An interview with Yesy Lalupu – Part I

It’s only been three years since Yesy Farraw Lalupu Valladolid joined Fairtrasa, yet today we all feel that the company without her wouldn’t be the same. As the director of Fairtrasa Peru, she’s enriched the group with fresh ideas and endless energy. 

Her deep commitment to family farmers has made our trademark grower support better than ever, reaching new smallholders, supporting the formation and management of new cooperatives and creating new organic training programs. 

She has deepened ties with our growers’ communities, going far beyond farming to address local needs. During Covid, for instance, she has set up the infrastructure that was required for online learning for schoolchildren who live deep in the jungle. 

Crucially, it was her care for the environment, her insight and her expertise that helped us rethink what we can do for nature, communities and climate change mitigation. Under her leadership, we committed to a complex reforestation program designed for long-term sustainability, setting up our own tree nursery, starting a radio program, organizing community events, and going beyond the boundaries of fresh fruit through an agroforestry model that grows coffee and cocoa under the shade of indigenous trees

You may have already read about all of these initiatives and more in our sustainability report or while browsing the catalog of our Peruvian products in print or on our website

If you follow our socials, you may know that Yesy has broken new grounds for our business as well. This year, she has inaugurated our a brand new ginger processing facility in the Central Jungle, while she’s been spearheading our expansion into the North American market. 

Throughout these three years we have strived to inform you of all the actions and achievements, but we’ve never really focused on the person. For a while now, we felt that it would be time for everyone, within and beyond the company, to get to know who is responsible for the dynamism of Fairtrasa Peru. 

Fascinating people usually come with fascinating stories, so we wanted to sit down with Yesy and hear where she’s come from, what made her commit to working with farmers, and how she sees the past, present and future of sustainable agriculture in Peru and around the world. Unsurprisingly, it ended up being a long conversation — this is only the first of our two-part series. 

  • Where does your connection to agriculture come from?

Well, my maternal grandparents were farmers in the dry forest in the Piura region. They planted only when it rained, they took care of the forest and they raised goats.

I myself was born in Chulucanas, a beautiful town in the North of Peru, known as the land of mango and lemon. I remember how farmers used to go around town with their mango harvest and, like Peruvian Santa Clauses, always generous, threw their fruit to the children who were running after them.

  • And how did you come to the decision that you want to work in agriculture yourself?

As a 16-year-old girl, I actually wanted to study art and literature — but I lost my father that year. So the best option was to stay close to home, and help my mother and brothers. I decided to go to the National University of Piura, and become an Agricultural Engineer. I then quickly fell in love with my profession, and today I am very proud to be an agronomist. Twenty years ago, when I started, this field was still mostly a men’s game, and women’s abilities were a bit underestimated — but since then, we’ve proved ourselves here, as in most other areas.

Those years in university were formative for several reasons. As I mentioned, our Alto Piura valley has no water for irrigation. It’s only planted when it rains, and that’s the primary reason why the region has so much poverty. There was a group of agricultural engineers and technicians in my college that wanted to change this. They advocated for smallholder farmers and helped them organize. They invited me to participate. Together with the Catholic Church and several associations, we organized meetings and training projects to promote the rights of small producers to water, and to the market. I have learnt a lot there. I think that’s where I’ve developed a really deep emotional connection to my profession.

  • What did you do immediately before Fairtrasa? What made you decide then to work with us?

I had my own small organic mango company and one of our customers was Fairtrasa. We’ve always liked each other and when they offered me a job, I knew I should accept it, because our philosophies were the same, and I thought that my experience could contribute to the company’s success.

  • How have agriculture in Peru and conditions for family farmers changed over the course of your career?

Over the last 30 years, large-scale private investment has led the growth of agriculture in Peru. They’ve introduced technology and opened up markets, boosting the country’s economy. The sector is a leading employer, and Peru itself has become a leading exporter of coffee, cocoa, mangoes, grapes, blueberries, and other fresh fruits. So in general, things have improved. Some of the gains do trickle down to small-scale farmers, who are mostly part of the agro-export chain. However, we still have a long way to go to ensure that conditions for smallholders are fair, especially when it comes to market access.

It’s important to mention that there is a generational shift underway. A lot depends on the children of older farmers. They have to be entrepreneurial, employ better management practices, and form associations so that they can support each other and have a stronger voice.

  • How do you see your role? How can Fairtrasa Peru support farmers under your leadership?

Even though we are not the largest company, what we do matters for the sustainability of family farming in the country.

We support growers to adopt organic agriculture, and that’s important for several reasons. On the one hand it’s a growing market that offers better prices. But it’s also a different mindset. It’s about putting passion into farming, respecting environmental balance, understanding the cycles of nature and the importance of consuming a healthy product. It’s the kind of practice that makes new generations committed to farming. So it sustains the soil and the ecosystem without which we won’t be able to keep farming, while it also sustains people’s will to stay on the land.

We also provide support in the areas where small-scale growers have a disadvantage, helping them to organize and manage not just their businesses but also their certifications and logistics, and we provide them access to export markets. Smallholders have a right to be active players in the market under fair conditions.

I believe we also have a role in advocating for farmers. We have to help consumers and governments see that having a thriving small-scale organic sector is one of the best things we can do for each other, for our health, for our economy and for our environment. There is such rich history, so much sacrifice and joy behind each bite of fruit — we should make all of that visible, so that people know the true value of what they are eating.

The second part of our interview is now available here.

An interview with Yesy Lalupu – Part I

(Copyright © Fairtrasa)

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