Over 370 million indigenous peoples live in more than 70 countries across the world. While they constitute about five percent of the world’s population, they account for approximately 15percent of the world’s poor. Such is the case with indigenous Mayangna women living in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua, who face poverty, isolation, domestic violence and triple discrimination based on their gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic situation. The Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) partnership, hosted by FAO, has supported Mayangna women to sell local products and improve their livelihoods. Capacity building workshops have taught the women how to improve product quality and equipped them with market knowledge, while also helping to preserve their culture. At the same time, the FFF helps Mayangna women gain social and economic empowerment by strengthening the position of women’s producer organizations. This enhanced productive and organizational capacity is giving hope to many women in the community for a better future.
Preserving culture and improving livelihoods
Telma Maria Rena Ramirez, a member of the Bonanza municipality of Mayangna Territory, belongs to a group of indigenous Mayangna women who work with the bark of the native tuno tree to make handicrafts, such as bags, folders and wallets. “This is a raw material that our ancestors left which has rich value for us,” Telma says. “Now, as Mayangna women, we are starting to achieve economic independence for our families through the products we sell thanks to the tuno.”
Through training, exchanges and continuous coaching, FFF support has helped Mayangna women improve the quality of their products, diversify markets and get better prices. Some 40 Mayangna women and young people from 10 forest and farm producer organizations attended a course on market analysis and development. Local forests have always provided the women with products such as fruits and fibres for their own households. By promoting tuno handicraft making as an income generating activity, the FFF is also helping to preserve the Mayangna culture.
Over 200 women are also diversifying their income by selling and processing the fruit of the ramón or ojoche tree (Brosimum alicastrum). Thanks to a knowledge-sharing event with women’s producer groups from Guatemala and Honduras, the Mayangna women learned about the full potential of the ramón nut.
“We have trained many women who did not know about the Nuez de Ramón, or breadnut fruit,” says Benedicta Dionisio Ramirez from a women’s producer group in Guatemala. “But now they have the knowledge and are not only consuming it but also selling it, including on international markets.”
Striving for social empowerment
Strengthening women’s leadership and self-esteem has been an important part of the capacity development plan. In 2015, the FFF collaborated with the Mayangna Nation’s board of directors and Mayangna women’s organizations to strengthen their engagement in policy processes. Together they addressed issues such as food security, domestic violence, and the improvement of production systems.
Meetings were also held in each Mayangna territory to discuss strategies to improve the position of women’s organizations. Increasing internal unity and organization were identified as priorities, as was the need to increase the participation of these women in public institutions and decision-making.
With FFF support, 130 women from nine territories attended the first Forum of Mayangna Women in the Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast to strengthen women’s organizations in the respective territories. As a result, the women established the Mayangna Nation Network of Women.
Forest and Farm Facility
The FFF is a partnership, launched in September 2012, between FAO, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and AgriCord. It is guided by a steering committee of members affiliated with forest producer, community forestry and indigenous peoples’ organizations, the international research community, business development service provider organizations, the private sector, government, and donors. Current donors include Finland, Germany, Sweden, the United States and AgriCord.