How Farmer-to-Farmer Trainings are Spreading New Solutions to Climate Change

In the fall of 2017, Grow Ahead, a partner of Fair World Project, successfully crowdfunded a farmer-to-farmer training in Nicaragua. The training brought together more than twenty farmers and participants from around the world, mostly coffee farmers from Central and South America. Fair World Project and Grow Ahead’s Ryan Zinn caught up with one of the participants, José Fernando Reyes of Norandino Cooperative in Peru, to hear more.

Please tell us a little bit about your organization and the work that you do.

Norandino Cooperative is located in the northern part of Peru. We have been working for more than twenty years with small-scale organic, fair trade producers of coffee, cocoa and sugarcane to sell their products into the specialty markets for organic and fair trade. In addition to selling the products of our campesino members, we also focus on caring for the environment, creating equal opportunities for men and women, and practicing agroforestry on our lands.

We started out by selling coffee into niche markets in both the U.S. and Europe and are now selling approximately 90,000 bags annually. [Editor’s Note: One bag of coffee is approximately 152 pounds, so 90,000 bags is equal to 13,680,000 pounds of “green” unroasted coffee per year.] In 2000, we began to see that there might be opportunities to sell sugar, specifically panela, an unrefined sugar that you see commonly in Central America. We started producing a small amount, approximately eighteen tons in 2001, and we are now selling 600 tons of organic, small-farmer grown sugar per year. We have also been working with small-scale banana farmers.

In 2007, we took the next step in securing control of our coffee chain for producers and built our own benefício, a centralized mill to process our coffees. We now process coffee both for our own members as well as for other cooperatives, currently about 400,000 bags per year. We also set up a savings and loan cooperative to provide financial services not just for our members, but also for the rest of our community here in northeastern Peru.

Currently, we are building a processing plant to extract cocoa liquor, one of the key ingredients in chocolate manufacturing. This all fits in with our general vision of growing and marketing high quality products and adding value to them, so our small-scale producers are able to capture more stages of the supply chain and increase their income that way.

How many families are part of Norandino Cooperative?

There are currently 5,500 families who are associated with the cooperative.

How long have you been with the cooperative?

I have been a member of the cooperative for eleven years.

Can you tell us a bit about the farmer-to-farmer training in Nicaragua that you participated in?

Generally, these trainings amplify our vision. You learn new things, but they also allow you to understand others’ realities, to compare and to see what is working there and what you can do more of in your own country. It is very interesting to me to see a project in Nicaragua that brings together monkeys and reforestation, or how COMSA in Honduras is using biofertilizers to regenerate the soil. So, it is really about looking for the best ideas and adapting them to your own reality. But if you do not see it in action, it is less motivating, and you might not really understand. For example, if someone had asked me before this what I think about a carbon credit project, I would have thought it was a big joke, but having seen it, how it works and how it was developed, I can see that it is possible to develop a system like that, and it seems like something that would be possible to do in our own country.

The training itself focused on reforestation projects and the work of Taking Root, a Canadian organization who is doing very interesting work, both at the community level through their reforestation program, and through the software that they have developed to track trees planted and the resulting impacts. It is a very interesting reforestation project because it combines organic methods with the production of coffee and trees intercropped for timber.

Taking Root was very specific about the methodology for work in the field: that it is not just how one designs the plots of land, but also how the data is gathered and systemized, and how they generate periodic reports for clients … and then also how field monitoring must be done. Generally, we found it interesting because it is a new topic here in South America, and very little is known about how it works and what sort of requirements must be met, from software to systems to the sort of work that needs to be done at the community level to make such a project function.