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CDF Study Tour - Peru

On Monday, January 16th, 2012, the Co-operative Development Foundation (CDF) will embark on a 5 day Study Tour to Peru. Along with a volunteer team made up of Canadian Co-operative and Credit Union leaders, we will be visiting co-operative projects in the regions of Piura and Montero that have supported and empowered small communities of producer farmers to work their way out of poverty towards prosperity.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Home sweet home

We’ve been home about a week now and I’m finally posting the photos to my blog. I don’t think you truly process everything that you see and feel on a journey like this until you are back at home and living your regular life. One afternoon over the weekend Milo asked me if he could have a treat. I agreed on the condition that he ate a banana first. It started an argument: “the whole banana or half the banana? 3 bites or 5 bites?” - Holy smokes kid! Don’t you realize how lucky you are that you CAN eat a whole banana? Children in Peru probably have to share a banana between all 3 to 10 of their siblings. Children in Peru are grateful for every meal and every sip of water and every book that they can get their fingers on. You are so incredibly lucky to have running water, clothes, shoes, books and an education and I need to teach you about the world that exists right next door! I stopped for a second and realized how much I sounded like my mother. When I was growing up my mother had a very good friend who lived and worked with orphans in Uruguay. And this is exactly what she would say to me when I would complain about eating leftovers for dinner or struggling through my homework. But my mother was right. And I’m glad she opened my eyes to the world around me. And maybe it is thanks to her that my path has led me to the wonderful organization that I work for today. Thanks Mom!

And thanks to all of you who have taken the time to visit my blog. If you are logging on for the first time, blogs are posted from the bottom up, so you need to scroll allllllllll the way to the bottom of the page, and even then you need to click on the link to “older posts” if you want to read the whole story. When you are done reading the "older posts" you have to scroll back down to the bottom and click on "newer posts" to bring you back here.

To learn more about CDF, please visit our website at:

Until next time,

Monday, January 30, 2012


Norandino once again graciously picks us up from the hotel and bring us to the airport. They have been exceptional hosts for our group. We fly back to Lima and spend the afternoon walking around the local artisan markets. Each volunteer from the group purchases an item from the Peruvian market to be donated towards the CDF on-line auctions this coming year. Keep an eye out for them at our next auction taking place the week of March 5th, 2012. I jump for joy to find a basket of hand-knitted finger puppets made for children by the locals including Spiderman, Winnie the Pooh and Shrek & Fiona. Milo will be thrilled!
What a day!

I am beyond exhausted but at the same time energized by the day that we’ve had. Indeed it was a long drive, and it was prolonged early in the morning by a traffic jam caused by a pretty major highway accident. Several vehicles seem to have collided head-on on the highway shortly before we set out this morning. Passengers climbed out of the vehicles and were gathered along the highway watching the scene. It looked really, really awful and I think we all had a tough time gathering our thoughts as we passed through the scene.

On the outskirts of Piura the roads are sadly littered with garbage but soon enough you pass further into the countryside and the views are spectacular. At first the landscape is flat and very, very dry. In one little town that we pass Leo notices that they have a big shop at the side of the road that has tall blocks of bamboo that they are selling the way we Canadians would sell lumber. Soon enough we enter into valleys of lush green mountain. We stop to take photos along the side of the road where a farmer is working his field of rice pattees. We also notice random livestock as we drive along. Mainly donkeys and pigs. The pigs always have a collar with a stick protruding from it so that they can’t squeeze their way through the fences to eat at the crops.

We stop for a quick break in Montero and pick up our boots. The locals are very friendly but we certainly stick out like sore thumbs. I don’t think they get many visitors in these areas.

The second leg of the drive was very rough. Three of us are squished in the back of each truck and we are bouncing around everywhere. Finally the drivers decide that they can’t get their vehicles any further and they pull over to the side of the mountains and everyone climbs out. We are walking here on in. The first thing I do is step into a giant puddle that spills mud over the top of my knee high rain boots. Sigh. The hiking is tough. It’s slippery, and puddles are mucky enough to grab a hold of your boots as you walk. And it’s hot and humid, but you want to stay as covered as possible to avoid the mosquitos.

About half way through our trek our hosts stop at a mountain side home and introduce us to a family of sugar producers who are not members of the co-operative project but who are very friendly and happy to show us their home and their way of life.

As their young child peers out at us from the doorway of their home, they are a few feet away in a dug-out covered trench, producing sugar syrup from sugar cane the old fashioned way. There are three of them down there working. Two of them are sitting on crates on the dirt floor. One of the farmers is a woman and she is maneuvering long shafts of sugar canes through a wooden contraption. Across from her sits a man who is pulling the mangled shafts through the other side of the contraption while collecting short bursts of liquid from the sill. A third man is managing a large bull who is attached to the wooden contraption and who uses his force to hoist the contraption while walking circles around the first couple. It sure seems like a lot of work for 3 people with very little output to show. But they are very friendly and smile widely at us while we watch them work for a few minutes.

Farther up the mountain we finally reach our lunch hosts who are all standing outside the solidly constructed building waiting for us. Kids and livestock are running around all over the place. Everyone is there: men, women, grandparents, babies... And everyone is smiling. After a few moments of greeting each other we are invited inside for a formal presentation. We hear from the Managers, the farmers, gender and youth representatives and even local politicians who are all so grateful for our support.

One of the members of Norandino who has escorted us here today borrows my camera to take a few shots of the group. He is sitting with a few young girls and starts taking their photos with my camera and showing them the image that appears on the screen moments afterwards. They are amazed and giddy with excitement, blushing and screeching at every shot. As we sit among this group of simple farmer producers a cell phone rings loudly and a young woman among them reaches into her pocket and rushes out with her phone. It boggles my mind that a community with such basic amenities, little running water and barely any electricity, happens to have mobile phone connections to the outside world.

We are then served an incredible meal of chicken, turkey, delicious brown rice and a pineapple fruit sauce. Warm, sweet coffee follows. As soon as we are done eating they rush us back outside to show us the amazing sugar cane plant that we have been able to support them in building.

We stand under the canopy outside, livestock at our feet, while one of the workers starts the motor by turning a crank. The motor immediately ignites and starts grumbling. Each of our team are invited to gently pass a shaft of sugar cane through the motorized contraption and we do so proudly with ease within minutes. The motor is shut down and we all stand around anxiously awaiting the next steps. I walk back inside confused until I realize that the contraption we’ve just fed has pipes leading from it into massive steel vats in the building and liters and liters of brown syrup is being pumped quickly and efficiently through the process as we speak. I can hardly believe what I am seeing. With very little man power and very little time, the vats are filling with liquid that will now be heated and stirred until it crystallizes to its perfect consistency.
It is hard to believe that it is only recently that these producer farmers were able to join CEPICAFE/NORANDINO and adopt this new way of life instead of using the old-fashioned way of producing sugar the way we saw the family working earlier this morning. Everyone in the room is so grateful for our visit and incredibly grateful for the support that CCA-ID and CDF have given them. They complete our visit by bringing out a guitar and singing a few songs in celebration. They are disappointed that we are leaving so soon and wish that we would stay to celebrate. But the roads are dangerous and we want to be on the regular highway before nightfall. Before we leave, the talented John Harvie picks up the guitar and sings an English-Canadian song for the group. It’s really an awesome experience.

We are all exhausted on the way home but as I start to doze off Leo nudges my arm along the highway to show me the most beautiful sun setting along the landscape.

It’s late at night again when we arrive back in Piura and everyone is too tired to leave the hotel. We sit outside in a patio tonight and have a quick bite to eat. We are all in awe of the experiences that we’ve shared that day. But it’s hard to put into words. We say our good-byes to Philippa who will be staying on to have more in-depth meetings with the project managers.


Today we are venturing into the mountains to have a field visit with the small producer farmers of Santa Lucia de Pite in Montero. We are up even earlier than usual because it is a 3 to 4 hour drive. Norandino has organized a lunch for us with 70 producer farmers. We have no idea what to expect.

We have been forewarned that the rains have started early in Montero and because the terrain is so muddy we will have to walk for the last few kilometers of the trip. Norandino has packed rain boots for all of us. Mosquitos may also be a problem so we’ve brought along a ton of repellent and full coverage clothing.

I’ve been looking forward to this part of the trip the whole week!

Sunday, January 29, 2012


This morning we are picked up bright and early by members of Norandino and driven to the office building of Cepicafe which doubles as a sugar processing plant. We are meeting with staff and board members of both Norandino and Cepicafe. They are a good mix of men and women, old and young. They all introduce themselves and their positions in Spanish and we have hired a translator to help us understand each other. One young man stands up and does his complete introduction in perfect English and when he sits back down the entire room bursts out in laughter and applause.
The first presentation is given by Santiago Paz Lopez who heads up Norandino. He gives us a lot of history about the producer farmers and about the co-ops and all of their ups and downs over the years. He explains to us that 95% of the products that these farmers are producing are for export and only 5% are kept for the domestic market. It seems as though the products that they produce for export aren’t popular with the locals. Peruvians prefer their coffee extremely rich and sweet and they are putting their coffee beans through additional washing and drying routines in order to make them more marketable to the export countries. They do the same with their tropical marmalades which apparently they prefer much sweeter than we normally would.

He also tells us how becoming members of the co-op has changed not only these farmers’ lives but their role in society as well. Sugarcane producers are generally known to be the poorest of the poor. It’s not a “sophisticated” job. Using the old-fashioned technique it takes a lot of man-power to produce the sugar syrup and yields very little in return. Because they weren’t able to produce a marketable product, instead farmers were making alcohol, moonshine really, and consuming it as they went about their day. This was leading to a very high rate of alcoholism in the community which had a very negative impact with high rates of work place injuries and family violence. Now that they are part of the co-op, the farmers process their sugar cane in local plants that allow them to collectively yield high volumes of the sugar syrup with far less physical man power, they are seeing an increase in dollars in return for their products and are anxious to work harder, create more products for market and earn even more money in return. Their return on investment has gone from around $3/kilo for their products to now around $35/kilo! And their relationship with Norandino is eliminating the middle-man so the farmers are actually seeing all these dollars either returned to their pockets or re-invested into the co-op. The rate of alcoholism has dropped as have the incidences of work place injury and family violence. Not only that but society is changing too, and the stigma that was once associated with being a sugar cane producer is changing and these families are raising their children to be confident and successful producer farmers. It also makes the Peru project a particularly successful group to work with and mentor, because they are making so much progress, they are open to learn and be trained on any subject, from gender equality to environmental impact to health and safety standards. They want to do everything they can in order to achieve the benefits in return.

The sweet smell of success

He also told us about their new adventures into the world of cocoa beans. They have discovered that they are able to grow a specific white cocoa bean that happens to be a world-renowned delicacy. Your average cocoa bean, apparently, has 3 perfumes. High-end cocoa from Venezuela has 7. But this Peruvian white cocoa bean has just won a prestigious award for having 10 perfumes! According to them they are sitting on a giant opportunity, but instead of immediately setting to work to increase the quantity of the crops, they are working with the producer farmers to focus on the quality of the crops and the marketing strategies. They’ve also been offered a really wonderful opportunity to sell to a high-end chocolatier in France, but the offer is conditional upon being the exclusive buyer. Norandino is working to help them determine whether or not this is beneficial in the long-run.

He ended the presentation with a great thank you to CCA-ID for believing in their project and their people.

Julie gave a brief presentation on CCA and how we work with co-ops in Canada and John Harvie wrapped up the morning with a captivating presentation on the co-operative value chain and the vertical integration of the links in the production chain for a number of different agriculture products marketed by Co-op Atlantic with its membership.

After the presentations the entire group lunched together at a local restaurant. We were served their National drink: Pisco Sour, and their famous ceviches which is raw white fish basted in lime juice.

After lunch we were given tours of the sugar cane, coffee & cocoa bean and marmalade plants. One of the initiatives of the project was to fund the building of an interior scale for the trucks. Before this addition, trucks were being hijacked and drivers assaulted while waiting at the external scales to weigh in their product. Drivers are no longer fearing for their safety and less product is lost to theft. This is a group photo taken of us on the scale.

The plant manager at Cepicafe is a woman who spoke to us about the new initiatives supporting gender equality and how she has experienced the change. Although they have discovered that some roles in the plant are just better suited to women and others to men, the project is promoting greater participation of women in decision-making positions within the organization. In addition to skills training activities and participating on supervising committees, the project also aims at increasing women’s involvement in promoting their rights, values and responsibilities to better acknowledge their contribution.

The photo below still has me laughing. In order to tour the sugar plant at Cepicafe we were required to participate in health and safety precautions, which included spending some time in this extremely flattering attire.

Our day ended quite late but we convinced each other into a late dinner in the city square. Dinner was delicious and I’ve so enjoyed getting to know everyone more personally.

Touchdown in Piura

It’s an easy flight, only about an hour and a half and we are greeted at the airport in Piura by members of Norandino, our host co-operative who have come to drive us to the hotel. They are warm and very friendly but language is a bit of a barrier. Phillipa’s Spanish is amazing and she graciously translates the conversation for the rest of us. There seems to be lots of action and night-life in Piura. There are vendors along the streets selling snacks and drinks. There are also people with squeegees and even a man juggling fire in hopes of earning some tips. Busses are bursting with people and there are Peru-style tuk-tuks everywhere which look kind of like mopeds attached to a rickshaw but covered and decorated. Local people seem to hop in and out of them at every corner. The driving is very different. Those in the group who have travelled to South America before are not as surprised as I am by the speed, the volume of traffic, the constant honking and the passing inside or outside of any lane at any opportunity.

After dinner John and I venture quickly out into the street to buy some bottled water for the group. Within a few short blocks we find an older lady who has set up a street-side shop selling newspapers and snacks and other odds and ends. She reaches under the table into what seems to be a large bucket of ice and happily loads 10 bottles of cold water into a plastic bag for us. An adorable little girl who is maybe 2 or 3 smiles up at us from under the ladies feet but shies away when I ask her for her name in Spanish. I can’t imagine being out that late at night on such a busy street with my son, and certainly not without a play station or LeapPad to keep him occupied, but this is a different way of life and to be honest, that little girl looked totally occupied and totally content. It makes me wonder why I worry so much about my little man.


This morning we meet up with the remaining 2 volunteers from our group. Leo Leblanc has worked with Co-op Atlantic since 1978. He is currently the Vice President of Human Resources, Corporate Affairs, Corporate Marketing and Corporate Secretary. He has worked with the CCA ID program in the past on a project in Africa. John Harvie is the recently retired Chief Executive Officer of Co-op Atlantic. John grew up on a small family farm on the East Coast of Canada and earlier in his career held a key position in Scotsburn Dairies, the largest Atlantic Canadian owned dairy processor and distributor in the Atlantic region. John has agreed to give a presentation to our host co-operatives on behalf of CCA on the co-operative value chain. We will be learning so much from our partners over the next few days, we want them to benefit from the co-operative knowledge that our group brings to them as well.

After breakfast we sit down for a group orientation session. After weeks of emailing back and forth it is really great to meet these Canadian Co-operative and Credit Union leaders in person. You wouldn’t believe the combined years of experience around the table and the dedication and enthusiasm for the co-operative model. The International Year of Co-operatives (dedicated by the United Nations for 2012) is what has brought this group together and is mentioned around the table several times. This group of volunteers (along with others who were unable to join on the Study Tour) have committed to celebrating and promoting the international year by becoming champions of CDF and co-operative development around the world. We talk about the projects that we are about to visit and about CDF’s goals for 2012 and how we can all work together to build a better world.

Before heading to the airport for the flight to Piura we have a few hours to explore Miraflores. We walk to a beautifully decorated public park called Parque del Amor. The park has a breath-taking view of Playa Costa Verde which is lined with sun-bathers, surfers and the odd parasailer, including one who is strumming a guitar as he/she flies above the cliffs! We have a quick lunch before heading back to the airport.

The airplane taking us from Lima to Piura is much larger than I expected and very full. At the airport we get a craving for snack food. We try dry roasted corn kernels, artisan potato chips and dark chocolate covered freeze dried banana. And I can’t forget to mention Inka Cola, which tastes much like cream soda but is so popular with the locals in Peru that it continues to out-sell Coke and Pepsi!


It is late at night when we arrive in Lima. I am feeling groggy but excited as we step out of the plane and into the balmy air on the runway. The airport appears and feels very modern, which according to Philippa is a fairly recent improvement. We are impressed with the efficiency as we breeze through the line-ups at customs only to spend the better part of an hour waiting for our baggage to arrive. On the arrivals side of the airport there are crowds and crowds of people waiting for their loved ones, holding up signs and balloons. I’ve never seen an airport so busy so late at night. It feels like paparazzi at the end of a red carpet and you can’t help but get choked up sensing all the love and happiness in the room. Of course, this amount of love and happiness leads to one tiny little drawback: traffic. Lots and lots of slow-moving, horn blaring traffic. We've arranged for a taxi to pick us up at the airport and we set off slowly through Lima to a little part of town called Miraflores. I’m a little stunned when the driver reaches over me to lock the car door as we drive away. Violent crime is extremely rare in Lima but unfortunately due to high poverty rates, petty crime is rampant. Philippa warns us to stick together, carry very little valuables with us when we are out, and walk with confidence as though we know where we are going.

The hotel is small but very pretty and cozy. It’s fenced in with a locking gate. The staff are very friendly despite our late hour of arrival and offer us a cold drink in the lobby while we settle ourselves. Alexandra logs on to her laptop and is able to video skype with her family back in Ottawa. Technology blows my mind.
We’ve quickly and easily made our way to Toronto and are now preparing for the more grueling leg of our journey. It is an 8 hour flight from Toronto to Lima. We are being joined by 2 more volunteers at this point: Myrna Bentley is the recently retired President and CEO of Concentra Financial Services Association in Saskatchewan. She also sits on the CCA International Policy Committee. Myrna has spent 35 years in the co-operative financial services industry and as she embarks on this new phase in her life, she is committed and eager to give back to her co-operative community. Allan Morin has travelled from Manitoba to join us today. He is the President and CEO of Assiniboine, the 8th largest Credit Union in Canada. Al has been a strong supporter for many years but this will be his first time visiting a CDF project overseas.


Our Team

It’s Monday morning and we have a long day of travel ahead of us. At the Ottawa airport I’ve met up with Julie Breuer, Director of Operations and Fundraising for CDF and Philippa Wiens who is the CCA ID Project Officer for the Americas. Philippa visits her projects once or twice a year and has agreed to schedule this visit to coincide with ours in order to help guide us through the next 5 days. The first of our five volunteers has started the journey with us here as well. Alexandra Wilson is head of the Agency for Co-operative Housing, the body that regulates federally funded housing co-operatives in Canada. She also sits on the board of directors of The Co-operators Group and has been involved with co-ops in one way or another since 1974. We’re off to Toronto!

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog! I am a new member of the CDF team and this is my first visit to an International Co-operative Project. I joined the Foundation this past May and have spent months reading about co-operative development around the world that is being supported by the Canadian Co-operative Association’s International Development (CCA-ID) program and funded by CDF. I am really looking forward to experiencing a project in person. I’ve loaded my digital camera with an 8 GB memory card that will allow me to take up to 8000 photos and/or a few hours of video. I have a laptop, several note pads and about a dozen pens, just in case. I don’t want to miss a thing.

I’ve been showing my four year old son Milo a map of the world. I’m showing him where we live and where I am going on this trip. I will be away from him less than a week so he doesn’t seem too concerned by the distance that I am travelling. His main concern is whether I will return to him with a Peruvian Spiderman as a souvenir.

In preparation for this trip I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Peru and the co-operative projects that we will be visiting.

Making a difference in Peru:

Peru is a fast growing country, with good climates and good potential to export different crops. The CCA-ID is currently working with a co-operative called Norandino, which is a coalition of three secondary co-operatives; CEPICAFE, CENFROCAFE and SOL y CAFÉ. The main objective of Co-op Norandino who is our main host on this tour is to strengthen the business aspects of the three organization partners, and therefore to contribute to the improvement of its members’ living conditions. CEPICAFE, who we will also be visiting, represents, directs and offers diverse services to farmer producers of cocoa, coffee, sugarcane and fruit in the mountainous region of Montero in order to improve the quality of life and eradicate poverty in this region.

The goals of the CCA-ID project are to improve the productive capacity of the processing plants, develop economical initiatives for new products and new local markets, and empower women and youth members of the co-op.

This CCA-ID project in Peru directly benefits 800 producer farmers associated with Norandino and also has indirect repercussions for the 7000 members of the 3 secondary co-ops.

The average income in this region of Peru is approximately 300 nuevo soles, or US$ 107 per month and the average number of children in these families is 3 to 5 but some families have as many as 10.

It’s hard for me sitting under the snow in my home with my son on a Sunday night to even begin to imagine what this experience is going to be like…