Coconut Bliss, a family-owned company that makes vegan coconut ice cream from organic, sustainable and fairly-traded ingredients, is empowering women from their farms in the Philippines to start their own coconut-based enterprises.
The Philippines ranks highest in Asia when it comes to gender equality and, until recently, ranked in the top 10 worldwide, according to the most recent World Economic Forum (WEF) Gender Gap Report. The country has closed 78 percent of its overall gender gap and 80 percent of what WEF describes as the economic participation and opportunity gender gap; it is only one of four countries to achieve this feat. The report ranked 153 countries based on four categories: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.
In line with this year’s International Women’s Day theme “an equal world is an enabled world”, Coconut Bliss’ work with farmers demonstrates that, in an environment like the Philippines which is conducive to women’s development, a little capital and support can go a long way.
“Since its inception in 2005, Coconut Bliss has supported various causes. However, we wanted to create a program that focused on the regions where our resources come from and addressed both sustainability and climate change,” explains Darcey Howard, global marketing director for Oregon-based Coconut Bliss.
To that end, the women-led company has developed a program with Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND) to improve the lives of women farmers and their families by helping them to find alternate means of revenue and capital to start their own business.
“At coconut harvest every three months, the income from coconuts is just enough to support the day-to-day survival of a small farming family. And, due to the fluctuating price of coconuts, along with stiff competition from cheaper high-demand products like palm oil, there is an urgent need to provide such families dependent on coconuts with an alternative means of earning income,” writes Cora Sayre, Coconut Bliss’ representative in the region who helps ensure the success of the program.
Coconut trees are considered a “miracle tree” with many revenue opportunities like coconut husk fertilizer, charcoal from coconut shell, coco peat, and vinegar from coconut water. The program helps women develop and sell such products.
“Production is one process we support, however we realized that scaling up the marketing of the products produced by the women requires a lot of work, so we support them to ensure the pricing and packaging is on par with competition and that the vendors are engaged to market their products,” Sayre continues. “The women’s associations we are working with are now able to sell their products in 56 outlets across three municipalities, and they hope to expand soon.”
What’s more, the shade from coconut trees allows growth of shade-loving spices, banana, pineapple, cacao, jackfruit and other food crops. “We have supported the gardening activities of 315 women by providing vegetable seedlings, organic fertilizer and training," Sayre explains. "The repayment from the sale of their surplus is used to engage other women to undertake gardening in their own homes."
“We identified a percentage of the purchased volume of coconut products from the regions we are supporting that we could apply to developing a program that is baked in way that we’re giving back to the communities that are helping us make our ice creams,” Howard adds. “The project overall has provided improvement of the social and economic standing of 650 women and their families who are dependent on coconuts for their survival. These efforts also showcase the income possibilities that can be generated from coconut-based farming that may have been previously overlooked or taken for granted.”
Empowering women was a natural fit for Coconut Bliss, Howard continues: "Not only is our company women-led, but we drew inspiration from Project Drawdown. They emphasize that empowerment for women is not only a positive movement for our society, but benefits our planet as well." Similar to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Project Drawdown takes insight from the findings of 300 scientists to conclude that women and girls are pivotal to addressing climate change successfully.
“Sustainability has always been a value for us that is carried throughout Coconut Bliss’ product lifecycle — from sourcing, to manufacturing, to consumption. A substantial sustainable priority of ours is to source high-quality ingredients from partners that are doing good works in their respective regions, such as Lockhead Vanilla that builds fresh water wells in the region of Madagascar where their farms are located. We also work with Mazie Jane’s Almonds who operate bee-friendly organic orchards in California,” Howard says.
“We’d like to expand this program (with WAND) as we grow to include additional regions where we are sourcing ingredients, such as Thailand, Madagascar and even the United States."
Image credit: Coconut Bliss/Facebook
Abha Malpani Naismith is a writer and communications professional who works towards helping businesses grow in Dubai. She is a strong believer in the triple bottom line and keen to make a difference. She is also a new mum, trying to work out a balance between thriving at work and being a mum. In her endeavor to do that, she founded the Working Mums Club, a newsletter for mums who want to build better careers and be better mums.