In the municipality of San Rafael Cedros located in the province of Cuscatlán (central region of El Salvador and some 83 kilometers from the capital city of San Salvador), five women have set up a small business now known as “La Cocina Económica” (Economic Kitchen). This business is managed by an association of women entrepreneurs that supply ready to eat school meals for students attending the local public school in this municipality.
Almost a year ago, this project had its not so easy start given the doubts and fear among the women with regards to the potential success of this endeavor. Nonetheless, their unity as an association made them grow in purpose and strength. One of the association´s members, 38-year-old Marlene Menjívar became aware of an opportunity to participate in a project called “Local Supply of Food, Education and Health” to be implemented by the Ministry of Education (MINED) with technical support from the World Food Programme. Other key participants in this initiative are the National Commission for Micro and Small Businesses (CONAMYPE) and the Ministry of Health, which certifies the kitchen – cooking facilities of participating businesses.
The project promotes the organization of small businesses led by women providing them with management training with the objective of making them competitive and thus able to contribute to the development of the local economy while improving the food security of their families through increased food availability and access. Another project objective is to train the women on good health, food and nutrition practices enabling them to contribute in enhancing the quality of the national School Feeding Programme.
In addition to its technical support role in the project and with funding from the Gender Innovation Fund (GIF), WFP provides capacity building support to these small businesses that are led by women. For example, the resources from GIF have allowed WFP to upgrade the equipment (kitchen, oven, grill, etc.) of these women´s associations in order for them to efficiently serve ready to eat meal to 300 students at the local school. These inputs have been fundamental in the startup phase of the business, which has gradually grown to a point where it’s now generating profits.
“The idea sounded good, but we were afraid to end up in debt. We were not confident, nonetheless we applied for an initial loan of $2,500 to purchase materials and to rent a work place. Now that time has passed, we have become convinced of our capacity manage the business successfully”, commented Marlene.
The business operations begin every day at 6 a.m. and it includes rotational work shifts. The women not only share in the work load of the business, but also in the management of it and in the sharing of the profits. Marlene says that the training provided by WFP has been very important, as they have acquired skills and knowledge related to food, nutrition, basic hygiene habits, as well as to put together cost effective menus. Their worth as women have also been strengthened: better organized, empowered and able to compete economically. Furthermore, they feel they are contributing to the school meals programme at the school where they work.
“I have felt a positive change because I now have more money, and I´m providing a more diverse diet to my children who are going to conclude their education for sure,” added Marlene.
For her part, Irma Menjívar, pointed out that another important change in their lives has been the transformation in eating habits: “We prepare recipes that our children like and are coming up with new recipes as we use the skills and knowledge acquired.”
The women entrepreneurs also express their wishes to make additional improvements to their kitchen – cooking facilities to better comply with WFP´s quality standards. In addition, they hope to remodel their work local, and to by additional kitchen equipment as this will allow them to produce more and thus increase their earnings and profits.