Archives for August 17, 2015

Day 45 – Back in the snow again!

Day 45 – Back in the snow again!

Leaving the tropics for Oruro and La Paz again… fresh snow.  Bundled up again. Winter coat on.  Cold hands on the keyboard…

Day 44 – Urkupina – Luck for the Quinoa

Day 44 – Urkupina – Luck for the Quinoa

Approaching the gates of Urkupina.

Approaching the gates of Urkupina.

Today we attended the Urkupina Festival, dating back to the 18th century, in honor of a miracle witnessed by a young woman tending sheep on the outskirts of Cochabamba during the colonial era hundreds of years ago. The woman saw the image of a virgin on a local hilltop. Since then, that spot has become the place for sacred pilgrimages where people travel from all around to visit the site: breaking rocks from the ground to symbolize wealth, purchasing miniatures of their hopes and dreams, lighting candles, saying blessings, visiting medicine men and women and priests, visiting the shrine of the Virgin of Urkapina and getting blessings and wishes for health, prosperity, abundance, luck and well-being.

Items for sale for blessings

Items for sale for blessings

Lighting candles.

Lighting candles.

Academic studies have shown that this powerful celebration of faith and hope has real results, with many of the items that people wishing for such as college degrees, Bolivian passports, babies, houses, food, cars, computers, and cell phones actually are realized. Once the items are blessed, people bring them home and the first Friday of each month, they have a ch’alla and gather together to light incense and remember the items they desired and thank the earth mother, rivers, mountains and their ancestors for helping them to realize these dreams. It is believed best to return to Urkapina three years in a row for the most luck. People who have cut rocks from the hilltop return them to get others the next year. The larger the rock, the more luck one’s family will receive. It’s hard work, and like the man lending out sledgehammers last night explained, “luck does not come easily, you have to work for it.” Just like the hard work it took to break off some rock with the sledge hammer.

Festival dancers 0 Caparel!

Festival dancers 0 Caparel!

Here is my Ukapina hopes and dreams. I have quinoa for food abundance, health and wealth, a frog which represents wealth and well-being because the frog lives both under the mud (underworld) and on the land thus having the ability to travel between two worlds, an abundance of Bolivian money for my work here, and a long-term 20-year work contract as I an am adjunct faculty member working on a short term contractual basis.

Day 43 – An impromptu visit to Sau Sau

Day 43 – An impromptu visit to Sau Sau

As I returned from visiting a now defunct tourism office built in Quillacas, the roadside quinoa sellers informed me that the Andean Family Famers crew had just passed by in their truck. I quickly called Yeris and asked where they were going. Yeris Ivo Peric, Gilha Gina Prado and the staff agronomer, Edson Choque, were on their way to visit Sau-Sau a small Fair Trade producer group located in Marka Caroma on the outskirts of the Department of Potosi, about two hours away. I asked if I could come and they turned around to pick me up, luckily there were not that far away.

After an impressive off-road drive on a barely visible, winding track through vast empty quinoa plots waiting for planting, a shallow river crossing (with no bridge), and the passing of several herds of wild vicuna, we arrived in the tiny village of Sau Sau. Here President, Teofilo Coca Martinez was directing the Annual Assembly of the Integral Association of Quinoa and Camelid Production of he Southern Altiplano (AIPQUISA-C) the community’s Fair Trade, organic quinoa growers association. His wife, Dona Maria had recently returned from a two week trip to the US to participate in the ExpoWest trade show in California. Women were preparing roasted lamb and quinoa in the large adobe wood fired oven. They used poquera, a powered volcanic rock to toast with the quinoa, adding an extra depth, heat and nutritional value to the grain. Children played about. A few trucks were parked around the dusty yard. The community had been waiting for Andean Family Farmer’s arrival and quickly invited us in to the meeting. A typed agenda was passed around showing the meeting had advanced past several parts that now it was time for the Fair Trade agenda items to be addressed.

There were some formalities to address. The community members needed to legally register themselves as small producers with less than 40 (or 30?) hectacres in production for compliance with national tax laws then Yeris reviewed the importance of maintaining organic standards with all production. Apparently some of the FLO certified producers had lost clients when pesticide residue was found in their quinoa. Andean Family Farmers wanted to prevent this from occurring with their own producer groups.

Though a small community made up of maybe 20 or so adobe houses, with 33 members total, this group had ample quinoa production. Delivering 15 truckloads (500 tons each) of Fair Trade, organic quinoa, they had earned a social premium of $520 per truckload, a total of $7,800. Now Yeris was there to help them to decide how to spend this. He had a powerpoint presentation prepared with a laptop and projector. Producers sat in the President’s large living room as the points were reviewed, most of the women remained outside cooking and caring for the children.

A definition of Fair Trade was presented with a detailed explanation of how all quinoa was organically certified by Biolatina and of this, most could be sold as Fair Trade, depending on market needs. The quinoa sold as Fair Trade received the additional social premium which was delivered annually and determined by the association on how to be used. The rest was sold at current organic market prices, which at the moment was 650 BS ($92) a quintal. Yeris reminded the people of the Fair Trade rules which seemed very similar to those of FLO and CLAC: the need for transparency and democratic functioning, the creating of opportunities and improved working conditions, long term client relations (through the processing plant Yacha Inti), fair pricing, gender equity, dignified labor conditions, care of the natural environment, a fight against child labor, the payment of Fair Trade premiums and the right for all to vote.

He explained that an independent SCS, Fair Trade certifier from FairTradeUSA and IMO (another Fair Trade organization), will be checking for records of these principles being followed. In addition a Market Access Consultant (SAM) would be present as well. Members needed to sign a 16 point contract, noting that they were and would continue to comply with Fair Trade guidelines and would develop a Fair Trade Plan for their social premium funds.   All of this signing and paperwork seemed to be making the men nervous. Hushed side conversations began to break out. They had been working together for about three to four years and this was their second year working with Fair Trade certification. It was also their first time getting a social premium. Though they knew Yeris and his wife, they did not regularly work with them. In addition Yeris was an ex-government minister, a tall man from the city, he was not one of them. However they knew and trusted Edson, the agronomist they worked with for years and who visited them at least monthly throughout the entire growing season. Edson intervened and explained to the people that these contracts were formalities and part of the Fair Trade certification process. After a short question and answer period led by Edson and Yeris, the producers seemed a bit more willing to continue with the paperwork, though there was an overall air of apprehension.

After this Yeres went on to offer several suggestions on how the group could spend their approximately 50,000Bs of social premium funds ($7,800). Thirty percent of this was required for environmental improvements. These suggestions included improving the soil’s fertility though the purchasing of llama manure. 15,000 or 30% of the funds could go towards this he explained. I noted that this would be enough to purchase about 10 truckloads of manure – enough for about 10 hectacres of land. He also recommended a storage area be built for the quinoa, noting that many farmers had their quinoa stored in the houses, alongside their beds and in their living rooms, the quinoa could get damaged being stored this way. The farmers seemed to agree. Then he also recommended that the community buy into a bulk shipment of certified organic pesticides from Peru that Andean Family Farmers had tested with six other products and felt would work well in Bolivia. The farmers showed interest in this. Finally he revealed a three-year irrigation plan that included a site visit form a geologist to source ground water spots, a well digging company to determine water quantities and flow and the installation of electric or solar solar pumps for use with an irrigation system based on Israeli technologies. He projected that this could cost $10,000 to $15,000 per system. Andean Family Farmers works with 30 different producer groups, three to four which like Sau Sau have the Fair Trade certification and social premium funding. They plan to install about 10 such systems this year anticipating that this year will be dry from November to December (when rain is needed for quinoa seedlings) with rain coming later in the season until May.

This was quite impressive and made me think of the benefits that well-trained technical, market-driven initiatives brought to projects. I did not know of any other groups or communities which had access to such direct, well-developed assistance and global resources.

However, it also made me wonder what they women were thinking. They were not there during this meeting, being busy cooking and caring for the children. They were not on the board either. Technically there men were supposed to discuss these decisions with the women privately and then collectively make a decision. But I wonder how much of this they men would explain or how much was actually understood. I also wonder what projects the women might have come up with on their own (and the men too at that point) if they were given that opportunity first.

Though the Andean Family Farmers Fair Trade approach had many merits such as market access, dedicated technical support, new technology and projects, social premiums and fair market prices, the top down approach with required signatures, pre-determined rules, and pre-packaged projects, made me uneasy. When I mentioned this to Gilhka she was very open to developing more participative approaches for he groups. Perhaps in the future Andean Family Farmers will develop a more collaborative approach to their Fair trade development.

Day 42 – Fair Trade Bolivia, FLO style

Day 42 – Fair Trade Bolivia, FLO style

searchFollowing my local quinoa value chain brought me from the Brattleboro Food Co-op to the outskirts of Salinas Bolivia. However this bypassed the Fair trade aspect of production, which as my study progresses and market prices continue to deteriorate, is suddenly becoming critical in the quinoa story.   Right now the non-fair trade market prices for export quality quinoa ranges from 400Bs a quintal for black market conventional to 500Bs a quintal for organically certified product. Some private producer groups are now getting 600Bs to 650Bs a quintal for their certified organic grain as are the Fair Trade Andean Naturals clients (Andean Family Farmers). The extra benefit Andean Family Farmers members receives is the social premium which is paid annually once all export counts are in and amounts to a considerable sum of money (A report on the town of Sau Sau and their FTUSA social premium payment is coming). We visited with Andean Naturals a US business certified by FairTradeUSA and learned of their work with quinoa in Bolivia, but they are just one company exporting a few dozen containers a year of Fair Trade quinoa. What about the rest?

fairTradeLogoThe other Fair Trade story is that of FLO – the Bonn, Germany based Fair Labeling Organization which has recently expanded to include more producer participation, with the arrival of the Latin-American and Caribbean Coordinator of Small Producers and Workers for Fair Trade (CLAC) – an independent group of small farmers who developed their own Fair Trade label that had more rules and self determination than the larger European and US Fair Trade organizations. CLAC works to strengthen institutional bonds, provide networking and communication through its vast membership, promote the values and principles of fair trade through college-based educational campaigns, provide market access, and support programs focused on climate change, food security, child labor, worker security and well-being and intergenerational representation.

The CLAC Latin-American Universities for Fair Trade initiative engages universities with Fair Trade consumption, forms formal alliances between the university and CLAC members, has universities working directly with Fair Trade producers and local Fair Trade initiatives, and requires students groups to help in different Fair trade initiatives such as the Internaitonal Fair Trade Day, research papers on Solidarity Economy, Fair Trade and Responsible Consumption to be published yearly, and requires at least one course a year to be offered in the theme of Solidarity Economy, Fair Trade and Responsible Consumption. Currently, there are no Bolivian universities supporting this initiative though students in Costa Rico, Coluombia and Peru have active campaigns started.

In Bolivia, Tito Medrano, manages much of the Fair Trade training and communication for FLO members. Based out of Cochabamba, he is in constant motion, traveling from coffee mountainsides, to quinoa highlands to FLO’s National Committee for Fair Trade (CNCJ) in La Paz. The CNCJ is headed by El Ceibo, a large 20+ year old cooperative that specializes in organic and Fair Trade cacao (chocolate) production. FECAFEB, the Bolivian Fair Trade coffee exporter, is the secretary and Red OPAIC, a large consortium of Fair Trade handicraft producers, acts as the treasurer. Quinoa was once represented by ANAPQUI, another large, older cooperative, but like many organizations in the FLO network, they lost their certification due to poor bookkeeping during an audit. Now once again re-certified by FLO, ANAPQUI continues to work with Fair Trade and organic quinoa production. The CNCJ holds regular elections and ANAPQUI has held leadership positions in this Committee in the past and most likely will in the future as well.

Market access through FLO is much less centralized then the market access provided by FairTradeUSA, who specializes almost exclusively in the US market and acts as a go-between for US buyers and Fair Trade producers. FLO works with 24 Fair Trade initiatives in areas such as trade show representation and educational consumer campaigns in 19 different countries. Some of the key European trade shows for Bolivia’s Fair Trade products include Germany’s BIOFAT and the Feria de Milan in Italy. European buyers approach Bolivian producers directly through their own in-country visits and arrangements. Because of this, there is no centralized record keeping of quantities and contracts managed through FLO certified producers.