Norma Graciella Pedro Maria Wilson Janina

 

Norma Porras has been the resident banana nana in the El Guabo Cooperative since 2007. She has run the family banana farm alongside Angel, her husband of 45 years, after taking the reins from her brothers and father.

Life is good for Norma. Her son Pucho helps on the farm and she just bought a second car. She now knows she has a stable future ahead of her, and her four kids and 10 grandchildren.

You could say that being part of El Guabo changed Norma’s life.

But things weren’t always so great for Norma and her family. For the 25 years before she joined the Cooperative, her life and livelihood were run by brokers who bought her bananas at low (and unpredictable) prices. Money was tight, to say the least.

With a family to feed and bills to pay, life was pretty stressful. “I felt like I was having a heart attack,” she says, “I couldn’t pay the workers, running my life and my company into debt, borrowing money to get ahead all the time.” She was running in circles, only just paying her debts back when the market was good, before once again borrowing more money as the price per box steadily fell. “The situation got to the point where we were ready to cut down the banana plantation and plant cacao again.”

All that changed when Norma joined the El Guabo Cooperative of Fairtrade banana farmers. Now, she produces around 200 boxes per week and sells them for a fixed price – one she can live on – a far cry from before.

Norma still has friends in other banana companies and is grateful to be part of El Guabo. “What happens with other companies, they’re jealous because El Guabo always has respectful contracts and fixed prices for producers. The other companies don’t respect prices or the contracts they sign.”

Norma’s proud to say she is part of the El Guabo Cooperative. She’s also proud of her grandkids – who have gone on to be professionals, thanks to the fact that they could go to school. “Thanks to El Guabo and Fairtrade I could raise my family. We receive healthcare and food.”

And thanks to you, too. Because every All Good banana you buy is making a difference for family farmers like Norma.

 

Life hasn’t always been as happy as it is today for Pedro, Graciella and their family at La Voluntad, their five-hectare banana farm in Barbones, Ecuador.

But thanks to you, every All Good banana you buy means a fair price for farmers like Pedro and Graciella.

Before they were Fairtrade farmers, Pedro and Graciella sold their bananas to agents of multi-national exporters, often for less than it cost to grow and pick them. It doesn’t take a business expert to know that’s not sustainable.

These agents would offer to buy their bananas at a minimum price set by the government. But come harvest day, the agent would call and say the price they’d agreed was now less than the minimum price. Unable to find another buyer in the middle of harvesting, they either had to accept the lower price or leave their bananas to rot. A common tactic of some large banana corporations to drive small farming families off their farms.

“This was heartbreaking” for the couple, who needed to pay their bananeros, cover the other costs of production, and feed their kids. They knew that to stay in business, keep their farm and look after the bananeros, they’d have to find another way.

That way was Fairtrade. Since joining the El Guabo Cooperative, they get a fair and stable price. The Coop is made up of 150 family farmers – who, like the Apolos, wanted to improve their lives by cutting out the middle man, competing with the big guys, and simply getting a fair price for their bananas.

Pedro and Graciella managed to keep their farm, and they still grow bananas here. It’s very peaceful in the plantation, with sunlight filtering through the emerald canopy of banana leaves. But what’s that noise coming from the packing shed? It’s Pedro and Graciella, laughing, giggling and behaving more like teenagers than parents. Happiness – something you hear a lot more of around here these days.

 

The average wage in Ecuador’s El Guabo region is just over $300 US a month. To see a doctor costs $40. And then there’s the cost of medicine. Such a simple thing, yet out of reach for many families.

But thanks to you, every All Good banana you buy helps to keep El Guabo’s communities well.

That’s because the family farmers that make up the El Guabo Cooperative decided to use the Fairtrade premium money they get from every box of bananas they sell (about $1.45 per box) to build and run their own medical centre.

The clinic sees up to 45 patients a day. It’s free for members of the Coop and their families, and just $5 for others. And all medication is taken care of by the Fairtrade Premium.

It’s run by Doctor Maria, a respiratory specialist. Helping her are a nurse (who’s also the receptionist) and another doctor who volunteers at the clinic after working the morning shift at Machala Hospital.

Banana producing regions in Ecuador have high rates of respiratory illnesses like asthma. Locals believe this is from pesticide spraying in the plantations, but without official recognition, there’s no funding to treat this or action to prevent it. The more farms that convert to Fairtrade, the lower the rates of respiratory illnesses, poisoning and skin irritation.

But because of the Fairtrade premium, more than 8,600 people in the local community have received free healthcare since 2010.

Fairtrade looks after both people and the environment: banning 120 harmful chemicals commonly used in agriculture. Even better, 50% of El Guabo’s growers are also certified organic.

While Fairtrade makes up only a small percentage of all the bananas sold, every bunch makes a difference. So remember, each time you buy All Good Fairtrade bananas, that’s less spray in the environment, and more families getting the medical treatment they need.

 

Bananas don’t come much purer (or fairer) than Wilson’s All Good Organically-Grown Bananas.

There’s only one way to reach Wilson Sanchez’s farm high in the Ecuadorian Andes: via a winding road dotted with potholes, mud and vertiginous drops. The reward at the top is lush rainforest and an abundant farm called Finca Aguas Callientes, after the natural hot water springs. He’s proud to be an agricultural forest farmer, specialising in organic farming methods.

It hasn’t always been the case. “The first owner destroyed the mountain growing only cocoa for 40 years.” Wilson’s transformed the monoculture into a sustainable farm and now grows organic citrus, avocados, trees for wood, flowers and of course, clean, healthy, chemical-free bananas.

Producing such incredible bananas on the hilly farm takes heaps of effort and skill. All the weeding, organic fertilising, plant care and labour is done by people and donkeys – including getting the 20kg bunches to the pack-house. But for Wilson, the hard work is worth it. “It provides us with a more dignified life, to be proud to produce bananas of high quality.”

Free from chemicals, the farm has regenerated and teems with wildlife from frogs to toucans. This biodiversity protects the banana plants from pests and diseases and naturally feeds them too.

In the past, Wilson sold his fruit to big export companies, but couldn’t rely on the money. One week they’d buy from Wilson, the next from another producer, playing them off against each other. Many had to leave their farms to search for work in other areas. It was hard to plan ahead for his kids’ future when he sometimes couldn’t buy food or pay staff.

With Fairtrade, Wilson is independent and in control of his farm and future. “Being a member of El Guabo we have a great opportunity to satisfy our needs. To sell the products of our hard work. We receive our money weekly.”

He’s definitely someone who appreciates the difference you make when you buy All Good Fairtrade bananas. “Producers from Ecuador are very thankful to consumers from New Zealand. As farmers we can now directly connect with consumers and stretch out and link hands.”

 

In Ecuador, where we work with the El Guabo Cooperative of 150 family farmers, public funding reaches less than 5% of people with special needs.

But thanks to you, every All Good Banana you buy is making a difference.

A few years back, the folks in El Guabo decided to use the Fairtrade premium money they receive from every box they sell (about $1.45 per box) to build a very special school for kids who’d otherwise miss out. Today, the El Guabo Special Needs School is 100% funded by the premium, and its roll is growing steadily every year.

In Ecuador there’s no differentiation among physical, mental or intellectual disabilities, or the degree of disability. The school's motto recognises that those with disabilities are just as entitled to love, respect and dignity. “You were born different but have a life to fight, you have your time, your strength and the ability to love.”

Right now the school houses 75 students from 4-13 years, five teachers (including Janina, the hands down favourite) and Teresa Vivanco – a therapist who’s also the principal. Here, they learn the basics – hygiene, manners, and getting along with others – so when they leave school, they can be part of the community. The school even teaches parents, so they can keep the learning going at home.

Without the school, at least 80% of these kids would either have to stay at home, or go to a regular school that lacks the resources they need.

One former student represented Ecuador in the Special Olympics, and two more have been chosen by the Olympic Committee for training – in weightlifting and cycling. This has created an enormous sense of pride for students, teachers and local families.

More than 375 children have already graduated, and the Cooperative is now planning a purpose built school for up to 150 kids and 15 teachers.