Fair trade artisans, Lima, Peru

In Lima I took to the local bus service to see if I could reach the CIAP office (the organisation I became familiar with in Puno), obscurely located in the dusty streets of the suburb San Martin des Porres. I thought the bus ride (colectivo) would be the tricky part but when I did eventually make it I was confounded by the streets and their obscure street numbering. I don’t think the neighbourhood was used to a lost-looking gringo wandering up and down the main road, but somehow I eventually found what I was looking for.

I was warmly welcomed at CIAP; yet again I was dropping in on someone unannounced.

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A couple of the CIAP staff

CIAP offered an interesting insight into all the various complexities of Fair Trade and its benefits and drawbacks. CIAP includes artisans and related organisations so is different from a straight-up coffee or cacao co-operative.

Several staff are located here who look after a variety of activities all under the CIAP umbrella. Carmen and Roxanne worked for Pachamama, a tourist operator.

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Pachamama tourist poster, in French

Moner coordinates exports of artisan products, mostly to the USA and Europe (Intercrafts). Yesenia worked as an administrator and had only started a few months ago. She was responsible for the credit ‘part’ of CIAP, which, with three offices (Lima, Juliaca and Puno) allowed artisans to borrow money to support their businesses.

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Moner, with a ready laugh, reminded me of a long-forgotten cartoon character

The CIAP office is the hub of all the initiatives geared towards helping poor and marginalised communities. It is particularly focused on women (72% of members are female). Since 2011 they have had fair trade certification with WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation), nearly 20 years after its founding in 1992.

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Maleni, co-ordinator, PR, and chief smiler

CIAP is set up differently to the other fair trade organisations I had visited, primarily because it is not a co-operative (in the way a coffee or banana co-op might be). It developed from trying to assist individual artisans and consider itself as a ‘family’ rather than a co-operative. Each artisan remains an individual member and CIAP offers support and assistance in different ways. It still has a small membership, maybe 300 or so and is formed by small associations (perhaps 15-20 people on average). Individual members are given contracts of two or three years and paid a minimum price based on hours worked. Support comes from providing resources and education (for example, what is considered the latest fashion; internet skills) to credit facilities to providing a more direct link and space to sell their products.

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Jorge, CIAP President

But it has been a difficult 20 years. It is still a struggle to ensure artisans are able to have a minimum living wage; their products are typically more expensive than others; retail locations are expensive to maintain. Indeed, two locations in Lima had closed in recent years. The shop in Puno was helped by the travel agent income located next door. However, without the help of CIAP, these artisans would be in a more vulnerable situation.

CIAP is many-faceted, but it was a sobering way to end my fair trade visits. From talking to Jorge and his staff here it was pretty clear that even with fair trade, the artisans they help still struggle in their daily lives. The image of happy producers, gainfully employed, providing for their families – the kind you often see on brochures and posters in shops in our countries – does not reflect the reality that life is often still a struggle for them. However, without fair trade support, it would be worse.

What future lay ahead? It was difficult to say. With a typical customer such as Ten Thousand Villages (in Canada) reducing the number of their stores in recent years (in Vancouver and Ottawa for example), the producers were still at the mercy of the fair trade ‘market’.

Fair trade definitely helps, says Jorge, but poverty is still endemic in these regions. Life for many of them was simply less worse than without CIAP support. Many times he had asked himself, “how do we really help?”.

 

K’antu fair trade shop, Puno, Peru

Tucked away in an old courtyard, the centuries-old casa del corregidor (the mayor’s house) now serves as a little courtyard housing some of Puno’s socially-minded businesses.

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Casa del Corregidor: for socially-minded businesses

A couple of travel agents and a fantastic cafe can be reached via the peaceful courtyard.

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If only I had this in my neighbourhood

But tucked to the right of the main entrance was the surprising find, k’antu. It was, as the sign proudly displays, a fair trade shop.

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K’antu: a fair trade shop

K’antu is a retail part of the organisation CIAP (Central Interregional de Artisanos) that for more than 20 years has tried to assist the more vulnerable people (women in particular) in various parts of Peru, particularly around Puno and Lima, the capital. Individual members of CIAP are organised into associations that typically comprise around 15-20 members. Nearly three-quarters of CIAP members are female. In the Puno region there are about eight different associations.

William Flores is the manager at k’antu and when he wasn’t chatting to one of his local artisan members, he gave me an insight into k’antu’s origins.

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William, the manager, talking with a local artisan

Puno is a relatively poor region. The idea of the k’antu shop was to try to take advantage of the tourism in the area and create a space to sell the products made by local artisans.

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Bertha prices up some local crafts

It’s membership of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) ensures that all the producers are paid a fair price for the products they create.

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K’antu shop entrance, proudly showing its WFTO membership

Using local materials, the biggest sellers here are clothing (made from alpaca and llama wool), jewellery and handicrafts. Each product carries a WFTO label, the name of the artisan who made it and the association name they belong to. In our virtually-connected world it felt more appropriate that I was able to connect to a real person by buying an item from k’antu and supporting fairly the livelihoods of people who’ve lived here for generations.

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A map of the area shows where the local artisans live
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A sign outside the shop explains what the organisation is

And what better way to finish up a hard afternoon’s shopping than with a cup of local fair trade coffee sat outside in the sunshine.

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Good cafe. Good coffee
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Enjoying a cup of fair trade coffee at the cafe next door

 

 

 

Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca, Peru

While in Puno I took the chance to do some sightseeing for a day. And the main attraction is on the lake itself, Lake Titicaca.

It is one of the most famous local attractions for tourists – a visit to the see the Uru people (los uros) who inhabit a multitude of floating islands just a few kilometres by boat from Puno. It is certainly another world. The indigenous people here pre-date the Incas, living on islands of reeds they made themselves. Even today they still make their homes and their boats from the reeds.

Tourism helps to keep these communities going, but much of it felt staged. From the welcoming sing-a-long to the information talk and the hard-sell of the local crafts I hoped the communities maintained their sense of identity, and not just a tourist facsimile. When the tourists aren’t around, the people here still have to maintain their way of life.

As well as a visit to Los Uros, Puno has a few other attractions, including a ship built in the 19th century (MN Yavari) that took six years to be hauled up over the Andes from the coast and then reassembled on the lake. As well as checking its seaworthiness I climbed up the local hill overlooking Puno (Condor hill) and later relaxed in a fine cafe with a cup of local fair trade coffee.

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Puno, Peru: fair trade coffee on the altiplano

Getting through Peru in a short time-frame required some long, gruelling bus rides. Travelling south from Trujillo, I made a quick stopover in Lima before heading south-east where my destination was Lake Titicaca and the Peruvian altiplano, where I wanted to sample something a little different. A brief visit to the shores of Lake Titicaca, more than 3,000 m above sea level, was a place I’d long been intrigued by. It felt like a good place to round things off. With its claim of housing a ship that took 6+ years to make the journey there from sea level made it unconventional to say the least. Not much coffee grows at this altitude but there was an office of a coffee co-operative and also the area was renowned for its artisan and local crafts. Plus a little cool-down from the desert heat was welcome.

Lake Titicaca straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia. Indigenous communities are prevalent throughout the region on both sides of the border. This includes communities who live on Lake Titicaca itself, on floating beds of reeds. The Uros people pre-date Inca civilization. The floating islands are continuously managed by adding more reeds as ones underneath rot away naturally, so the size of each one can change easily. They are a popular tourist draw with regular boat trips from Puno.

The fair trade coffee co-op (CECOVASA) was located in the neighbouring town, Juliaca. Not a logical location for such a co-operative, but my curiosity was piqued enough to try to find out the reason why it was located so high up here on the altiplano. I knew that CECOVASA wouldn’t have any coffee farmers nearby, but I took the 30-minute bus ride from Puno, passing isolated houses and quinoa plots as we trundled across the windswept plain.

Set back from the main road and just outside the town centre, CECOVASA looked drab and dispiriting from the outside. Even a mural on the wall of the various fair trade co-op members within CECOVASA did little to brighten things up, though at least I knew I was in the right place.

As usual I had turned up unannounced and so had no idea what I’d actually get to see, but Jaime, the manager, was on hand to show me around. At least for a little while…I think he soon got bored of that and later left me to my own devices.

The CECOVASA story was somewhat familiar. As with many other coffee co-ops I’d visited, a historic price collapse of coffee (around 2001-02, which had devastated coffee farmers worldwide and led many to simply abandon their farms) subsequently led to an interest and setting up as a fair trade co-op. The co-op collective had started in 1970 with five separate smaller co-ops. Since 2003 it was fair trade and had grown to eight co-ops (10 now) comprising more than 5,000 producers. The Juliaca part of their story was more recent, and looked to be ongoing, given the state of the facility I was visiting.

This office and warehouse, opened in 2010, was an attempt to get a little closer to the farmers. Although we were more than 3,000 metres up on the plain, we were a lot closer to the producers than before, when these facilities were in Lima. But even today the farmers would pick, wash and bag their coffee at their farms before bringing to Juliaca. Most of the coffee is exported but some high quality coffee is roasted and packaged here for the domestic market. It is this coffee (Tunki) that wins awards – an unusual scenario in fair trade coffee when most of the higher quality is exported abroad.

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Award-winning coffee, sold locally: Tunki

I was shown around by Jaime, the general manager. But I was often distracted by his big, bushy hair and capped, rabbit-like front teeth. His dishevelled appearance was a reflection of the co-op itself – a mish-mash of progress and neglect. It was hard to tell if construction had stopped midway through or if it was just slow progress. Despite the new cupping lab and warehouse, many other areas were showing signs of wear and tear, paint flaking off the concrete facades. Perhaps it came down to costs; Jaime was worried about new fair trade certifications. He felt they were needed but the costs added up.

I left with mixed feelings. Many of my fair trade visits left me wondering just much good fair trade was doing. CECOVASA encompassed everything for me, both the positive and negative. I hoped they would succeed but it was difficult to say. I took a bus back to Puno and went to a local cafe to try some award-winning Tunki coffee for myself, hoping I might find an answer.

CO-OP INFORMATION:

  • Over 5,000 producers; 20% are women
  • All fair trade; 60% is organic
  • Currently eight co-ops with more expected to join
  • Each co-op has a women’s committee
  • Winner of Peru coffee competitions

Fair trade avocados, Trujillo, Peru (Part II)

It is 7am the next day and I am with Mario outside the Fairtrasa office in Trujillo. Already his mobile phone is glued to his ear. On our way south towards Chao, in between his calls, I tried to find out more about the local producers. Fernando and Carlos, from a US-backed NGO, remained quiet in the back.

Fairtrasa work with several associations here, including Mocha and Santa Catalina. Today we visited members from PROPALTO. All export their produce to the USA, Canada and Europe. As well as avocados, some producer members grow mangoes and bananas for export, though they generate a lower income than avocados.

The increased return for avocados has typically been due to the rise in demand in North America and Europe for the Haas variety. Fuerte is a more traditional variety and far more common, going back nearly 100 years. Haas is a recent convert but it generates more demand and higher prices for export. It takes time and money to switch avocado varieties from Fuerte to Haas but all the producers I met were willing to make the change.

Mario FairtrasaI met Mario at the Fairtrasa at 7am, along with Jorge, our driver. Our destination for the day was the area around Chao, south of Trujillo.

NarcisoNarciso and his wife Rosa were the first producers we visited. He was quite positive about fair trade and its higher prices it generated for him and wanted to convert more of his existing mango trees to avocado. Fairtrasa has committed to buying all their harvest at fair trade prices. Their farm was small and they harvested the production themselves.

Narciso's houseNarciso at the entrance to his house. Most producer families live in these types of single story, simple dwellings. Many don’t even have a concrete floor inside.

Narciso's childrenThe children were generally bemused by our presence, and seemed a lot happier tucking into pieces of mango.

Narciso house - far sideThe sheltered side of Narciso and Rosa’s house. Their ‘kitchen’ is in the foreground. All the trees are avocado.

next visitNext we met Isidro and Maria. Their situation was similar, farming 4 ha of avocados, though they had plenty of animals too – chickens, sheep, cows and guinea pigs.

houseDespite only having mud floors, they try to keep things tidy. An elderly neighbour is giving the place a sweep and wash. Isidro built the house himself.

neighbourMaria (left) and her neighbour.

guinea pigsThe guinea pigs had their home beside the house, but not necessarily for long. I later learned they are a popular local snack.

managing the treeIsidro and a neighbour tend to their avocado trees.

wall decorationYou can hang your hat, or hang your pet…

hanging outIsidro and Maria chatting about avocados with a neighbour…maybe

last visitCatharina and Carmilo lived in the town of Chao on the main road. Their situation contrasted heavily with everyone else I had met. The most prosperous-looking of everyone, they owned a two-story cement house with a garden and a car that they kept in a garage. Carmilo works the land though he also employs two workers. Like Narciso, they had mango trees but wanted to convert them to avocados. Their married son, an electrical engineer, had lived in Italy for 20 years. They had yet to visit them there.

last visit 2Catharina enjoyed talking and was much in favour of fair trade. Currently they farmed three ha, all organic, but wanted to invest more.

end of the day's visitingBefore we left Chao I was treated to some home brew courtesy of Luis Sanchez, from the NGO. It was merely an aperitif and he seemed genuinely upset when I told I couldn’t join him for mango pisco sours.

Fairtrasa officeA couple of the Fairtrasa office crew in Trujillo.

Fairtrasa crewThe Fairtrasa office. All work and no play makes…

CO-OP INFO:

  • Comprises more than 75 members (PROPALTO)
  • First year of fair trade certification. It took 3 years to transition to fair trade, organic
  • Typical producer cultivates less than 5 hectares (ha)
  • Also looking at obtaining fair trade certification for mangoes

Fair trade avocados, Trujillo, Peru (Part I)

The first avocado farmer I met made an impression on me of the kind I didn’t expect: his perhaps slightly overweight resemblance to the actor Vince Vaughn. He sported a slouched sombrero, wide-necked shirt and jeans and drove a decked-out, twin-cab Ford pickup truck. I thought I might be in Texas, not northern Peru.

If I had been in Texas, it probably would have been guacamole with everything. In the US avocado really means guacamole. Promoting avocados during this year’s Super Bowl was big business when consumption is peaks. “Avocados from Mexico”, the company behind the Super Bowl advert, proclaim that guacamole is the #1 use of avocados. Nachos anyone..? But let’s look a little beyond this – avocados aren’t only grown in Mexico. I was in dry, dusty Trujillo in northern Peru to see what was happening in the smaller world of fair trade, organic avocados.

CEDEPAS is the local cooperative that until recently produced only conventional avocados. And different varieties too. Most of the exports to North America and Europe are Haas, but there are plenty of others. Haas tends to get the highest price for export, but producers here also have varieties such as Fuerte and Nava, sold locally. Luckily, no such thing as the avozilla.

Fairtrasa started working with the coop three years prior to my visit, at about the same time as an outside NGO. Fairtrasa works with small-scale, marginalised farmers and manages their supply chain, from farmer to the end customer. They helped CEDEPAS transition to organic and fair trade. Organic and fair trade avocados receive higher prices for the farmers despite having to put up with a couple of tougher transitional years.

The advantages of organic and fair trade certification is clear for the farm owner with higher revenue from the better prices. But it was still too early to know the full extent of the benefits for the hired workers. This being their first full year of fairtrade/organic supply, the value of things like the fair trade social premium weren’t fully known. Theresa, a mother of two young daughters, was one of seven workers at the farm we visited. She works on several local farms but the work can be sporadic, not always available. She works on fair trade certified farms but knew nothing about what fair trade was. The seven workers I saw typically bring in 80-100 boxes per day. For this they’re paid 30 soles each (approx. CAN$13).

The transition to fair trade and organic requires more work (including paperwork) and more investment. For example, each tree requires a lot of water. Gallons of water are used to create a ‘moat’ around each plant which is left for 10-15 days. The cycle is then repeated. The new system the farm invested in is more efficient, using a release mechanism underneath the soil to release water each day. But some hard work can’t be changed – weeding is constantly required.

One of my Fairtrasa companions for the day, Sophie, from France, clearly caught the attention of “Vince”, who tried to impress her on our drive home in his pickup truck. He barely noticed that I was there with them. I heard later from Sophie, who hadn’t been enamoured with Vince’s greasy eye-mongering that his main concern for his avocado farm was to make more money. If fair trade allows him to do that, he’ll adopt it. He wasn’t an advocate for fair trade and Sophie indicated that it would be difficult to get him to understand fair trade/organic production and why it exists as it does.

The larger farms like Vince’s rely on hired labour at harvest. But even at the coop/producer Association level there is no formal process yet in place that would give guarantees to the local workers. The farm owner likes to rehire the same workers, but at best it seems to be only based on a verbal agreement to do so.

Fairtrasa’s role has been to share their expertise in order to help bring producers like Vince into the fair trade and organic export market and to help them take advantage of it. It does mean they work with the larger producers so that they can get sufficient volume to ship abroad. Fairtrasa also tries to get large groups of smaller producers together.

The model for fair trade avocados is still developing. In this case, Vince was clearly doing ok for himself, but it his workers had more of a struggle. Would fair trade change any of that for them?

Later we returned to the Fairtrasa office in Trujillo. It was a small, open office; very ‘no frills’. Plenty of thick binders sat on shelves. Computer equipment straggled across simple veneer desks. One lonely table; a whiteboard; a wall calendar. Brown veneer panelling served for wallpaper. It felt very 1970s. But the office had a busy atmosphere, as any typical office would, working on spreadsheets, doing accounts. Despite an imminent audit, the Fairtrasa staff within certainly brought the place to life.

I’d spent the day with Sophie and Jorge (our driver) and now met the rest: Juan, Mario, Juan Carlos, Ivan, Johana and Luis (Luchito). Luis and Mario had phones stuck to their ears, and the others needed to crack on. I knew I would be back the following day so I left them to their work, descended the concrete stairs and headed out into the warm Trujillo afternoon.

Peru’s banana farmers hit yet again

The bananeros, banana farmers, in the Piura region of northern Peru have had another kick in the teeth. Often hit by misfortune, the 2012 flooding of their plantations was unprecedented. Their livelihoods were at risk which led one of their buyers, Discovery Organics in Vancouver, to initiate a fundraising campaign for them.

BOS banana farmers, Piura

Now they have a different problem – disease. It’s estimated that the region’s producers will face a 45% reduction in their exports this year.

The news in timely. Throughout this year, 2014, the Fairtrade Foundation (UK fairtrade advocacy) have campaigned long and hard to push major supermarkets to supply 100% fairtrade bananas. They personalised this campaign – “Stick With Foncho”. Their efforts are to push major UK supermarkets to switch to 100% fairtrade bananas. Now at year’s end, the pressure is on Asda (owned by Walmart) and Tesco to make the switch.

This is important. Banana farmers (bananeros) have it difficult at the best of times. Hired workers on conventional plantations (such as those owned by Dole and Chiquita) have it worse.

The flooding devasted Piura's banana farmers

It’s easy to ignore the people behind what we eat. Plenty of people ‘eat local’ but how can you do that with bananas? But I found for myself when I visited these farmers that they have it worse than most. Fairtrade can give these producers a little lifeline. It may be modest, but it helps.

Bananas bear the brunt of cheap agriculture and supermarket price wars. And at this time of year as we’re encouraged to think of others, support fairtrade if you can. Let your local supermarket know too.

Banana producers in Santa Clara, Piura

AP BOSMAM banana co-op office in Piura