La Asociación Regional de Pequeños Productores Bananeros Cerro Azul (ARPPBCA) is an association of banana producers in El Oro, Ecuador, one of the world’s major banana exporting regions. In 2002, the 127-member group achieved Fair Trade Certification, and they now use Fair Trade Premiums for community enhancement programs and to improve business and farming practices. Cerro Azul places particular emphasis on the training and education of members in all aspects of the business, from farming techniques and labor safety to marketing plans and rules of the company. They believe that education is empowerment, and empowerment will lead to the production of excellent bananas and a strong, unified cooperative. For example, technical assistance programs train and advise producers about land rehabilitation and conservation, soil and bio-fertilizers, and production techniques to maximize both quality and quantity. The association also addresses the challenges that small producers face in a sector dominated by large, multinational companies. In order to compete more equitably with the massive, conventionally-producing plantations, Cerro Azul used Fair Trade Premiums to construct a collection center in which the small producers can assemble their products. Selling their products as a team allows them to stand united against the larger farms in an otherwise ruthless marketplace. Cerro Azul also allocates money from premiums for school fees, building playgrounds, and celebration. For example, they host an anniversary party to recognize their accomplishments each year, during which members and their families come together to commemorate their hard work, progress, and achievements with music and dance, and “the common denominator of this party is brotherhood.” Fair Trade USA recognizes Cerro Azul for their inclusive, democratic spirit and their smart investments in the future of both their business and their community.
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