The Unión de Cooperativas Agropecuarias (UCA) SOPPEXCCA was founded in Jinotega, Nicaragua in 1997.
Norma Elena is an organic coffee farmer and has been a member of Soppexcca Co-operative for eight years now. She is also an active member of the administrative board of her local co-op in the community of los Alpes. She learnt about Soppexcca through her husband who was a member before she joined. They had always worked together on their coffee plantation but only he had the privileges of being affiliated to the organisation.
TAKING THE FIRST STEPS AS A WOMAN FARMER
Once I joined Soppexcca though, my husband was supportive and decided to give me a part of the land so I could manage that separately. I really wanted to become active and go to meetings so I wasn’t just always stuck inside the house. Having your own piece of land was an important requisite to join as a women member, so you have autonomy to make your own decisions.
When I joined I was lucky to find that there were a few other women involved so we could help one another. When I started there were only 5 and now there are 283 women farmers. In the beginning, all the coffee was put together and we didn’t separate it by gender. We decided to export women’s only coffee and so we had to separate our coffee and work hard to meet all the Fair Trade and Organic requirements of our new coffee buyer; Equal Exchange. We got a good price plus an extra premium for this coffee which was a real motivator for the women. We continued to recruit more women farmers and then we found that there was interest regionally and so we started a national women’s network of coffee farmers called “Flores de cafe” (Coffee flowers). In this network we organise workshops, campaigns and forums for debates. I was a founding member and part of the board of directors for five years.
Before we felt forgotten. If people asked us if we worked, we would say no, no we don’t have a job because we never received a salary or any money for our work. The point is we didn’t value ourselves, we didn’t know how to. We would say our husbands were the breadwinners. We now realise that this is not true as we do work and were working and that we contribute to our family economy.
I am really grateful for Soppexcca and the Fair Trade market as it has given me this opportunity to grow and to value myself. I also love being a coffee farmer. I started with one acre of land and keep growing. I feel really proud of everything I have achieved. I don’t sell any of my coffee in the local market; it all goes to the Fair Trade and organic market. The local market only pays 5% of the coffee actual value.
I am such a different person now to who I was before. I didn’t like to speak before and would always run away, I would be embarrassed ; I’d feel too shy to talk and would want to disappear. There are a lot of women who are too scared to become organised and go to meetings, these are the people who still need our help. This is why I will continue to work for our visibility and value.