There are about 500 smallholder farmers that form the Coopain Cabana cooperative. They cultivate fields up at 4000m in some pretty harsh conditions, just north of Lake Titicaca in southern Peru. Intermittent electricity was installed to most of the rural area two years ago, but neither running water nor sewage are currently on the horizon.
The governance means that the coop is split into 15 local associations which keeps interactions on a human scale. All the presidencies and delegates hold their position on a one year basis, and all are voted into office. This ensures that power rotates, and that all areas of the cooperative are fairly represented.
They have pooled their resources to invest in a production plant (you need to de-husk the quinoa grain before you can eat it). There are gravity tables and optical sensors for sorting quinoa, scarifiers and washers to de-husk the quinoa grain and drying and packing facilities to have the final product ready. The head engineer, Rufino, is the son of one of the farmers.
This has enabled them to sell directly to final clients as opposed to being squeezed by middlemen.
They are proud of their work and practice mixed agriculture. This means that they are not over reliant on any one crop, and can use animal manure to help fertilize their fields. They also practice dry agriculture, so precious water resources are not wasted via irrigation.
Offerings are regularly made to Pachamama, the earth goddess, to ensure healthy harvests. If rains are late the elders head of on an arduous fourteen hour trek to the foot of a sacred volcano, where offerings and prayers are given up all night, before returning to Cabana for celebrations in honour of the earth.
The cooperative helps its members beyond buying in their crops at above market prices. By obliging farmers to have warehouses, they ensure that the harvests are sold into the cooperative across a period, avoiding the dangers and pressures of selling all the production
in one go.
The chief agronomist, Eusebio, ensures that farming techniques are constantly improved. This has enabled them to slowly build up average crop yields per hectare, a variable that is as important as price in a smallholder’s revenues. They run experimental fields on various strains to better understand which varieties are best suited to which terrains.
Communal land is equitably distributed to ensure that all families, regardless of their private holdings, have access to sufficient land. This ensures that all farmers can live off the land and do not become migrant labour, the scourge of many developing nations.
The cooperative has set up a microcredit scheme, as well. Though they would like to have more capital in the fund (something we are working with them on), it is an important first step away from the usury of moneylenders that prey on the poor. With the security of the crops as collateral, the cooperative can lend small amounts to allow farmers to seed more land or meet short term expenditure. This lady is borrowing $60 to get her cataracts removed.
Discover “Mothergrain”, a short film presenting the Coopain Cabaña agricultural cooperative, and the involvement of Quinola Mothergrain in Fairtrade.