Women for Conservation seeks to promote women’s economic empowerment in ways that mutually benefit rural communities and biodiversity conservation. Earlier this month, we celebrated the graduation of 15 women from our new intensive program in culinary arts and food hygiene.
The program involved 10 classes with a professional chef and an official certification in food hygiene. We designed this program at the request of a local women’s group that identified the financial costs of training and certification as major barriers to women who want to establish ecotourism microbusinesses. At the graduation ceremony, many of the women cried, and told us that this program will make a huge difference in their lives, allowing them to financially provide for their families and children.
Delicious recipes provide new economic opportunities
The three month training with a professional chef focused on teaching the women to cook diverse recipes using food sustainably grown in their own backyards. The women can now cook recipes from Colombia and all over the world, including desserts and even Italian cuisine. They also learned how to accommodate special diets, as their new menu includes vegan and vegetarian meals. Additionally, the women learned how to brew specialty coffee, and make homemade artisanal passionfruit wine.
Receiving official hygiene training and certification was also an essential part of the program, as this verifies their credibility and jumpstarts their new businesses. At the graduation ceremony, each woman had the opportunity to demonstrate her new skills, each bringing a different dish to celebrate together as a community.
The importance of building ecotourism infrastructure
Besides economically benefiting women and their communities, this program fulfills our mission of building ecotourism infrastructure around the El Dorado Reserve, thus incentivizing biodiversity conservation. The women can now serve artisanal food in their hotels, guest houses, and restaurants, which will benefit the local ecotourism economy.
Growing Colombian ecotourism is essential to combating rising deforestation in the second most biodiverse country on earth, as it offers economic alternatives to extractive livelihoods. Data has shown that Colombian tourism has more than doubled between 2012-2019, and the tourism market increased by 35% between 2014-2018. By establishing ecotourism infrastructure around nature reserves, Women for Conservation is investing in a future that will benefit local communities and biodiversity protection.
The holistic benefits of female entrepreneurship
Establishing women-owned microbusinesses is a major strategy for supporting holistic community wellbeing. Studies have consistently found that women tend to use more of their income on household needs, their children, and education than men do on average. Increasing the income that women have control over means increased investment in improved living conditions and the education of younger generations. Women’s economic empowerment also alleviates poverty and benefits the economy.
Despite the benefits associated with female entrepreneurship, there are still many barriers to getting started. Research published by the Inter-American Development Bank shows that lack of access to training is one of the top reasons women struggle to establish their own businesses, which is why providing programs like ours has the power to make such a difference. Despite the barriers, The National Federation for Women’s Business Ownership (NFWBO) reports that women are essential to economic growth, finding that women owned businesses are responsible for 19% of GDP in Latin America.
Women for Conservation believes that the key to biodiversity protection requires a multifaceted socio-economic approach. By empowering our first cohort of women from this program, we are investing in a future that will mutually benefit Colombian communities and biodiversity.
We are so proud of these women and hope you will get the chance to visit Colombia and taste their amazing culinary creations!