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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.

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.

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