-Outside Fair Trade it was very, very hard for a small farmer, says Felix Loja in La Libertad.
-The big companies didn’t want to buy from small farmers. I had to sell to middlemen. But in Asoguabo, almost 500 farmers can sell directly to the importer. For this relationship between producing and consuming countries we should be grateful in the banana business. We are grateful to the consumers who buy our bananas.
Loja grows bananas on eight hectares. He produces on average 90 boxes of bananas per week and has been a member of Asoguabo for 4 years.
-I had doubts when I was invited to join. I didn’t trust the banana industry. The prices go up and down, and mostly are bad. I had almost decided to abandon banana farming. But then people started saying there was a way, a cooperative that pays the same price all year. So I joined anyway. Little by little, it started going better, and I got my confidence back. The cost of production is high, but at least I make enough to cover the costs and survive. There’s even a little left over to stay in the business. A higher price would be better, but at least it’s reliable.
Felix Loja is the first farmer I’ve met who lives in the middle of his banana farm, in a house half built on poles and half on the ground under the branches of cacao trees. The packing station is in the yard, and behind it the banana plants grow mixed with other trees and bushes. The chickens are walking around, picking at the ground under the banana plants.
-The most important thing that Fair Trade gives is the health care. I have a private medical insurance that covered 80 per cent of my wive’s knee operation that cost 940 dollars.
The Fair Trade premium pays the health insurance for all the farmers.
-Another benefit is the coinstant technical assisance and the seminars where we learn everything from agrochemicals to leadership. And we can get loans from the member association with reasonable repayment plans.
Right now, allt the farmers have received 500 dollars from Asoguabo for investments to comply with the demands of the quality certificate Globalgap. Loja is building a channel with a filter to collect the latex, a substance in unripe bananas that pollutes the rivers when it spreads from the washing basins.
Loja’s two brothers and two sons work on the farm. Sometimes he also hires temporary labour.
-The banana takes a lot of work. Constantly, constantly.