Day 22- Meet APQUISA: A Fair Trade, organic, producer-run association.

The Association of Producers of Salinas Quinoa (APQUISA), was founded in 2007 under the new laws of Bolivia that encouraged producer-formed groups and grass roots development. As a legally recognized association, APQUISA was able to access technical assistance from agronomists at state universities, organic certification from Bolicert, a state-run organic certifier whose certification is internationally recognized, and solicit the Federal government to build a quinoa processing plant in the town of Salinas. This gave the now 372 members just enough support to successfully enter into the export quinoa market and independently develop their own international markets. APQUISA is run by a five-member board of directors made up of association members; a president, vice president, communicator, secretary and treasurer. The board is democratically elected by closed ballot system every three years. A secondary Vigilance Committee is made up of an elected president and secretary. They work independent from the Board and oversee all the board does providing full transparency for Association members. Each year an Assembly is held where all members attend and at least an entire day is spent going over all accounts: sales, expenses, buying prices, sales prices, marketing, promotions, information systems, equipment, salaries and also procedures, needs and successes. APQUISA supports members by providing the infrastructure needed for successful export sales. They keep track of how much land each member has in production, their member codes, registration, the variety and quantity of quinoa produced, their location and maintain both Fair Trade and organic certification records. There are on average once monthly workshops where Franz Quispe, the APQUISA staff agronomic travels to the 54 neighboring communities providing technical assistance to the promoters, elected members of the association who live in each community and in charge of sharing the information or organic growing techniques that Franz provides. Themes often covered in these workshops include the initial cleaning of the grain, washing, drying, classifying, final cleaning techniques, packaging and pricing, plus soil management and organic pest control. Members produce mostly white quinoa but also black and red quinoa. APQUISA covers two zones, the south that mostly works with quinoa production and the north which works mainly with llama production. The two compliment each other as the llama manure is a key element for soil management and fertilization for the organic farmers. During the day llamas run free range on the altiplano plains and mountainsides and at night are corralled so their dung can be collected and they are protected from the cold and predators. Llamas always use the same space to defecate so it is easy to collect. Their manure sells for $200 a metric ton and their meat, promoted by the Bolivian government for its high protein, low fat content, has a large market appeal too. (price of llama meat). Franz explains, the average quinoa farmer will purchase 40 tons of llama manure a year, a value of $8,000 and a good income source for llama farmers. This market for llama dung new and arrived with the national organic certification program and law of organic production. APQUISA also maintains a Fair trade Certification form the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) a European based, internationally recognized Fair Trade certifier. To qualify as a Fair Trade producer, there needs to be a democratic process, a formed association, representation from all members, transparency in payments all the way to the level of the peones, and proper care of the land and communities. On their part, FLO helps to provide steady market access through direct sales to end buyer, a secure market price and gives producers a Social Premium Fund which amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. At the annual Assembly, members vote on how these funds will be used, usually opting to invest them into equipment, and to offset costs of technical assistance, administration, and materials. APQUISPA is growing at an average rate of 12% a year with about 40 new members entering the organization and three to four leaving. To become a member one has to write a letter of request to the Directors noting their capabilities, good work and qualifications to be in he organization. The Directors then vote on who will be permitted to enter.. If the person has a good reputation, is a good community member, honest and careful farmer, then at the cost of a quintal of quinoa, paid in quinoa, they are elected into the organization. Farmers leave APQUISA because they want to sell in other markets or they do not agree with the methods or decisions of APQUISA. Once someone is an APQUISA member, they promise to deliver a certain amount of quinoa to the association each year. These promised amounts are what the association uses to secure markets and contracts for its production each year. It is expected that they keep that promise and do not sell to other organizations instead. Most farmers do not commit all of their quinoa harvest to AQPUISA, instead keeping a smaller percentage for themselves and occasionally, for sale in local markets. The APQUISA buying price today is 900Bs a quintal while the local market price is just 500Bs a quintal and private organic export buyers, such as Quinoa Foods Company, are paying 650 a quintal. In Bolivia the Boliviano, local currency, is equivalent in local buying power to the value of 1 US$ dollar. So its’ really in the grower’s own interest to sell as much quinoa as they can to APQUISA. While APQUISA buys quinoa at $285 a ton, they sell it at $1,400 a ton. The costs in this mark-up includes transportation, salaries, taxes (which are sometimes as high as 25% of all export value), water, energy, infrastructure, administration, and a minimal amount of savings. All of this is reviewed and approved by members at the annual Assembly. (Note: find out annual export amounts, sales, social premium, etc. and who the markets are, and how they are contacted.)

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