Asoguabo has always been an example when it comes to complying with the law, says former president Luis Loja.
-For 18 years I worked on a banana plantation and the employer never affiliated me to social security. In Asoguabo, the workers have to be affiliated because Fair Trade demands that producers comply with national law. Many other companies don’t do so. They order people to work with harmful chemicals, and so on.
Loja is president of the member association Tenguel. He is proud of the association he’s led since it was founded.
-In 2004 we almost lost our most important market, the supermarket Coop in Switzerland. Thanks to Tenguel, we reconquered that market, Loja says enthusiastically.
The Swiss supermarket threatened to stop buying from Asoguabo because of bad quality. During that time, Loja was also president of Asoguabo.
-They said to me that it would be goodbye if we don’t improve quality and get the Eurepgap certificate. They wanted us to start loading bananas into containers closer to the farms in order to improve quality.
Then, the idea of shipment centers in the villages was born. The longer the bananas have to wait in hot trucks before being loaded into ventilated containers, the bigger the risk that they start ripening too early. So the Tenguel association became the pioneer – the first member association that built its own shipment center to load the container in the town in stead of the port in Machala or Guayaquil.
-In that way, we reconquered the Swiss market. Thanks to that market, we could grow and accept more farmers, and develop the co-op, he says.
Now he wishes the Tenguel association would grow with more members, but so far it has remained small. Today it has 26 members.
-There’s not enough market, and besides that, many farmers don’t want to join Asoguabo because of all the demands. To become a member you have to comply with certain norms, but they are not the cooperative’s invention, but the consumers’. Many farmers think ”outside Asoguabo, I get 9,50 per box without all the demands”, and some leave the association.
When Loja became a member 10 years ago Fair Trade paid a lot better than other companies. The fairtrade price for a box equaled eleven boxes at market price. Today, the fairtrade price is lower than the market price.
-Many farmers just live in the moment. But when the bad times come, they will stand in line again.