This year we completed a two-year project to bring food security, improved health, gender equality and awareness about the importance of conservation to four communities in or near Important Bird Areas.
The project was conceived by Gatineau-based non-governmental organization Place aux agricultrices: nourricières du monde, who invited us to support their first experience with international development work because of our successful track record working in Paraguay.
The Place: Paraguay's Atlantic Forest
The Atlantic Forest of southeast Brazil, northeast Argentina and eastern Paraguay is one of the most threatened yet biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. Once covering approximately 1.7 million square kilometers, only 7.4 per cent now remains, mostly as scattered fragments.
This extreme loss of habitat threatens the extinction of the majority of fauna and flora in the Atlantic Forest. Of the 181 endemic bird species, 60 are considered globally threatened and a similar number near threatened. Due to this exceptional concentration of endemic species combined with the exceptional loss of habitat, the Atlantic Forest is one of the top five hotspots for biodiversity conservation in the world.
In Paraguay, 20% of the population controls 80% of the country's riches. In addition to this great inequality, it is estimated that for 64% of the population at least one basic need is not satisfied. According to the World Bank, 33% of the population in Paraguay lives with less than two dollars a day. Seventy-two per cent of the poor live in rural areas, often under alarming sanitary conditions. Women farmers head nearly 25% of these poor rural households.
These women and their families suffer from malnutrition, lack basic health care, and lack the knowledge and means to uphold their basic rights and to access services. Practically all the women in these communities are dedicated to agriculture in addition to caring for their families. Female rural workers are excluded from social security because they do not receive a salary and their access to health services is precarious.
Nature Canada and Place aux agricultrices secured the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to work with Guyra Paraguay and Fortaleser so that Paraguayan women farmers can fully participate in the integral rural development of their communities.
The partners initially worked with 450 women farmers in four communities to improve their food security, health, gender equality and democratic governance, and to raise their awareness of the need for biodiversity conservation. The women received the tools and training they needed to pursue organic farming, product commercialization and to reduce soil degradation and unsustainable use of natural resources. Our Success Stories
Enabling Organic Farming
Four hundred seventy- eight women farmers participated in the project’s organic agriculture activities; 300 in Caaguazú and Isla Pucú, and 178 in Libertad del Sur and Santa Ana. They learned about soil preparation and care, planting, crop rotation, bio-composting and to produce and apply organic fertilizers and bio-insecticides, and collect, store and sprout their own seeds. They also learned to make sun shields for their gardens with plant materials and to prevent contamination of their produce by implementing good hygiene practices at all stages of production and cleaning their tools and utensils with natural disinfectants.
The women farmers are growing an average of 12 different products, including lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, green peppers, onions, zucchini, beets and several medicinal herbs. More than 70% of the produce is consumed by the women and their families, greatly improving their nutrition. Among those women who sell some of their produce, 61% do so directly, without an intermediary, which allows them to keep the profits of their work. Some have learned to work together to bring their produce to market, pooling their resources to pay for transport and marketplace fees. Of great pride to the women farmers is the fact that some of their husbands (nine percent) have followed their example and adopted organic practices in their plots.
Improving Women’s Health
Women farmers participated in workshops on family planning, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and hygiene. Families received information on the availability of vaccination services.
Three hundred seventy-six women received individual diagnostics on the state of their health and that of their children. A few men also underwent a medical check-up. Malnutrition and hypertension were identified as serious health issues in the communities, and medication was prescribed and provided, as needed. Each family also received individual advice on nutrition and a balanced diet. Approximately 60% of the women are following the recommended treatment and continuing to visit the health centers, but access to health care remains difficult particularly in the communities of San Rafael, which are very remote and lack adequate roads.
The majority of the women had never had a routine gynecological exam and most of the women over 40 had never heard of sexually transmitted diseases. Approximately 60% of the women accepted to have a Pap test and at least 55% of the women opted to be tested for HIV/Aids. The use of a means of birth control increased from approximately 5% to 10% in San Rafael and up to 40% in Caaguazú. Approximately 70% of the women and their families are benefiting from improved hygiene.
Awareness on gender and democratic rights improved among the women farmers, as a result of workshops, information sessions, one-on-one follow-up and public awareness campaigns including posters and radio interviews. The partners established important relationships with local governments, public agencies and other organizations in support of the activities of the project. At least one women committee was formed at each community, with 70% of project beneficiaries participating in one. Awareness about the law that criminalizes domestic violence increased, with a few women registering complaints and others reportedly invoking this law when threatened.
The project is also a great example of the unique collaboration that is possible among BirdLife partners, of which we are so proud. The project has made a difference for the lives of these women and it has also raised awareness of the need to protect biodiversity and engage in sustainable agricultural practices. For the communities in the buffer zone of the San Rafael Reserve, this project provided tools that will help them and Guyra Paraguay as they continue to work towards improved living conditions and enhanced conservation in this area of great biodiversity.
The project was supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Watch this video, developed by Fortaleser, one of our Paraguay partners, to learn more about our achievements in Paraguay.(Please note the following video is only available in French)