Mbokaja Poty is a 25 year-old settlement located in the city of Ayolas, which is home to a Producers Committee of the same name, dedicated to agricultural production, sale of farm products, and production of small animals for personal consumption. With a membership of 76 affiliates who work with over 130 families from the community, they train together and work using either community plots or their own homes.
One of the first projects they developed brought them resources to build a greenhouse (1) to produce seedlings for the municipality, which is in charge of distributing these products back to the community; and (2) to produce food throughout the year, especially for the Agroecological Fair they organize to sell their products to residents of Ayolas and various districts of Misiones. It is thanks to this opportunity that they are able to send their best products to the country’s capital.
In addition to workshops and training on improving production for affiliates, providing seeds, and maintaining a greenhouse, Mbokaja Poty also promotes innovative programs with the goal of creating opportunities for every member to realize the life they want. Mbokaja Poty’s partners are passionate about shaping better livelihoods, regardless of where they were born or what they were taught. Beatriz Rodriguez, the incumbent president of the organization says so with these words: "we have girls teaching plumbing, electricity, handling machinery, hairdressing, clothing and gastronomy, all services that are sought in the community." - "We have overcome that taboo, that we campesinos (i.e., peasants) only serve to work the land. Here we seek to make connections with campesinos’ true calling, and help them develop within the areas that they are passionate about."
How Mbokaja Poty works
Most members of the Board of Directors are female engineers who volunteer their time out of love and passion for the cause. In total, there are 20 women in charge of training the rest of the members of the association. "If other women want to join, they can do so, as long as they respect the internal rules, which promote discipline, among other things. We have a set of social values, and little tolerance for unpunctuality."
We have seen instances of women who come to Mbokaja Poty for paid consulting projects that last a short time, but who decide to remain part of the community once the contract is complete. "Here there is no competition, here we all seek to contribute our part," Norma Orué, one of the SNPP consultants who sees herself as a member of Mbokaja Poty, tells us.
Intersectionality and Community Impact
The formula of a small committee operating within a larger association is a common pattern that we see repeated in Paraguay. For Mbokaja Poty, this model has contributed to cross-sectoral partnerships with several institutions, including the Municipality, the Yacyretá Binational Hydroelectric Authority (EBY), the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) and the National Service for Professional Development (SNPP). These partnerships ensure better terms and opportunities on a sustained basis, which ultimately translates into greater committee participation.
"We believe that the success of Mbkaja Poty also depends on seeing results, and this motivates the rest of the team - (seeing) that the entire community participates," Beatriz tells us.
Mbokaja Poty found Moirū through the Fundación Paraguaya, a local non-profit foundation which was familiar with the committee. María Colmán, one of the engineers who arrived at the project through the Municipality and SNPP, tells us about their learnings from the contest, “We feel motivated, validated in a way. The women learned a lot about technology. Beatriz learned to use more devices and bought a computer to continue making connections outside the town, through Zoom.”
"Leaders who are involved in the communities understand how it works. When there are competent people and they understand the community, more and more projects are developed. More projects are coming out than ever because the right people are in charge, people who listen" - María Colmán
SDG 5 - Gender Equality
Talking to the leaders of Mbokaja Poty, it is evident how capable and proactive they are, and how committed they are to their ultimate goals. “We need to do more to prepare women to be leaders, through more training for projects. [We need] to learn to coordinate and to conduct training that incorporates more social aspects, like self-esteem, and to be encouraged to look for more places for growth. We have examples of very strong leaders within the commission, and we have to work so that we are all leaders.”
Hortensia Ruiz, an engineer and member of the Board of Directors, tells us about how she understands female empowerment within the settlements: “It depends on the family and the house. There are husbands who do not like it when their wives work, especially those with young children, but we can encourage change by talking to each other and open dialogue. Working from home, we all have the right to work."
Beatriz understands the relationship between success and hard work, and seeks to establish this principle within the organization in an intersectional way and from a female perspective, “We hope to motivate other women to organize themselves. In teaching them discipline, for example, we want them to work as they can, from their homes. We hope that they can learn to work as a team, and to see what each one is good at and strengthen one-another in those endeavors.”
In almost every conversation dealing with these issues, one idea comes up repeatedly: community organizations are able to achieve that which would be very difficult to accomplish alone. As a whole, Mbokaja Poty understood this important concept and has acted on this premise.
Through the support of Moirū, the women plan to install an irrigation system in order to manage increasingly common droughts, and to meet the high demand for vegetables in their city that is currently unmet. In addition, there will be continued follow-up of technical assistance so that the women can view their progress and continue to grow, and also develop six commercial community gardens for their affiliates, promoting spaces of learning and experience sharing .
"Our challenge for the winning community agri-food initiatives is for them to identify opportunities for collaboration and cooperation among one other. It is an ambitious project, but we can begin to envision it" - Gustavo Setrini, Head of Solutions Mapping at the UNDP Acceleration Laboratory.
To learn more about this initiative, watch Mbokaja Poty’s video on wendá and their official YouTube channel.
Sady Sarquis: Graduated in Communication and professional photographer with experience working with social organizations such as Amnesty International. She also has experience working with big brands in public relations. YLAI Young Leaders of the Americas Fellow
Denise Genit: Fashion Designer and professional communicator with more than 8 years of experience as a fashion entrepreneur. Co-founder and Director of the proudly paraguayan slow fashion brand Oh! Si, which made it to the New York Times "as an essential stop for a taste of local chic design." Former Member of the SAP Board of Directors, and YLAI Fellow (Young Leaders of The Americas Initiative).