Colombia is characterized by enormous social inequalities and income variations. Cocoa-farming families strive for economic progress – in a country where economic, political and social advancement is a slow process due to a long-lasting armed conflict. These circumstances dominate the lives of thousands of families in rural areas.
In Colombia, women are at a disadvantage in many ways when they enter the labour market. They often work in the informal economy and face higher levels of unemployment. Added to this is the fact that they usually bear primary responsibility for housework and childcare, too. This prevents them from getting ahead in their careers and massively restricts their economic independence. The likelihood of women being financially dependent is especially high in rural regions.1 Despite the prevailing gender stereotypes and cultural norms, the four female entrepreneurs profiled became role models for both their families and their communities.
Swisscontact has been working with Colombian cocoa organisations to optimise quality and value creation and promote equality since 2020. The “Colombian Specialty Cocoa for the Swiss Sustainable Market (Cacao+Sostenible)” project fosters innovation and services in order to establish long-term commercial relationships between producers and consumers. Women’s participation in decision-making within the producer organisations’ production and administration processes is also promoted as part of the project, as is the use of tried-and-tested environmentally friendly agricultural practices. The project of the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa is co-financed by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and is implemented by Swisscontact and the Pakka Foundation.
Sandra Palacios has been Head of the Cooagronevada Cocoa Cooperative for 10 years. As co-founder, she plays a key role in the livelihoods of the 28 male and 22 female cocoa producers who belong to the organisation. Originally a rural farmer herself, today she is a leader in the marketing of cocoa and coffee. Her charisma, talent and perseverance have made her a role model for many women in her region.
“Nothing is easy, especially for us women. We are afraid of failure. We must encourage girls to express their opinions and make their own suggestions from a young age.”
As a co-founder of Maecitas, a female entrepreneurs’ association established in 2016, Luz Marina Ospina Orrego is involved in the association’s operations and contributes to its ongoing development. Luz Marina is currently responsible for processing and quality control procedures for cocoa – from fermentation through to drying. She helps other women to achieve their goals. This is her way of contributing to the community. After all, strong female entrepreneurs do not just earn a living for their families; they also help to change social norms.
“Cocoa isn’t just a means of earning an income. It is also a way of forging a relationship with the world and other people. The cocoa bean is like a family bond, a vessel for the emotions.”
Mother and daughter Nury and Lizeth Mindineros live in the Tumaco region in southwestern Colombia. Both are members of the Cortepaz cooperative. Membership of this organisation has enabled Nury to boost her household income and learn through both training and the exchange of knowledge how to treat and process cocoa so that it can be sold on the market. Nury is now responsible for selecting the cocoa that is exported to Switzerland. Through her commitment, she helps to keep her community and her traditions alive.
“Cocoa is our livelihood. It gives the young members of our community opportunities.” – Nury Mindineros
Rosa Peralta helps cocoa producers like Nury Mindineros with the organic certification process. As someone who grew up on the cocoa fields herself, the agricultural knowledge was a crucial part of her education. A member of the cooperative since 2019, she began researching the Cortepaz plant clones’ capacity for combination and is glad to be able to work in her area of expertise. She plays an active part in events aimed at preserving afroculture and entrepreneurship, such as the Tumaco happiness and chocolate festivals.
“I would like to encourage both women and men to keep on fighting for their dreams so that they can continue with their education and achieve their goals.”
 UN Women, National Statistics Division, Presidential Council for Women's Equity, 2020: "Women and men: gender gaps in Colombia".