Organic as well as Fair Trade
Hugo Valdés, who at the time worked for a Costa Rican organization that promoted organic farming, believed that this could be changed for the better. “We started looking for farming cooperatives that were willing and able to produce both organically and according to fair trade principles. Through good contacts in Italy we were able to market our products there. We now pool almost twenty cooperatives in eight countries in Central and South America. This means that we can offer buyers in the West a wide range of products, but at the same time guarantee substantial volumes. This makes us an interesting partner and strengthens our negotiation position.”
Last year the CSF member organizations realized a turnover of EUR 2.3 million in Italy, partly through ordinary supermarkets and partly through the small NaturaSì shops. Hugo Valdés: “We hope to enter the French market in 2009 and to grow substantially there. We are also in active discussions with buyers in Great Britain, Belgium and the United States. Not in the Netherlands yet, but who knows.” The main challenge for CSF is to ensure consistent quality. “Not only should our coffee, cocoa, nuts, honey, bananas, sugar and fruit taste delicious, it should also look good”, confides Hugo Valdés, who has worked in Germany for many years. “We must deliver what consumers in the West want, or in any event what supermarkets believe consumers want. If a product is successful, we must be able to deliver more of it, for instance by involving new cooperatives. This does not happen by itself; farmers and cooperatives have to learn how to think like entrepreneurs. Without our support many of our members would not be able to export.”
Most of what the CSF member organizations produce is currently exported to the West. At some point this must change, Hugo Valdés believes. “In the near future many more products must be processed here, regionally. In addition, the processed products must be sold on our local markets much more than is currently the case. We export cocoa to the West. There, it is processed into chocolate, which we then import at high cost. Surely this is ridiculous? Last year we coated dried bananas, roasted coffee beans and nuts produced by our member organizations in Costa Rica with a layer of chocolate. That’s quite an undertaking if you want to deliver the right quality in attractive packaging. The 35 thousand boxes are currently being sold in Italy; after that we will be able to determine the quantities we can export. We could then expand this to include dried berries from the Amazon forest, for example. It is difficult to find a market for small quantities of berries, but it should be feasible in the context of a series of chocolate nibbles. And this should also be brought on our home markets, naturally.”
Cooperativa sin Fronteras (CSF) is a cooperative association of twenty cooperatives, farmers’ organizations and NGOs who work with organic fair trade products. One member organization is active in Italy, one in France and the rest in Central and South America. It represents a total of almost 13,000 families. CSF wants to support small and medium-sized producers in supplying good quality organic fair trade products, whether it is for export or for home markets. CSF encourages participation by women and young people in the management of the cooperatives.