Bolivian Women Found Opportunity in Oregano

May 31, 2018 9:00 AM ET
Campaign: You Grow, Girl!

Bolivian Women Found Opportunity in Oregano

There was a time not long ago where women were not welcome in the fields of Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Farming and laboring in the fields was viewed as men’s work. The culturally predominant and acceptable place for women was in the home, keeping the family fed and the house in order.

But a shift began 15 years ago. The economy was depressed, poverty-stricken communities dotted the Bolivian landscape and there was no end in sight.

A combination of factors including poverty, climate change (mostly prolonged drought) and lack of opportunity in the small farming communities caused many men and husbands to migrate to intermediate towns, capital cities and even to other countries in search of better work opportunities.

This migration left many women alone, tasked with raising children and tending to the land.

With a subsistence farming model, whereby farmers focus on growing enough food to feed their families, little money was made to cover the cost of anything extra.

That’s when women saw opportunity in the fields. A local packaging and marketing company called UNEC, introduced women in the community to oregano as a viable crop and guaranteed a fair market price.

The women took a leap of faith and began to generate a sustainable income for their families. And for the first time, they made enough money to send their children to school and invest in their land and property.

Our supplier, UNEC Bolivia, is a network of six agricultural cooperatives that run a social enterprise founded on principles and values helping more than 2,000 farming families in Bolivia. The company is located in the heart of the Bolivian Andes, a region known for its pristine conditions for growing top quality spices and condiments.

See how UNEC grows, processes and exports premium quality oregano, in this video.

Where does this story intersect with General Mills?

In 2012, General Mills acquired Yoki in Brazil and with that came the acquisition of Kitano, the market leader for spices in Brazil and South America. More than 50 percent of the oregano sold in the region originates in Bolivia.

The introduction of oregano as a lucrative crop has provided measurable benefits to the region while also elevating the role of women.

Today, women play a fundamental role, not only within their families, but also in their communities and organizations. UNEC and the cooperative SOCODEVI (the Société de Coopération pour le Développement International) promote classroom and field training that has strengthened and deepened this transformation.

“In the workshops I gained a lot of self-esteem and know what I’m worth. I learned how to live better with my children, I learned to speak better in public and I have no shame as I did before.” -Marina, farmer and mother of six daughters who all help on the family farm “Since we have oregano we are not lacking for our food and have greatly improved our lives; we have built our house and are making our children study without leaving our community.” -Delia Castro, farmer in Communidad Cana, near Chuquisaca, Bolivia

Together, UNEC and SOCODEVI have given voices to natural leaders who are inspiring their communities, families and businesses.

Editor’s note: The featured image in this post was provided by SOCODEVI. Images  in the body of the post were provided by UNEC. 

Please read our other You Grow, Girl! blog posts and learn more about General Mills and our commitment to sustainable sourcing and supporting smallholder farmers in our 2018 Global Responsibility Report.