The El Guabo producer co-operative has a role in every step of the journey of their bananas, from leaving the ground in rural Ecuador to hitting the supermarket shelves in the UK.
Ecuador, on the north west coast of South America, is the biggest banana-producing country in the world, accounting for around 30% of the world’s bananas. While the majority are grown in large plantations run by multinationals, there are thousands of smallholders and migrant workers growing bananas on small plots of land across rural Ecuador.
Before they created a co-operative, many of the producers were either seasonal migrant workers who worked on others’ land, or smallholders farming their own land but receiving low prices.
Their income fluctuated wildly, depending on the season and global market, with many smallholders living below the poverty line. Then in 1997, a handful of banana growers in Ecuador formed a producer co-operative, El Guabo Association of Small Banana Producers. Over fifteen years later, with 2,000 farmer members, the co-operative has revolutionised the growers’ lives.
For the farmers, selling together through the Fairtrade supply chain has meant that smallholders receive enough income to lift them out of poverty and migrant workers have been able to acquire their own land and become full time smallholders.
As the El Guabo producer co-operative has grown, so has its business operations. It now owns a specialist warehouse, meaning that once picked, the bananas are sent there for cleaning, sorting and packing.
Because the co-operative has grown to over 2,000 producers, El Guabo has enough volume to keep control of this stage of the process – something that smallholders on their own clearly would not be able to do.
Unusually, El Guabo also has some control over the transportation and distribution process that takes the bananas from shores of Ecuador to retailers across Europe.
El Guabo has a 20% ownership stake in Agrofair, a Europe-based company that imports Fairtrade products to Europe. In total, Agrofair is 30% owned by Fairtrade producer co-operatives, with the remainder owned by what it calls ‘ethical investors’.
Through distribution by Afgrofari, El Guabo’s bananas are stocked under the Fairtrade Oké and Eko-Oké labels by shops and supermarkets across the UK – including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and, of course, Co-operative Food.
Every time an Oké and Eko-Oké banana is bought in the UK, it makes a difference to banana farmers in rural Ecuador. Not only does the additional income help farmers lift themselves out of poverty, but it supports local development and infrastructure.
Over the last 15 years, the members of El Guabo have chosen to use the Fairtrade Premium to fund two medical centres, health insurance, a special needs school, 17 school teachers, a fresh water source and financial support for food, education and housing for the poorest people in the communities.
DID YOU KNOW…
A banana grown by smallholders can only be described as Fairtrade if the farmers receive a minimum price for their product and they form an association to decide democratically on how a proportion of the income received, what is called a ‘Fairtrade premium’, is used to support communities as a whole.
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