Peru’s Banana Landscape
The Peruvian government instituted land redistribution during the 1960’s and the 1980’s which encouraged thousands of small scale land owners. Peru’s hot arid climate is ideal for organic banana production and in the late 90’s, the government began promoting organic farming in Northern Peru. During the first few years of organic production, there was weak communication between the farmers. Multinationals like Dole stepped in and took control of organization and exporting. Each farmer, with less than 1 hectare of land (about 2.5 acres), did not have the volume or power to negotiate a fair price with the multinational banana companies. Multinationals controlled the market until the farmers discovered the fair trade cooperative model. Through this structure, farmers were able to unite and take control by forming cooperative businesses that allowed them to successfully own, coordinate, market and export fruit to the international market.
In 2011, Dole controlled 30 percent of the market. Due to the hard work and courage of co-ops like CEPIBO over the past 10 years, Peru has quickly emerged as the leading source of small farmer, fair trade organic bananas. Equal Exchange is proud to bring these bananas that are truly changing trade directly to the U.S. consumer.
The Central Association of Small Producers of Organic Bananas (CEBIBO) pursued a different cooperative structure. CEPIBO was formed by small scale banana farmers located across northern Peru. CEPIBO was developed as a non-profit cooperative to provide access to the international market by representing, coordinating and marketing banana exportation for 12 grower associations. In 2008, CEPIBO successfully exported its first container of Fair Trade certified and Organic bananas. Equal Exchange/Oké USA became their first USA partner in mid-2010.
Today, CEPIBO consists of 7 different farmer associations with a total of 800 families operating 900 hectares of land across northern Peru. All land is owned by the farmers themselves who are paid above the minimum Fair Trade price per box. In addition to owning their own land, farmers now also own the cooperative and all decision making is done democratically allowing each farmer to have representation. The transition has prompted production improvements including the building of three new packing stations greatly increasing efficiency and capacity. CEPIBO continues to use their fair price and premium to improve operations, communities, and livelihoods for their members and the members’ families.
Meet El Guabo
The story of El Guabo, one of Equal Exchange’s farmer partners, is a success story in grassroots organizing. In 1998, 14 small-scale banana farmers in southwest Ecuador decided to take the tremendous risk of sending one container (about 38,400 lbs) of bananas to Europe with the hope of selling it directly to a supermarket. By cutting out the middleman, they took the power back into their own hands. With the sale of this first container, the El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers was born. The entrepreneurs transformed themselves from individual, marginalized growers into a democratically run organization with access to the international market.
Today, El Guabo is a farmer-run co-operative with 350 small-scale banana farmers. Each farmer is committed to improving quality of life for themselves and their communities. In addition to earning a fair price for their bananas, the co-op receives an additional $1 per case (approx. 40 lbs of bananas) as a Fair Trade social premium. El Guabo’s members voted to spend the premium on education, health care, retirement, environmental projects and infrastructure improvements. Additionally, El Guabo is giving back to the local and global community by sharing their highly successful cooperative model with other producer groups in Ecuador and throughout the world.