Fair-Fruit: Strengthening Environmental Sustainability and Profits for Indigenous Farmers in Guatemala

To reduce widespread poverty among indigenous communities, this produce exporter connected farmers to fair trade markets that pay premium prices.

Guatemala is the world’s third-largest exporter of snow peas and sugar snap peas. Indigenous farmers living in the highlands produce 99 percent of the crops. For these farmers—70 percent of whom live below the poverty line—gaining access to fair trade vegetable markets can make a huge difference.

Founded in 2007, Fair-Fruit exports a variety of fresh vegetables, from rainbow carrots to peas and yellow beets, to fair trade buyers in Europe. Fair-Fruit sources from 29 farmer organizations, providing 1,144 small-scale farmers with a critical link to markets paying premium prices that are up to 16 percent higher than in the local market.

Raising Incomes for Farmers

Julio Cesar Chock, whose cooperative supplies fair trade peas to Fair-Fruit.
Julio Cesar Chock, whose cooperative supplies fair trade peas to Fair-Fruit.

Initially the company faced significant challenges in obtaining enough credit to pay farmer groups at harvest time, which led many farmers to sell their crops to lower-paying local distributors. Financing from Root Capital, beginning in 2010, has enabled Fair-Fruit to expand the number of farmer organizations from which it sources its products.

“When we began this business, we were exporting approximately 2 million pounds of vegetables a year and now, thanks in part to Root Capital financing, we are exporting more than 5 million pounds a year,” says Paul Vernon, product manager at Fair-Fruit.

Root Capital financing also has enabled the enterprise to strengthen the farmer organizations that supply it by helping them to obtain sustainable agriculture production certifications such as Global Good Agricultural Practice (Global G.A.P.) and other fair trade certifications.

“When we got the [fair trade] certificate, it added value to our product,” says Julio Cesar Shok, a representative for ADIPROVA, a farmer group with 133 members that supplies to Fair-Fruit. “From that moment on, we had this difference from the local market here in Guatemala. People received higher incomes and they had to learn better agricultural practices.”

Moreover, Global.G.A.P. certification requires every producer organization that works with Fair-Fruit to have an environmental plan that includes reforestation, watershed management, and responsible use of pesticides.

As a result, farmers have stopped cutting down trees to sell for firewood, a practice that Shok says had been “an issue of survival for the community.” With more stable income, farmers no longer need to cut down trees. In fact, ADIPROVA planted 10,000 trees in 2012.

Benefits for the Whole Community

Green beans

Fair-Fruit’s processing plant, located outside of Antigua, offers higher wages for hundreds of local indigenous women, as well as yearly health screenings and literacy classes that have helped employees advance to higher-level jobs where they can earn more money.

Farmer organizations supplying to Fair-Fruit also benefit from its extensive agronomic assistance program, called ADISAGUA. ADISAGUA employs regional agronomists who provide training to farmers on best practices such as crop rotation and using silage from corn crops to retain moisture in drought-ridden areas. Such practices have more than doubled the yields on snow peas for ADIPROVA, according to Shok.

Education however, is one of the fundamental ways that higher prices are improving the lives of vegetables farmers. Santos Alok Pox, General Manager of Fair-Fruit supplier Corsi, tells the story of association board member Doña Tomasa Morales:

“Her husband lives in the United States, but since conditions aren’t good there now he doesn’t have steady work and can’t always send her money. Now, with the fair trade prices, she can pay for her children’s education.”

Chock agrees, "Our big dream is to become a more educated community."