It is humid, hot and incredibly green in San Pedro, a village close to the port of Buenaventura. Colombia’s Pacific coast is one of the areas with the most rainfall in the world, and vegetation growth in astonishing. The “bananito”, a small, tasty variety of banana which sells well in the supermarkets of the larger cities, thrives here.
17 families (70 people) have joined together to form the “Coagrita” cooperative for growing and marketing the bananito. All its members are the descendents of African slaves who settled along the numerous rivers, the most important traffic routes in the region.
With SWISSAID’s support, the members of the cooperative have grown the sweet fruit over ten hectares for the past two years. This represents a big investment: a hectare of land costs 1100 francs. In addition, the fields first have to be cleared of the abundant plant and tree growth, and the soil has to be improved with lime, phosphorous and copper. And then there’s the expense of buying the saplings and shipping them by boat.
To the village in a dug-out canoe
Carlo proudly shows off his plot on which he grows not only banana trees but also other crops, such as fruit trees and an indigenous type of palm. He explains that he has to clear the land of weeds and spread organic fertiliser every two months. He carries the bushel of bananas, which weights up to 35 kg, on his back to the bank of the river and transports it in a dug-out canoe to the village where they are washed, sorted and packaged. The members of the producers’ group now wish to build a central store house where they can make the harvest ready for sale. The cooperative already has a permanent customer lined up in the city. The peasant farmers could sell much more, but the plantations only yield profits in the second year, and only then are the farmers in a position to lay out further fields and increase production.
That said, there is another important reason for the low production: the soil is very low in nutrients. The farmers can only obtain the high quantities of organic fertiliser they require by purchasing cattle dung. Rearing chickens and pigs should help to change that. Small animal husbandry reduces the need for cattle dung considerably and also improves the families’ diets.
Literacy leads to success
The cooperative has only recently been established. Therefore, further training courses are run in bookkeeping and administration. The members of the cooperative have to develop policies, identify areas of competence and define duties. Women are still not represented in the leadership team, most notably because they can neither read nor write. Consequently, literacy courses are also planned for the coming years.
- Project code: KO 2/12/10
- Duration: until end of 2014
- Costs: 28,208 francs Swiss francs.
- Direct beneficiaries: 120 women, men and children