Day 14 – Are Bolivian women growing quinoa like the women growing coffee or knitting?

Day 14 – Are Bolivian women growing quinoa like the women growing coffee or knitting?

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KUSIKUY´s La Imillia Fair Trade knitters. Arani, Bolivia

As I get ready for my research with women quinoa growers, I think back to my work with Bolivian knitters and coffee farmers. In 2010 I arrived in Bolivia asking the Fair Trade knitters with whom I had been working with for 12 years, why they always joked about Fair Trade, asking if it was really fair. This become the basis of my doctorate thesis and enabled me to develop my own ethnographic research method to find out the answer. The result was a surprise! The women benefitted more from the leadership, time management, project planning, and organizational skills they learned while managing orders, than from the actual product earnings, which fluctuated unpredictably. Fair Trade, it turned out was a step for them to learn to work together, bring new projects to their communities, and (sometimes) move on to more steady, desirable work.

I was curious about the women working in Fair Trade coffee and two years later, embarked on a similar study of Bolivia’s Fair Trade coffee. Here I found a completely different story! The women worked very closely with their husbands to grow a few acres of coffee. There was a complex and well established system of cooperatives with ample technical assistance, credit, market access and steady earnings. The community of Caranavi, Bolivia’s coffee capital, reminded me of an industrious little anthill (turned upside down since Caranavi was more of a valley than a hill). These women had what the Fair Trade knitters lacked; steady income. But they lacked what the Fair trade knitters had; a voice, representation and a sense of self-importance. The men ruled the farms and often made decisions without consulting the women. New programs were springing up to help build more gender equity, but these were just beginning when I was there.

Though the rules of Fair Trade are basically the same worldwide, the experiences of the people working within these rules vary tremendously. I wonder what I will find next as I enter into the study of women quinoa farmers…

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