for these nuns, was it necessary to coexist with the semi-arid region- don't fight it. Thus, they, together with the population, identified the main powers in the area and implemented social technologies in the region.
One of them was the capture of rain for storage of water, with the construction of underground cisterns. Furthermore, there was an incentive for producers to actively participate in discussions to construct land regularization laws for the Earth. Have you also implemented techniques to improve animal husbandry - the main source of income at the time it was sheep and goat farming (sheep and goat farming for the production of meat, milk, leather and wool).
"The nuns said they didn't just want to work with prayer. They also wanted to work with action. Together with these social movements, producers became an organized and strengthened group and all the problems experienced in the community were alleviated with the dissemination of knowledge", declares one of the founding partners of Coopercuc, Jussara Dantas.
From left to right: nuns Monique Fortier, Grâce Leblanc, Marta D' Aoust and Jaqueline Aubry, in Uauá, in 1987? Photo: Personal archive/Jussara Dantas
In 1997, before leaving for another mission, the nuns organized the arrival of the Regional Institute of Appropriate Small Agriculture (Irpaa) in the region, an NGO that works with management techniques appropriate to the vegetation and climate of the semi-arid region.
"It's possible to live here"
It's dry in the Caatinga, but it's also fertile. Many native species have adapted to water scarcity and one of them is the umbu. The umbuzeiro is defined by the writer Euclides da Cunha as the “sacred tree of the backlands”. For Dailson Andrade, commercial coordinator at Coopercuc, umbu translates all country people.
Umbu's relationship with Coopercuc began in 1986, when twenty women got together to prepare, by hand, products from the fruit. Subsequently, the Unidos do Sertão group was created, which brought together around 30 communities, involving more than 100 people. The group's production was taken to be sold at municipal fairs and the municipality of Uauá/BA received the first stall selling the products. From this stall they were invited to fairs, exhibitions and events.
The work of these families received financial support in 1999, with the approval of the Program for Coexistence with the Semiarid Region (PROCUC). The resource made it possible to increase the number of people and communities involved in the processing and commercialization work.
Dona Ana Lice. Photo by William França
Domingas Cardoso. Photo by William França
Now let's jump to 2004, when Coopercuc was finally founded. Since its formation, women have actively participated in the cooperative: of the 44 members, 26 were women. Nowadays they are equivalent to more than 70% of the people cooperating.
The role of women in rural areas in the Northeast was restricted to cooking, caring for children and searching for water. The cooperative's work helped change this reality, promoting greater political participation and ensuring better food for the family.
"They are the thinking ones. They are the ones who take the initiatives. They are the brave ones. They really embraced the whole process and said “this is where we’re going to go”. Without them, would Coopercuc not exist", Jussara comments emotionally.
Belonging and female protagonism are passed from generation to generation. According to Jussara, to this day, the first member of the cooperative, Dona Judite, almost 90 years old, continues to participate effectively in meetings and assemblies and is very proud to belong.
From Uauá to the world
After its foundation, the cooperative grew with the impetus of the public market, being covered by policies of the government of the state of Bahia and at the federal level, such as the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), which buys food from family farming to be distributed among people experiencing food insecurity, and for public schools.
The program, in addition to strengthening family farming food production, boosted the expansion of the cooperative's international market. Producers began to exhibit their products at fairs, one of which was the National Family Agriculture Fair, in Brasília. It was where Slow Food - movement created by Italy in opposition to fast food – learned about the wonders and powers of the products of the hinterland and decided to start a project to value the communities in the region.
As an initial incentive from Slow Food, the producers received funding of 13 thousand euros invested in the construction of 13 small processing units (small structures built for families to work), located in 13 rural communities in the three municipalities.
In 2005, thanks to the visibility guaranteed by Slow Food, Coopercuc began exporting and selling sweets to France, Italy and Austria."We were going through very difficult times and getting our product to the French table was a moment of great enchantment for us. We didn't even have a road, we brought the container from Salvador, more than 420 km to fill it with goods and took it back to Salvador", says Jussara.
Thus, the cooperative begins to gain space in the national and international market, "And that's the story we already know" says Jussara. Today Coopercuc works with jellies, juices and pulps, sweets and jams, beers, cachaças, liqueurs and many other products.
"It's like a light in our lives"
Maria da Glória da Silva, 57 years old, was one of those women who saw the cooperative's birth up close. Daughter of farmers and resident of the traditional community of Fundo de Pasto de Caladinho, in Curaçá, the status of the member's profile in the messaging application is "I love my work, it's my life".
When asked about the time she started at Coopercuc, Maria da Glória doesn't even remember. "I started taking a farming course sent by the nun back in the 90s. Since then I have been involved in all activities. I started making umbu sweets to sell at the fair. The organizational moments were very good, we got together, it was encouraging to be part of that group. Today, thank God we have this cooperative that helps small producers a lot, in every way", highlights.
Maria da Glória currently works with goat farming for milk production. "I like working with goats. When I was a child, I was the caretaker. Because my parents went to the country to work. We arrested them, released them, gave them food. We created this love. I feel very good, I love very much".
Coopercuc develops, together with women dairy goat producers, a very important work of self-care, social, technical and veterinary support, to increasingly improve this system - which, by then, has already been consolidated.
Pablo Garcia, analyst on Sitawi's Impact Investment team, explains that small producers, alone, would be selling their products to middlemen. "If it weren't for Coopercuc, they would be selling fresh, earning much less. By improving the products, they sell them with more added value. Does this allow them to bring more resources to their region" highlights.
What are middlemen?
The middleman is the person who collects the production from the small farmer and takes it to the final consumer in the cities. The problem is that, with no other alternative to commercialize the harvest, many rural producers surrender the harvest to abusive conditions and low prices imposed by middlemen.
"Coopercuc does a little bit of everything. There are producers who work with milk, there are others who work with gardens. There are others who work with fruit. We come together and produce what we most identify with. Coopercuc improved everything. I do not have words. It’s like it was a light in our lives.”, Maria da Glória.
Expansion of horizons
One of the challenges highlighted by Jussara is the issue of working capital - a financial reserve that aims to guarantee the purchase of inputs, materials, payment of bills, etc. "We need resources to start all the work. We have suppliers spread throughout Brazil and we need this working capital to be able to ensure that the packaging, glass and cardboard arrive here in Uauá", she highlights.
This is how the story of Sitawi crossed with that of Coopercuc. The cooperative was part of the 8th Round of Investments in Sitawi's Collective Lending Platform, in 2020. The organization raised a little more than R$150 thousand and the resources made up the business's working capital, which allowed further development in the production structure in the industry .
"Coopercuc has a huge impact on the region and is a very robust cooperative. Cooperativism greatly strengthens family farming, wouldn't they be able to have these productions on their own" comments Pablo.
Forms of production (video: Barong)
The Caatinga, the only exclusively Brazilian biome, has been treated throughout history as an issue to be resolved. In the past, the CUC region - Canudos, Uauá and Curaçá - was penalized for overgrazing of animals and deforestation. Therefore, the semi-arid climate became increasingly arid, due to the increase in ambient temperature, increasingly leading to water scarcity.
"We suffered a lot [emotional crying], I have no words to say. I saw many families go hungry when I was a child. Everything I want for Coopercuc is everything I want for my children. A mother only wants the best for her children and that's what I want for Coopercuc", reports Maria da Glória.
Since its foundation, Coopercuc has worked for the development of communities and families, in addition to working to raise awareness and preserve the environment and the Caatinga in general.
One of the projects created by the organization for cooperative families is the AgroCaatinga, which consists of implementing agroforestry systems on member properties. The project makes it possible to restore soil and vegetation and, as a result, increase income, since some of the fruits that are processed in Coopercuc's agroindustry are produced in these areas. Furthermore, it guarantees viable production and income generation within rural communities for all genders, emphasizing the protagonism of youth and women.
"Coopercuc is not just sweet"
The cooperative invests in innovation and, according to Jussara, “they are bold and always look for new products”. It ranges from beauty products to craft beers.
Since 2012, L'Occitane (French cosmetics brand) has been developing a sustainable supply chain to meet its production demands. The collaboration allows mandacaru inputs to be transformed into a variety of products that make up a line of hand cream. In addition to the hair line - Curly Hair - with passion fruit seed from the Caatinga, all aligned with the AgroCaatinga project.
They recently began to count on a partnership with Ambev for the production and expansion of craft umbu beer. But, in addition to production and market expansion, Coopercuc is responsible for the empowerment of women and young people.
"Coopercuc is not just about sweets. It involves working with young people and making them take ownership of what is theirs. We promote internships for rural young people to attract them to Coopercuc activities. They are the future"?.
Furthermore, Jussara comments that it is necessary to prepare more women for leadership and management of the organization. Even with a staff of more than 70% women, the cooperative spent four terms without a female leader. “They didn't feel prepared to command. They need to feel like they own it all. Why are they?, comments the director.
In the fifth term we managed to elect a woman who was in charge for two years. We need to think about legacy and managing the future that belongs to all of us.
Women and the semiarid
The trajectory of one of the founding members of Coopercuc was also transformed by the mothers. Jussara Dantas has a degree in Geography, a specialist in environmental education, and a diploma in sustainable management from the University of Luneburg, in Germany.
Jussara was influenced by her mother, Dona Joaninha, to begin her journey in social movements, through the Basic Ecclesiastical Communities (CEBs), the Rural Youth Ministry and her community association (Community Development and Agropastoral Association of Small Rural Producers of Caititús Farm), which is still associated.
Daughter of a farmer and mother of two boys, Jussara highlights the importance of education and knowledge for the transformation of the semi-arid region. When she was young, he had two opportunities: leave for the big city or stay in the countryside. The decision to stay made all the difference. She is a living example for many young people, who can live and remain in the backlands, tracing their lives, making history and transforming the relationships between the countryside and work.
It was and is necessary to learn to live with the Semiarid, which transforms, creates and reinvents forms of coexistence between human beings and nature, both in their social and productive relationships.
Coopercuc, with a variety of experiences, knowledge and practices experienced and applied, built a project that transforms people's lives, especially women. After all, they are the protagonists of this story.