At the beginning of April, 2023, Ramon Alcedo became the director of Fairtrasa Peru. Ramon has an exciting story to tell. As an agronomist, he has been leading efforts to establish smallholder cooperatives, develop farmers and build fair trade, organic and regenerative supply chains across Northern Peru at the helm of two important companies.
We wanted to learn more about what brought him to agriculture and how he sees the sector and its future today. What were the most important lessons that he has learnt in the past, and what is it that excites him about his work today. What are the challenges that farmers are facing in Peru, and what are the keys to tackling them head on. We believe that what we have learnt is not only a company matter, but may very well be interesting for our farmers, clients, consumers and perhaps also for the wider world.
- Where does your connection to agriculture come from?
Tell us about the people and the experiences that propelled you to work with farmers.
Piura, where I was born and raised and where I still live, is a farmers’ town. It’s difficult to find anyone who is not connected to agriculture, one way or another.
But mainly it was my father who influenced my decision, without knowing it. Just like him, I wanted to arrive home tired, with muddy boots, complaining about the injustices that farmers had to suffer — but at the same time satisfied that with my work I have helped them to develop and get ahead.
- What did you study and what did you like and dislike about it?
I studied Agroindustrial Engineering and Food Industries. I also have a degree in project management, and a specialty in operations and logistics.
What I liked the most out of everything that I studied was the planning and development of suppliers’ logistics, because it is very gratifying to see how a small business evolves into something much bigger.
What I like the least is the accounting side. I do that too and it’s of course very important — but I feel lucky that it’s an area that’s already very well covered at Fairtrasa.
- Where did you work before and why did you decide to leave your job for Fairtrasa?
In the first half of the last decade I served as the general manager of Grupo Hualtaco, one of the first companies created in Peru to market fair trade organic bananas from small-scale farmers. I helped to formalize supply chains, develop farmers and connect them directly to importers. I’m proud of our team’s work there. We actually helped develop the majority of the cooperatives that currently exist in Northern Peru.
Then in the last five and a half years I was the operations manager of the Smallholders’ Divison of Bananica SAC. Bananica was a supplier to Fairtrasa — so you know that we’ve been working for the same goals. You may also know that it’s part of SharedX, an umbrella corporation that channels impact investment into smallholder agriculture, teaching farmers innovative, regenerative methods and making them more competitive with large companies.
My mission was to help small-scale growers improve the quality, efficiency and sustainability of their production to the point where they could sell directly to the market and position themselves favorably. After five years, I felt that this mission has been fulfilled, and I started looking for another organization, one where everything that I’ve learnt could be turned to even greater use. I was hoping to find a likeminded company that reached more growers — not just banana farmers, but potentially other tropical fruits as well.
It so happened that just as we were completing farmers’ transition to direct market access I met Patrick, Fairtrasa’s founder. We had a long conversation, and I was pleasantly surprised by the similarity of our ideas. We got into this work for the same reason and we agree on how the sector can move forward sustainably. I thought that I’d be able to do a lot for Fairtrasa’s farmers, and Patrick felt the same way — so it was an easy decision to make.
- What do you see as the most important challenges that small-scale farmers in Peru are facing today?
Farmers mostly lack development opportunities. It all starts with a lack of access to good education that would allow them to improve their cultivation methods and business practices. I believe that there is a lot to be done at the state level, but our small grain of sand is also important. We are filling the gap by empowering growers through the transfer of technical and commercial knowledge and supporting them until they can stand on their own.
- What do you see as the biggest difficulties in working with farmers? What are the best approaches to dealing with these difficulties, in your experience?
The greatest difficulty is to break their distrust. Our country has gone through many changes in a short few years, and during this time many farmers have been deceived and mistreated.
In my opinion, it is best to speak with transparency and honesty. It’s true that this can create difficulties in the short run, because the world in general doesn’t live by these principles. But if you are upright with your values, I think small-scale farmers have receptors for that. They recognize something in you and start to treat you differently.
- What is it that you feel like you still don’t know and want to learn?
I feel that I still have a lot to learn, but what interests me the most these days is studying how ecosystems work under the ground. The interactions of microbial life with the roots of plants — and between plants, through their roots.
- What do you find the most rewarding about your work and why?
Helping farmers achieve their goals is definitely a deeply rewarding aspect of my job. But there is also something else.
As I mentioned before, working with farmers helps build a sensitivity that, it often feels like, the world has lost. One of the most gratifying thing that has happened to me was that when I was going through a bad time, it was farmers who, despite that they too had a difficult life, and also without me telling them what was happening to me, reached out to me with a helping hand, without expecting anything in return.
That was something extremely impactful in my life, something that has made me feel much more responsibility about my work and my knowledge. Now I know that what I have is for them.
- What are your goals for the next few years, and for the next ten?
Personally, I want to grow in my studies and work. Together with the team we will turn Fairtrasa into the company that offers the greatest diversity of products — and all of it from small-scale farmers. In 10 years, I want to see our products in all of the best supermarkets — because they will offer the best quality with the highest impact.
All of this of course requires a fully trained team aligned with the principles of Fairtrasa, and then a lot of work: identifying the farmers, helping them to form associations, training them, and then staying right by them for years, supporting them in their growth.
- What is your favorite fruit? Honestly?
I have to apologize to the mango and the banana — but it’s the custard apple.