Denise Cardoso has partnered with companies in São Paulo and Salvador to take up sales for family farms in northeastern Bahia.

In northeastern Bahia, a woman challenged a typically male universe to lead a cooperative of family farmers. “Being a role model for other women is very important,” said Denise Cardoso, a 31-year-old business manager and president of the Canudos, Uauá and Curaçá Family Farming Cooperative (Coopercuc). The organization, conceived by three nuns in 1980 but formally founded by women in 2004, elected its first woman president in 2016, when Denise was 27 years old. Today the Cooperative brings together 270 producers, 70% of them are women.

And it was Denise who led the Cooperative to strengthen existing partnerships and take up business when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and sales fell by almost 80%.

Fruit processing in the Cooperativa. Photo courtesy: Coopercuc

Products such as sweets, jellies, jams and pulp from typical fruits of the Caatinga, such as umbú and passion fruit, as well as handmade beer and goods from Productive Backyards (small plantings near the homes), such as vegetables, fruits, cassava, eggs and chicken, guarantee the livelihood of all the families of the cooperative. It was necessary to restructure the sales system at Coopercuc because they sell perishable products.

The pandemic not only made access to essential materials such as packaging, lids and labels difficult, it also paralyzed the cooperative's factories, which were closed during the first months. This gave Denise the opportunity to fulfill a dream of the cooperative: the launch of e-commerce.

To recover the losses generated by the pandemic, Coopercuc established two partnerships. The first was with Amazon Hub, a logistics solutions platform in São Paulo, and the second was with ESCOAF, a startup that sells family farming products virtually and delivers in Salvador and the metropolitan region of the capital of the state of Bahia. This way, the members’ products are advertised digitally, reestablishing the relationship with consumers without putting anyone at risk.

These partnerships generated a 30% increase in online sales for the entire cooperative, mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic. Because Denise was able to efficiently transform the sales model of Coopercuc, it was included in a compilation of initiatives undertaken by cooperatives and other producers titled, “A Practical Guide for the Commercialization of Family Farming Products: Lessons Learned during the Pandemic and New Perspectives,” developed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The IFAD programme officer responsible for the project, Hardi Vieira, explained that the main reason for the development of the Guide was the need to adopt new practices and instruments for producers.

“With the pandemic, digital tools such as virtual folders, email marketing and WhatsApp cards were more accessible for small farmers. The Guide also draws attention to public policy for investment in digitization, access to the internet and cell phone signal providers in the countryside and the most remote communities,” he said.

The Guide, which is available in Portuguese and English, is expected to help both producer and consumer. “For small producers, the direct impact is an increase in the income and the creation of new and innovative marketing channels. It also provides an opportunity to learn and exchange experiences between farmers and producer associations and serves as a qualification mechanism for Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (ATER, in Portuguese) technicians. Finally, for the consumer, more food will become available, mainly healthy and agro-ecological food, raising the level of food and nutrition safety,” said Mr. Vieira.