Day 5.  The European Fair Trade challenge.

Day 5.  The European Fair Trade challenge.

ANAPQUI, a member of European Fair Trade, is the oldest quinoa cooperative in Bolivia explained Celia Arcaine, the CEO of this multi-million dollar cooperative.  Managing 70 workers, 5,000 family farmers from the departments of Oruro and Potosi plus two processing plants is no easy feat, nor is it cheap.  Fair Trade Europe does not cover our costs, explains Arcaine.  The prices come from Peru, now the world’s largest quinoa producer, and the German Natural Products trade show where all orders are placed each year for all of Europe.  Fair Trade Europe needs to compete with other market forces to set a price the is as sellable and fair as possible.  “Today,” Arcaine said, “a ton of Fair Trade, organic quinoa is $2,200 – $2,400 FOB” (freight on board – this is to say at the time the shipment of quinoa leaves the port of origin for its export destination).

I think about this.  This is 15% less than it was a year ago – and even then, farmers were complaining the price did not offer them a “living wage” as Fair Trade guaranteed.  A previous study in mine in 2017 confirmed that $3,000 a ton FOB was a fair price.  This translates to a 800Bs a quintal price for organic quinoa farmers.  Today’s common market is at 570Bs. This gap has maintained itself since the extreme drop of quinoa prices in 2015, the year my study began.

Arcaine explains the extreme methods and special care the ANAPQUI takes with all of its production.  Besides having their own team of agricultural agents, they also give each member their own warehouse for their quinoa – locked with a ley and tag that can only be removed by the member itself.  When a sale comes that includes that member’s quinoa, they personally come to the plant to open their warehouse and submit their quinoa for final testing.  This way the quantity of their quinoa is always known up front to be 100% pure, organic and ready for market, explained Arcaine.

ANAPQUI owns and manages its own Fair Trade Europe certification and as a group chooses how to apply the premium they earn through their sales.  “Each year we rotate,” explains Arcaine.  “One year we favor the producer, another the region, and the then plant.”  She invited me to visit the new plant they had built in the El Alto industrial zone of La Paz, where they produce the highest quality gluten free, quinoa noodles and cookies.  This week is the annual assembly of the cooperative.  Leaders will come together to determine how the premium will be distributed, this time to the producers.  This year it is their turn, explained Arcaine proudly.

Arcaine spoke of her childhood in Salinas where she grew up as a quinoa farmers, growing quinoa and potatoes with her family for their own consumption.  Back then quinoa was easy to grow, no market pressures, and no insects, and animals eating it.  No droughts, dust storms or early frosts.  It was an easy time, she explained.  A hectacre of land easily produced 20 quintals of seed and the families consumed it themselves.  If it was sold, it was valued at a rate of two bags of quinoa for one bag of rice or sugar.  Arcaine explains how even today she continues to enjoy the traditional quinoa growing methods she learned as a child, working alongside her husband, in the Andean chachi-warmi style, to hand plant seeds; blessing them with a q’olla offering to the earth mother, Pachamama; nurturing them as they grow by decorating the fields with confetti, paper snakes and streamers during carnival; and hand cutting and collecting the robust, colorful seed heads for processing into quinoa.