Fair Trade Banana: Interview with Joaquín Vásquez from Urocal in Ecuador
Joaquín Vásquez is the President of UROCAL - Union regional de organizaciones campesinas del Litoral - Ecuador
What are the main concerns of producers in your organisation today?
Our chief problems are currently the increase of productivity, organic soil fertilization to control sigatoka1 and access to the market, keeping in mind that we are faced with high operating and logistics costs (transport and packaging). We are also confronted with aerial fumigation of neighbouring conventional plantations that perturbs our organic plantations.
In thirteen years existence, what has your organisation accomplished?
We have observed a consolidation of the organisation of organic producers recognized nationally. This was made possible in particular by the combination of our know-how. At the same time, we have formulated proposals at the national level (fair prices, access to loans, adjustments, etc.). At the local level, we take part in the committee of banana plantations on the Ecuadorian coast and have created “dialogue rooms” between small producers and with the government in order to define an integral “banana plan” that is fair and sustainable and contains rules to be followed by the public and private sector.
How has this affected living standards and conditions for planters?
We have observed an improvement of living standards by around 80% for small producers. This can be seen from the houses that, formerly built of reed, are now in cement, the education of children, public health, the production infrastructure…
Do you believe that you have reached a sufficient level of food security for your planters?
Unfortunately not, even though we have made progress in the area of food security for families working in the banana sector. Urocal set up a food security programme in 2004, one of the priorities of which is the most vulnerable groups of the communities.
Have you seen a change in demand from consumer countries?
There has been an increasing trend of consumption of organic products worldwide, leading to a drop in prices. At the same time, we have also noticed that the market is increasingly demanding in terms of volume and, especially, quality and, lastly, compliance with norms and standards.
What does this mean for your producers?
This has led to an increase in the productivity of our producers, increased efficiency of the system, a greater capacity to comply with standards dictated by the corresponding agencies and an improvement of internal auditing. Lastly, for Urocal, this has meant the recruitment of new organic producers. But the increasing number of international standards and certificates has incurred costs, which naturally has financial consequences for small producers.
Excerpts from the brochure "The Banana A Fruit Living On Borrowed Time" written by Marie-Elisabeth Bonte for the Trade for Development Centre (BTC - Belgian development agency). Free to download on http://www.befair.be/en/content/publications