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Developing organic enterprises in Peru - women take the lead

Cash crops grown by the women include lettuce, carrots, aromatic herbs and zucchini (© ANPE PERU)
Cash crops grown by the women include lettuce, carrots, aromatic herbs and zucchini

Sustained economic growth, rising consumer awareness of healthy nutrition, a flourishing tourist sector and a gastronomic boom are together providing new opportunities and markets for smallholder farmers in Peru. But women smallholders, in particular, often lack the knowledge, capacity, tools and opportunities to fully maximise the potential of agricultural markets. Family vegetable farms are typically run by women, so in the provinces of Quispichanchi and Calca, the AGROECO project* (Ecological and socio-economic intensification for food security in smallholder agriculture in the Andes) is working with 40 women to help them improve the quality of their vegetable production to meet the standards necessary to supply five of the most demanding gourmet restaurants in Cusco.

Meeting the collective mark

Over the last ten years, Peru's national association of ecological producers (Asociación Nacional de Productores Ecológicos del Perú, ANPE PERU) has been working to develop a guaranteed quality assurance process for organic production, as an alternative to costly organic certification schemes. As a result, farmers have taken part in a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), spending time to build their capacity on organic farming and then participating in internal and external evaluations. However, once certified, most farmers have continued to sell the bulk of their organic produce at local markets for conventional prices. Hence in 2012, to strengthen market differentiation and enhance market integration, the Frutos de la tierra (fruits of the earth) brand was converted from a brand used to promote ANPE PERU's organic fairs into a multi-product collective mark, promoting family agriculture, biodiversity conservation and farmer organisation.

Training has been provided to improve vegetable farming (© AGROECO)
Training has been provided to improve vegetable farming

The AGROECO project, which is being coordinated by the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM), has been promoting the use of the mark and working to establish long-term relationships between women smallholders and top restaurants. Training has been provided to improve vegetable farming in communal plastic houses and micro-tunnels. Cash crops that the women grow include lettuce, carrots, kale, onions, aromatic herbs, chard, amaranth leaves and zucchini.

However, negotiations with restaurants to obtain a higher price for their vegetables and establish strategic alliances between farmers and cooks were slower than expected. The women secured a number of sales with two restaurants but these were relatively infrequent. After a re-evaluation - involving some restaurants - the women's groups agreed that the vegetables should be sold under the Frutos de la tierra mark. The idea is to tap into 'corporate social responsibility' motives of restaurants and hotels, strengthen links between the groups and better position their produce in the minds of the restaurants' owners and guests.

Challenges and opportunities

By promoting organic vegetable production, highlighting the value of native and highly nutritious varieties, and supplying hotels and restaurants, the project aims to contribute to the improvement of the household diet and to create extra income for the women. However, the women have also learnt some valuable lessons: "A key lesson for the women has been that there are opportunities to establish long-term relationships with restaurants, but that establishing prices that allow for building a sustainable relationship, and which value the Frutos de la tierra principles, requires a gradual process of building trust and consistency from both sides," ANPE's executive director Moisés Quispe explains.

The women's marketing habits have had to undergo a major shift (© AGROECO)
The women's marketing habits have had to undergo a major shift

Some women, for example, became frustrated when the additional effort they had undergone to plan a continuous supply, manage post-harvest quality, and ensure deliveries were timely seemingly was not appreciated by potential buyers. After one restaurant selected only a few products that a group of women had been working on for months, one of the women, Teresa Farfán, said, "There is no business here for us. If it's like this I'd rather take our produce to the conventional market." But after visiting another restaurant, Farfán was delighted to see that all of their produce was accepted: "We really should make sure not to lose this connection. Here at least we see willingness to buy from us smallholder farmers."

With restaurants buying relatively small amounts of vegetables up to three times a week, and considering that they buy on credit, the women's marketing habits have also had to undergo a major shift. The project has helped the women generate combined orders to reach volumes to ensure continuous supply, and to work with simple production and sales activity records. The women have also received administrative support from the regional farmers' association through its recently opened organic shop, to which the women also sell produce.

Looking to the future, AGROECO will continue to strengthen the women's groups by consolidating their organic farming techniques and basic administrative tools, and increasing and stabilising the supply of organic cash crops. The project will also continue to promote the Frutos de la tierra mark in restaurants and local marketplaces. "Eventually we want to transfer capacities and responsibilities to key members of the regional farmers' association to manage the collective mark, keep deliveries going, and connect with other initiatives, like the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism's Al turista lo nuestro (give the tourist what is ours) programme," general coordinator Roberto Ugás reveals. "We particularly want to encourage young leaders."

* AGROECO is funded by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund, which is implemented by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Written by: Hannes Van den Eeckhout (AGROECO), Ángel Luján (AGROECO), Moisés Quispe (ANPE PERU) and Roberto Ugás (UNALM and AGROECO)

Date published: September 2013


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