She’s Asoguabo’s iron lady

Hortensia Beltrán.

Hortensia Beltrán.

-I get sick if I don’t work. The work on the banana farm is my therapy. I walk like five kilometres during a working day.

Hortensia Beltrán will be 60 years old this year. She’s one of the farmers who founded Asoguabo in 1998, and now she’s a member of the board.

Hortensia can jump in any time with any task. She knows all the steps in the packing process.

Hortensia can jump in any time with any task. She knows all the steps in the packing process.

-I didn’t know anything about bananas when my husband left me 19 years ago. He was a banana farmer, and left me three hectares but sold the rest. He said I’ll never survive as a banana farmer.

But she did. Over the years, she’s bought more and more land, and now she owns 14 hectares. I visit her the same week as the inspectors for the Globalgap certificate make random checks with the farmers, she says.

All the boxes are in the truck. Time to drive to the container.

All the boxes are in the truck. Time to drive to the container.

-I have everything in order. According to the certificate, you have to have eating facilities at the packing station. I do, even though nobody eats here.

The workers can eat at home. The harvesting and packing of 250 boxes takes no more than four hours.

-I get 500 dollars from the fairtrade premium for investments to comply with the Globalgap demands.

Hortensia's sister-in-law Marlene (driving) leads the packing process if Hortensia is away on harvest day.

Hortensia's sister-in-law Marlene (driving) leads the packing process if Hortensia is away on harvest day.

This day is harvest day. Hortensia hires 17 extra workers for harvest day once a week. The rest of the week she has five employees.

-It’s hard for a woman to be the boss of men.

She’s traveled to Peru, Panama and Colombia for conferences to show that women can.

-But the banana industry is dominated by men. Women are not integrated in the banana business. At one meeting we were three women and 200 men. I was the example that women can.

She has no education. Everything she’s learned herself. Not just the banana industry.

-I just did what I had to in order to survive and take care of my kids. I’m self-taught, and I like to read.

Hortensia hopes that her grandchild Franklin will take over her farm.

-My kids aren’t interested, but Franklin is here with me to learn.

On Hortensia's wall there's a sign in Finnish.

On Hortensia's wall there's a sign in Finnish.

Hortensia knows Finland well. When the first fairtrade bananas were sold in Finland, she traveled there to promote them. When all the bananas are packed, we return to her house and she shows pictures of a snowy Helsinki and minister Satu Hassi eating a banana.

After a snack, we continue to the farmers’ association’s headquarters in Tenguel, where the bananas are loaded into containers to be transported to the port in Guayaquil. Hortensia’s old truck from the 1970’s is already in the yard, waiting for its turn.

-I’d like to buy a new one, but I can’t afford it. I’d like to renovate my house, too. But in order to do that, I’d have to make more money off the bananas. The competition is tough, so the buyer can’t pay more. But Fair Trade should raise the minimum price.

Five men push a pallet into the container as Hortensia’s watching.

-No son muchos, pero son machos, she says with a mischievous smile.

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