Isabela is a small-scale banana farmer and professional agronomist near the city of Piura, in northern Peru. Her parents are farmers, but unlike many children of farmers in her region, Isabela was able to attend university and earn an advanced degree.
After graduating, she worked eight years for a Peruvian NGO that aided small-scale farmers. The experience deepened her understanding of the challenges small-scale farmers face, as well as the opportunities that could be theirs if they were given the right support.
In 2012, the farmers in Isabela’s community formed a cooperative with the ambition of growing and exporting organic bananas on their own. Isabela understood the potential of the project. She chose to leave her career as a professional agronomist, join the cooperative, and dedicate herself to farming her own land and helping her neighbors succeed.
A banana tree sapling near Isabela’s farm
The early days were difficult, Isabela says, as the cooperative struggled to find dependable buyers for their organic product — a problem that many small-scale farmers face in Peru.
“We got so many false promises from buyers, it was unbelievable,” she said. “We knew there was an opportunity for us, but without a dependable buyer and fair prices, it’s so difficult to grow.”
The situation changed when the cooperative began partnering with Fairtrasa Peru in 2013.
“The arrival of Fairtrasa was extremely important,” Isabela says. “We were actually pretty demotivated by the false promises of other buyers who wouldn’t take our fruit. And when Fairtrasa arrived—wow—it was a total change.”
While a reliable market and fair prices provided the engine for their development, guidance was equally important, Isabela says.
“Fairtrasa doesn’t just come and buy our fruit. The team helps us manage the process well, and supports us with the things we need.”
Since partnering with Fairtrasa, Isabela’s cooperative has already earned Organic, Fairtrade, and GlobalGAP certifications. Fairtrasa is currently helping the cooperative construct its own packing station, which will allow them to pack their own product and control more of its supply chain. When these milestones are reached, the cooperative will enter Tier 2 of Fairtrasa’s Three Tier Farmer Development Program.
Most recently, Fairtrasa helped fund the construction of the cooperative’s first deep well, which will help the farmers irrigate their largely arid land.
“The well is going to help us cultivate more land and expand our banana production,” Isabela says, “and we hope to create more wells to expand production even further. That will help the economy of our community, which until recently had never exported anything.”
The land is arid in Isabela’s region near Piura, Peru. Fairtrasa recently funded the
construction of the cooperatives’s first deep well for irrigating their banana fields.
A well-irrigated banana farm neighboring Isabela’s
A member of Isabela’s cooperative holding freshly cut bananas from his farm.
Martín Alburqueque, of the Fairtrasa Peru team, coordinates post-harvest logistics for partner associations such as Isabela’s.
“This land is basically virgin territory,” Isabels says. “We have a lot of area where we can expand and improve our organic production, and we’re lucky that we don’t have a problem with plant diseases, because it’s dry here. Local farmers really see the opportunity now. We started as a much smaller cooperative, but now we’re a bigger group, and much more motivated.”
By exporting bananas, Isabela says that she and the members of the cooperative are fulfilling a dream.
“We’re starting to to improve our local economy and make it more dynamic. Until recently, we’d never exported. But now, with the presence of Fairtrasa, we’re realizing the dream of exporting our fruit.”
The dream is personal, too.
“I love agriculture. I’m the daughter of farmers, and the land is our gold. I would love for all of my fellow small-scale farmers to improve their economic level, and maybe one day send their kids to the university and see them become professionals. That’s how we develop: little by little. That’s our dream of the future: that everybody grows.”
Isabela is particularly passionate when she talks about the collective. She says the key to success is working together with commitment.
“We have to work hard and really want it, and we have to work together. Alone, we won’t advance. But organized together, everything is possible.”
Isabela with her pet Peruvian Hairless Dog