The following piece was authored by GFI’s Guatemala Country Director, Jessica Yarrow. Jessica has lived in Guatemala since 1997, supporting a variety of local initiatives to improve labor rights, access to justice, economic development and end human trafficking.
GUATEMALA, SEPTEMBER 18 - Twenty-eight women from communities of Sololá spent three days at Las Gravileas training center in Santa Catarina Bobadilla just outside of Antigua, Guatemala. They were completing a seminar on how to make a variety of pastries. This training included an exercise in calculating the costs of raw materials, pricing the final product, and filling out a questionnaire to get participants thinking about market opportunities in their communities. Las Gravileas has supplemental funding from the Italian Archbishop, who provided each participant with materials including flour, sugar, an aluminum baking pan, and wooden rolling pin. This provision of raw materials and equipment allows the women to practice what they learned, and ensures they have the necessary “startup” ingredients. I asked women about the market to sell pastries in their communities and they expect there will be significant opportunities during special celebrations.
One challenge for getting women involved in the program has been that some husbands do not give their wives “permission” to attend such trainings since it requires leaving their communities for three days. Over time, some husbands have come around as they see what the women have learned. One women made her husband a cake for his birthday, which helped him realize that she was acquiring beneficial skills. He had a change in opinion and now supports his wife whenever she wants to participate in trainings.
Since the training’s location meant that the women were already near Antigua, I arranged a market access site visit to CAOBA Farms, an organic farm with organic store and monthly Farmers’ Market. Most of the women have only seen basic “tienditas” (stores) in their communities that sell limited basic goods and bags of junk food, larger stores in Sololá, and the local market. None of them were familiar with the concept of an organic store. Since organic produce practices are new to the participants, they were very interested to see an entire organic store. The store manager, Luis, spoke with the group about CAOBA Farms and what they look for when sourcing a new product. He spoke of the importance of hygiene, quality control, environmentally friendly packaging, organic practices, and gave a few product ideas. Visiting a potential buyer was a great experience for the group.
I am impressed that CAOBA Farms is interested in supporting community initiatives. This visit was a great lesson in market access, and was an important opportunity for the women to hear directly from a potential buyer regarding what they look for in a new product and the requirements to become a supplier. Luis said CAOBA Farms will gladly accept samples of products and provide feedback to see if it is something they want to offer in their store. Overall, we look forward to strengthening our relationship with COABA as we continue to expand women’s access to these types of skills-based trainings and opportunities.
by Jessica Yarrow