POMBAL, Brazil, Aug 2 2018 (IPS) – “The sun which used to torment us now blesses us,” said one of the 19 women who run the Community Bakery of Varzea Comprida dos Oliveiras, a settlement in the rural area of Pombal, a municipality of the state of Paraiba, in Brazil’s semi-arid Northeast.

“Without solar energy our bakery would be closed, we would have to pay more than a thousand reais (268 dollars) a month for electricity,” said Glauciene Ferreira Freire, 34, an agronomist with a master’s degree in agro-industrial systems who presides over the association.

The apparently low energy cost is due to the still limited production that is focused more on sweet pastries than on bread. The ‘Bolo das Oliveiras’ (Oliveiras pastries) – their brand – factory only operates three days a week.

The 19 women who work there take turns in three groups working on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Sometimes, usually every two weeks, a group covers orders from schools on Tuesdays.

On the day IPS visited the community, the group worked from midnight to 3 p.m., without a break, to make 406 kg of baked goods.

They earn very little; every two or three months the net profits are distributed. Last time it was 500 reais (135 dollars) each.

But it is not just a business, and has great possibilities for expansion. Community life was revitalised by the women, and the bakery’s need for inputs foments greater local production of potatoes, milk, butter, eggs, cassava, carrots and maize, that thus gain added value.

“The women have gained more respect,” said Solange de Oliveira, 42, president of the Community Association, which represents the 84 families in the community.

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