Foncho Cantillo – Colombian Banana Farmer

As part of Fairtrade Fortnight, each day there will be a new post looking at the work that Fairtrade does with farmers all over the world. Today, we start in Colombia with Focho Cantillo and the Coobafrio Co-Operative.

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Bananas are the third biggest export in Colombia behind coffee and flowers (just including what’s legal), amounting to US$525 million of revenue in 2006. In Magdalena, a Northern region of Colombia, the banana industry is a huge source of employment, providing jobs for approximately 80% of those living in the region.

There are threats to Colombia’s banana industry, however. Like many areas in tropical regions around the world, the growth of palm oil is encroaching onto banana plantations and local growers are often encouraged to sell the land to big business pushing palm oil or are forced out by other farmers. Climate change is also a huge problem for Colombian farmers. Droughts and water shortages, as well as unseasonal and heavy rainfall, will all have devastating effects on banana plantations, forcing farmers to adapt to the changes.

Foncho is one of these farmers who has been under pressure to sell but working with the Coobafrio Co-Operative has made it much more possible to earn a good living from growing bananas and managed to do so in a sustainable and environmentally way!

The Coobafrio Co-Operative

The Co-Operative was set up in the late 1990s by Foncho’s father who joined with 19 other banana farmers in the region in order to have a better standpoint when negotiating with buyers. In 2011, the Co-Operative became Fairtrade certified. Since the then, the number of farmers that are part of the Coobafrio has increased to 43 who employ over 300 people on their farms.

Foncho - Bananas

Foncho Cantillo

 

Members of the Coobafrio Co-Operative produce around 4,000 tonnes of bananas each year, selling two-thirds of that amount as Fairtrade bananas. When bananas are sold as Fairtrade they sell for a minimum price that covers the cost of production and includes an additional $1 for each box sold that is reinvested in the community and its development. It helps farmers and farm workers earn what they are due.

Fairtrade is also aiding sustainable development for the farmers in the Coobafrio Co-Operative. Farmers all over the world are having to deal with a changing climate that brings with it a number of challenges for farmers to adapt to. In order to remain a Fairtrade Co-Operative, farmers are required to protect water sources and use water efficiently, implement reforestation programmes and better recycle waste produced on their farms, all of which Fairtrade provide support for.

Fairtrade has also encouraged a move away from agro-chemicals that had a negative impact on the surrounding environment. This has had an added bonus of job creation in the Magdalena region and is just one reason why the members of the Coobafrio Co-Operative have been able to hire 300 workers.

The Fairtrade premium of $1 per box has also contributed to a number of projects, including:

  • Funding improvements to meet Fairtrade Standards and compliance with GlobalGap certification which are fundamental to ensuring the quality and competitiveness of Coofabrio’s bananas in international markets
  • Digging and clearing drainage ditches
  • Improvements to banana packing facilities, on-farm irrigation systems and the co-operative office
  • Financial contribution to members’ Social Security payments
  • The Education Fund has helped 82% of members pay for school fees, uniforms, equipment and other costs
  • The Emergency Fund to support members in the event of natural disasters such as flooding, drought and wind damage
  • Small loans to improve farm infrastructure or housing (flooring, sanitation, kitchens and roofing)
  • Healthcare projects
  • Community support: irrigation systems; help for elders; paint for the church; school supplies

Why is it so Important?

Relative to much of the developing world, Foncho and other members of the Co-Operative will have much smaller carbon footprints but they will be heavily impacted by a changing climate. Our ability to manage climate change must be managed much better if we are to sustain the global food production required to feed a global population that is set to rise to around 10 billion before the end of this century.

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The work of Fairtrade is vital in this. Not only are they giving farmers in developing countries the ability to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, but they are able to become employers of others in these regions and they are doing it with the environment in mind. They are giving farmers the knowledge to cope much better with the effects of a changing climate, which will be vital in marginal regions all over the world.

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