Big impact on farmers' federation with 350,000 members

A report by Professor Biermayr from Georgetown University in Washington has shown that Trias has had a big impact on the lives of female farmers in Latin America.
In El Salvador, Trias Central America has already been working for five years to strengthen CLAC, an umbrella federation of almost a thousand farming organisations in 24 Latin American countries. Together these organisations have 350,000 members.
A big challenge is the participation of women and young people. 'For most farmers' organisations that are connected to CLAC, this issue is a question of survival', asserts Astrid Vreys, regional director of Trias Central America.
What do you mean?
Astrid Vreys: 'The population pyramid of an average farmers' organisation in Latin America is alarming. If no fresh blood is pumped into these associations, it will lead to a dead end. Men are increasingly understanding that a higher inflow of women and young people is needed.'
What lies behind this problematic population pyramid?
'Many young people are no longer interested in a career as a traditional farmer, and are moving to the cities. In particular, men are leaving the countryside. Women are staying behind to run the households, and are taking over the work on the family farm. Studies show that in Latin American coffee production chains, women control at least 80 per cent of the agricultural production processes. And yet the decision-makers in farmers' organisations are nearly always exclusively men.'
Why is this?
'Membership in the organisations is coupled to land ownership. And the plots are in men's names, even if they no longer play an active role in their business.' 
So women are not invited to the meetings of these farmers' organisations?
'Exactly, and that is detrimental on two counts. Firstly, it means women get fewer opportunities to develop. Secondly, the organisations take poor decisions, because the men in the meetings have insufficient knowledge about the needs of the women and young people on the farms.'
How has Trias Central America dealt with this problem at CLAC?
'Initially we worked on the organisational culture of the associations that are members of CLAC, but it quickly became apparent that we needed to make structural changes in the federation itself. What really helped is that senior figures in CLAC really believe in inclusion. They adjusted the strategic vision and set up two new committees, one dealing with gender and the other with young people. The shift at this level has made a difference to many female farmers and their families. By working together with large organisations, you can have a large impact with limited means. That is the Trias philosophy.' 
For you, what are the most significant outcomes that Professor Biermayr identified in her report?
'Increasing numbers of women are studying business, and the number of women in management roles is increasing. Furthermore, not only are women's average wages increasing, but they are also increasingly deciding how their wages should be spent. Women farmers are gaining greater self-worth. I'm happy every time CLAC's members launch new initiatives, be that in Paraguay, in Mexico or wherever else.' 
Do you believe that progression means greater sustainability?
'I can see that there is a structural progression at all levels of CLAC, from local organisations to regional organisations that cover a number of countries. That is a logical consequence of the people and resources that CLAC has freed up to strengthen gender equality among its members. For organisations that want to take steps forward, we have also developed a guided procedure for greater inclusion that they can implement at their own pace. Working together with a huge body such as CLAC is a big challenge, but Professor Biermayr's report shows that we're on the right lines.'
How do you look back on the past 5 years of partnership with CLAC?
'With great satisfaction. Our whole team has devoted a lot of energy into building a relationship of trust with CLAC. Today you can see that Trias has clearly had an impact on our partner's development. I'm also happy that with the Womed Award Zuid, an organisation such as Markant has contributed to the promotion of female entrepreneurship in El Salvador.'
What is the biggest challenge for the future?
'CLAC's next challenge will be to further expand its service provision so that women and young people get more opportunities to develop into true rural entrepreneurs. The change in CLAC's organisational culture will only be sustainable when the economic impact on women and young people becomes tangible. That is why we must search, together with CLAC, for creative solutions. Fewer and fewer young people are choosing to work as traditional coffee farmers, but many of them can imagine running a café, for example. Honey production and coffee packing are activities that are ideal for women. In the coming years, we expect that CLAC will work more on the diversification of the rural economy, in which women and young people will be given a prominent role. Trias Central America is ready to offer further support, together with our supporters in Flanders.'
Read the report from Professor Biermayr (in Spanish) on the results that Trias Central America has achieved with CLAC.