Cultivating a sustainable future at home and abroad

With the La Siembra Co-operative’s support, its partner co-operatives in Peru have been able to increase production capacities. CAMINO

With the La Siembra Co-operative’s support, its partner co-operatives in Peru have been able to increase production capacities. CAMINO

By Lori Bamber, Senior Writer

Given the complexity of the world’s most intractable problems – poverty, environmental degradation, increasing water scarcity – it’s easy to become discouraged about our personal ability to make a difference. But thanks to the efforts of some of Canada’s leading organic food organizations, contributing to positive change in the world can be as easy as choosing a particularly delicious brand of cocoa for your chocolate-peanut butter smoothies or fruit spread for your toast.

For example, many Canadians reach for the Camino brand of certified organic and fair trade chocolate, coconut, cocoa and sugar because they’re familiar with its high quality. But each purchase has international impact: located in the Gatineau region near Ottawa, Camino producer La Siembra Co-operative works directly with 18 producer co-ops, supporting more than 36,000 family farmers in nine countries through fair trade practices.

In Paraguay, La Siembra partners with Manduvira Co-operative, which produces Camino Turbinado golden cane sugar. The fair trade premium – which ensures that farmers receive a price for their products that is high enough to pay a fair wage, support healthy working conditions and sustain production – enabled the co-op to build the world’s first fair trade and organic sugar mill.

Until they opened the local mill, Manduvira farmers travelled 90 kilometres in order to process their sugar cane, so its launch means much greater production efficiency as well as more jobs for their community. “Overall, it contributes to their quality of life and self-sustainability,” says Jennifer Alldred, director of marketing and communications at La Siembra.

One of Manduvira’s customers is the Naranjillo co-op in Peru, which produces Camino chocolate chips and baking bars using Manduvira sugar. The fair trade premium they receive for their chocolate contributed to Naranjillo’s ability to recently upgrade their factory capabilities, increasing production capacity from 1,500 to 5,000 metric tons of cocoa beans per year and consequently bringing significantly more income into their community.

Naranjillo is the only co-op in South America that owns its own chocolate factory. In addition to being farmers and producers, subject to the volatility of produce commodity pricing, the factory has elevated its members to business owners. “It’s really
about self-empowerment,” stresses Alldred.

Fair trade practices also mean that small-scale family farmers have access to pre-harvest financing and loans that can be essential to sustainability. At the same time, support of organic production translates into immediate health and environmental impacts, which contributes to greater quality of life and long-term food security.

When consumers choose fair trade and organic certified products, they are contributing to the premiums that go directly to producers, Alldred says.

Crofter’s Organic is another brand that Canadians often reach for in recognition of its high quality and great taste – without perhaps realizing that their choice of fruit spreads is having an impact on growing conditions in Brazil and other countries around the world.

Sugar production can be particularly environmentally damaging, so it’s important to Crofter’s that their sugar is sourced from an organic producer. “I truly believe that organic growing is a way of making agriculture more sustainable again,” says Gerhard Latka, Crofter’s president and co-founder. “Organic soils are proven to be more fertile, and organic production also protects groundwater from pesticides and fertilizers.”

Crofter’s has produced organic products for more than 25 years, and has partnered with the Green Cane Project in Brazil, its sugar supplier, for more than 10 years. Using both innovative and ancient farming and production methods, the project produces organic sugar while returning the soil to rainforest-level fertility. Through this partnership, says Latka, every jar of Crofter’s cane sugar-sweetened fruit spread supports biodiversity and helps improve the lives of sugar cane workers.

In addition to its Crofter’s Organic-branded products, the company produces private label organic spreads for a number of leading North American grocery chains. In total, the company supports more than 5,000 acres of organic agriculture each year in countries around the world.

That commitment means each person who enjoys Crofter’s fruit spread is part of something much greater – a return to sustainable agriculture and a food supply chain that supports the farmers and producers at its foundation.

Click to view the Organic Week report.