From humble beginnings in 1975, the Manduvira Co-operative in Paraguay has grown to be the leading producer and exporter of organic and Fairtrade certified sugar in the world. On 5 Dec 2011, the Co-op laid its foundation stone in a first-of-its-kind producer-owned mill.
Now rather than paying transportation and rental costs to another factory over 100km away, this mill, partly financed by the Fairtrade Premium, will enable a significant improvement in the lives of sugar farmers, workers and their communities.
Manduvira is located in the remote and isolated district of Arroyos y Esteros, meaning ‘swamps and streams’, around 70km north-east of the capital, Asuncion. The region is renowned as the ‘Organic Valley’ of Paraguay thanks to the traditional agricultural production working in harmony with the environment.
With about 1500 members and 27 employees, the democratically organized Manduvira Co-operative exports Fairtrade certified organic sugar to 18 countries in the world through the Fairtrade market. Along with cane sugar, Manduvira also produces sesame, cotton and fruit and vegetables.
Founded in 1975 by a group of teachers and agricultural producers as a Savings & Credit Co-operative, Manduvira’s objective was to help members gain access to credit and, through the creation of projects that would benefit the community, create mutual support.
As time went on activities were widened towards the area of production and Manduvira received Fairtrade certification in 1999. Since 2004 the Co-op has been using a mill located around 100km away and what with having to pay for transportation and rental costs and battle long dirt roads, sugar production has become a costly operation, with money leaving the community.
The new producer-owned mill, located in Arroyos y Esteros, will mean more job opportunities, stable incomes and more sugar production. This first-of-its-kind mill, to be up and running in 2013.
Manduvira receives a Fairtrade Premium for its certified sugar and sesame. The members then decide democratically how and where to invest it. This Premium has changed the lives of many of the members, allowing them to increase productivity and to buy materials to improve their homes and communities.
Fairtrade related services for the members include savings and credit, agricultural assistance, health and agriculture training and education, art, music, languages and computing courses and for children of low-income families; the donation of uniforms and school materials.
Each year half of the Premium is given to members in an equitable form while in the Fairtrade Assembly, members decide together how they will invest the other half. In this way the Co-op has built a health centre with medical, dentist and laboratory testing services available to all members and the community, the only such centre in the region.
Through contacts in Fairtrade, Manduvira has been able to widen the number of markets where products are sold, and make agreements with different companies and NGOs that provide among other things training, technical assistance and loans.
“When we started we didn’t have anything, and here Fairtrade helped us connect with the market. People came from Germany and Switzerland telling us, ‘You can do more!’ In Paraguay people said, ‘You are poor. You are crazy. You will never be able to sell or export your sugar directly or think about having your own sugar mill.’ Today we have more than 28 different clients and we are selling our sugar to all parts of the world”, said Andrés González Aguilera, General Manager of Manduvira.
“The mill will be up and running in May 2013 and we hope we create better opportunities for our children, for their parents to have more money, and for them to go to school. It will be a motor in the region for farmers, families and workers”.
By helping producer organizations take greater control of the value chain and add more value to their final product, Fairtrade helps ensure that benefits remain in the community where they belong.