Bessy Lopez is a 34-year-old single mother of five in Omoa, Honduras. She has no land and, until recently, had few marketable skills. Over the years she has struggled to support her family, taking in laundry, selling firewood and working at textile factories.
When Bessy worked in the factory, she had to leave the house at 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Her 15-year-old daughter then had to tend the younger children into the evening. Despite the long hours, Bessy was not making enough money. Sometimes she would make just 150 lempiras a day (less than $8). “When I worked in the factory, money went fast. A lot of it was spent just on transportation to and from work.” None of Bessy’s children went to school, because she could not afford to buy their books or pay for the required uniforms.
But just over a year ago, things changed dramatically for Bessy and her children.
Learning a new skill
As a member of the San Fernando Cooperative, Bessy received training from LWR through a project with the U.S. State Department, titled “Pathways to Prosperity in the Cocoa Value Chain.”
Bessy was trained to graft cocoa plants and her life changed. Carefully cutting a branch from one cocoa plant and splicing it on to another, grafting is an important step in ensuring the characteristics and reproduction of robust plants that can lead to quality chocolate.
During training, the cooperative started Bessy off by grafting large plants before moving onto smaller ones. “It was not easy. I almost messed all of them up, at first. Thank goodness I can finally do it.” She reports with satisfaction, “This is how I earn money now.”
Increasingly, women play an important role as grafters in Central America’s cocoa industry. Grafting cocoa for the growing cocoa sector in Honduras means Bessy has nearly tripled her income. The cooperative currently pays her three lempiras for each plant successfully grafted and given her skill and speed she can earn up to 450 lempiras each day worked (approximately $25).
“I never thought I would be able to send my children to school,” says Bessy. “Ironing and washing clothes was barely enough to buy rice and beans.” With the money she now earns grafting cocoa plants, Bessy has been able to send her three middle children (aged twelve, nine and five) to school.
A little for herself
Higher earnings are the most tangible benefit Bessy sees from grafting. But she also likes the more flexible schedule. Bessy now works from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. three to five days a week. This allows her more time to be with her children. More importantly, it also allows her 15-year-old daughter “time off” from tending her younger siblings.
Bessy’s earnings are almost exclusively used to buy food, repair her home and cover the costs of her children’s education. But when there is extra money, “I do get to spend a little on myself. Just a little.”
LWR is working to advance women’s participation in the cocoa value chain in Central America with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Initiative.