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Valuable vegetables at 3,000 metres

Farmers have been selling their lettuces to McDonalds (© Syngenta Foundation and Arcos Dorados)
Farmers have been selling their lettuces to McDonalds
© Syngenta Foundation and Arcos Dorados

High in the Peruvian Andes, tourists set off from the city of Cusco to see the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Numerous chefs and hoteliers serve both the visitors and Cusco's large population. In the past, all salad vegetables came in by air from large farms around Peru's capital, Lima. Yet, nearby Andean smallholders also grow tomatoes, onions and lettuces. But although well supplied with water, and just a short drive from Cusco, these small farmers were not used to growing the high quality of vegetables demanded for the restaurant market.

The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) believed that smallholders should and could have access to this lucrative source of income. "We believed there had to be an opportunity here," says SFSA agribusiness manager Robert Berlin. "But unlocking the opportunity required the right partners." The choice fell on Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation (HSI) and McDonalds. "Many people are surprised by this combination," says Berlin. "But the two organizations are both committed to this region. The hamburger chain's Cusco outlet wants more local ingredients, and HSI is committed to helping Andean farmers earn a better living. Those goals are easy to align."

Hearts, heads and quality

HSI provided farmer training in the local language Quechua. "Helping people to change the way they work means you have to reach their hearts as well as heads," says SFSA's communication manager, Paul Castle. "This project requires the smallholders to alter a lot of old habits. I don't think that would have been possible if everything had been in Spanish." Symbolising this local touch is the project's name Qorichacra, which means 'golden farm' in Quechua.

HSI provided farmer training in the local language (© Syngenta Foundation and Arcos Dorados)
HSI provided farmer training in the local language
© Syngenta Foundation and Arcos Dorados

Shaping the shift from old habits to modern farming were the expectations of Arcos Dorados (AD), the McDonalds business operator in Latin America. HSI taught smallholders about AD production protocols, hygiene measures and how to build greenhouses with wood and netting. "We're committed to buying more local produce wherever we operate," says Leonardo Lima, head of quality at AD. "But without compromising on our standards in any way."

AD's strong commitment to local sourcing is crucial to the project's success. "We needed a partner ready for longer-term engagement," explains Berlin. "Cusco's small family-run restaurants understandably don't have that stamina, or the willingness to risk a project failure."

Launched in 2010, the project provided two years of capacity-building and training. Weekly deliveries to Cusco's McDonalds restaurant began in October 2011. The original 14 smallholder families from two villages have been joined by a dozen neighbours, all trained by HIS, the farmers selling 20 per cent of their lettuce production to AD. The remainder goes to other local customers. "That shows another advantage of teaming up with AD," notes Castle. "By proving that smallholders really can contribute to the highly demanding McDonalds supply chain, we raised the confidence of other local buyers."

Better housing, bigger income

Rolling out the scheme within Cusco is only part of the story, however. "In November 2012, deliveries began to a second McDonalds restaurant," Carola Amézaga, SFSA project director in Peru, proudly reports. "That outlet is down south in Arequipa, our country's second-largest city." SFSA is now in discussion with AD about a possible expansion to Brazil.

Local farm experts have helped villagers refurbish their houses (© Syngenta Foundation and Arcos Dorados)
Local farm experts have helped villagers refurbish their houses
© Syngenta Foundation and Arcos Dorados

Amézaga recently joined SFSA from HSI. "Hand in hand with the new demands on vegetable quality and hygiene, we combined the agricultural work with a home improvement scheme," she explains. "Local farm experts called Kamayoq help villagers to refurbish their houses and improve their domestic hygiene. The scheme runs as a friendly competition and has already greatly improved local living standards." Again, because the Kamayoq speak Quechua, they can build better rapport with the farmers than Spanish-speakers from Lima or abroad.

Smallholders like Fortunato Ccolque are happy to show visitors, including local magazine and TV journalists, the difference that this scheme has made to their housing. The improvements include cleaner food preparation and separate quarters for humans and animals. Grower Leopoldo Quispe Velásquez is also delighted to talk about the huge leap in his lettuce income. This used to be only 500-600 Soles per year (about US$200). Today, he and his neighbors earn over 11,000 Soles (US$4,000) each from a range of vegetables. "Thanks to Qorichacra, average family income rose 177 per cent between 2010 and 2012," adds Berlin. "And we believe that this kind of scheme could be repeated in many other countries."

Written by: Paul Castle, Syngenta Foundation

Date published: July 2013


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