Peruvian Paz Teaches Canadians Why Their Purchases Matter

Fair trade is about making connections. As consumers, we’re inevitably distanced from the producing arm of farmers working in developing countries. 

In an effort to connect either end of the supply chain, Santiago Paz, co-director of CEPICAFE (Central Piurana de Cafetaleros) in Northern Peru, recently toured four Canadian cities during May 1–8.

Over the last 20 years, the Peruvian native has worked closely with organized producers in his country to help develop sustainable export models.

During his visit, Paz attended several meet-and-greet sessions held by Canadian company Camino at several retail locations. “What Canadians need to know,” says Paz, “is that their purchases really have an impact — and that the impact of fair trade has been felt very strongly in Peru.”

He adds, “In Peru, fair trade has changed the lives of millions. The impacts are not small; they’re felt within the entire economy. These impacts not only benefit producers of fair trade products, but also entire communities and the greater population of Peru.”

Nicole Lulham of Camino describes how the development of the panela sugar industry in Peru has had positive impacts on communities. Before Fairtrade certification, many farmers in remote areas used sugar cane to produce aguaguadiente, a type of alcohol, which often led to alcohol abuse within poverty-stricken communities. When the Fairtrade system established fair prices for panela sugar, it diverted sugar away from alcohol production.

“These farmers don’t produce alcohol from sugar cane anymore because it’s just so much more profitable to convert it into panela sugar,” says Lulham. “They’ve seen a huge change in the community due to the added income from panela, reduced alcoholism, and of course pride in developing a product that is in demand internationally.”

As a founding member of CEPICAFE, Paz has been instrumental in helping small producer families in Northern Peru. Originally comprised of 200 members, CEPICAFE now represents 7,000 producers of coffee, cocoa, sugar, and other products from Northern Peru and includes 90 grassroots organizations. The umbrella organization helped consolidate small producer organizations, which, through organized production, improved the quality of products, and increased volume, has allowed farmers to earn respect as active agents within the region.

“CEPICAFE as a co-operative,” says Paz, “is the only form by which a producer can really improve his or her quality of life.  As an individual, it's impossible for a producer to have access to training, financing, and to sell products on the international market at fair trade prices.”

The self-driven development among farmers has seen growth in a number of industries including coffee. Lulham says, “the number of small coffee producers has literally doubled since the Fairtrade system has come in. It’s allowed them to get a better price for their crop and people have adopted it so rapidly because of the potential.”

Seeing CEPICAFE products in Canadian stores has been inspiring for Paz. He says, “I have enormous respect for the people involved in promoting fair trade, and I’m very happy to see the number of volunteers that are working to promote fair trade. This gives me a lot of energy to return to Peru with new ideas and projects, and to continue to generate economic alternatives for small producers, which will enable them to improve their quality of life.”

Author: Bryce Tarling—May, 2012

Orginal Publication: www.fairtrade.ca 

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