Luis: Strength in the Collective


Luis is our featured farmer for October 2016. You can read his story on Medium, as well.

Luis is a small-scale banana farmer and the director of a banana grower cooperative in northern Perú. The son of local entrepreneurs, he spent two decades working in his region’s restaurant sector, eventually running restaurants of his own. But about 10 years ago, Luis heard of the emerging opportunities in Peru’s banana sector, and decided to start cultivating bananas on his small plot of land.

Luis’s outsider perspective and entrepreneurial experience helped him learn and advance quickly, and he soon emerged as a natural leader among local banana growers, most of whom were also new to banana cultivation after decades of growing other crops. His can-do spirit rubbed off on everyone around him.

“It’s something I got from from my parents,” he says in the breezy shade of his banana trees.

Luis and his neighbors formed an association in 2010 to start selling their bananas collectively. In the beginning, they sold only to local markets through middlemen who paid them meager prices, if at all. This is the situation facing almost all small-scale farmer organizations in Peru.

In 2013, the association met the Fairtrasa Peru team and soon joined Fairtrasa as a supply parter. Fairtrasa’s local team immediately began providing the association with training in organic farming, administration, and logistics. Within a year, the association had formed an official cooperative with Luis as Director and a full administrative staff.

The cooperative promptly earned Organic and Fairtrade certifications, too, and began exporting its bananas through Fairtrasa. With the increased income and Fairtrade Premium payments, it built its own packing station to improve its post-harvest process. These milestones took Luis and his neighbors from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in Fairtrasa’s development system, and inspired other neighboring farmers to join the cooperative.

Luis says that he and the cooperative found a kindred spirit when Fairtrasa arrived.

“Fairtrasa is a company that shares our philosophy: It’s developing itself, but also developing the collective at the same time. That’s the difference from other companies that have come to our country. Without helping everyone develop, how are you going to arrive at success? It’s a new form of being a business.”

He says the collective effort and mentality, and the attitude of mutual responsibility, is as essential to long-term success as someone’s individual entrepreneurial spirit.

“In this life, we’re a collective. You have to develop yourself, but also help others develop. You feel satisfied when you progress personally, but connecting it to other people and groups is even greater, especially when it’s people who really need help, who haven’t had the opportunity or education to achieve what they want to achieve.”
Luis sees the accomplishments of the cooperative not only in terms of better incomes, but as a proof of a changing mentality, which he hopes will spread to other farmers around them and down through the generations.

“I hope that we not only learn and achieve ourselves, but teach others to keep going forward, so that it has a ripple effect. It may sound simple, but a mother who learns something from you will help her kids. And when that happens, you’ve achieved so much—teaching a new idea to a new generation.”