Producer Profiles

MANDUVIRA - Cooperativa Producción Agroindustrial Manduvirá

Founded in 1975, the Cooperativa Producción Agroindustrial Manduvirá is located in the village of Arroyos y Esteros (Streams and Swamps) in southwest Paraguay. The aim of the cooperative is to support its members in marketing their sugarcane and other crops and to provide a range of services such as financial assistance, education programs, technical support and agricultural training. Of MANDUVIRA’s 1,358 members, 443 are female, and many of them hold prominent leadership positions in the organization.
The centre of Arroyos y Esteros is located about 70 km from the capital of Paraguay, Asuncion. Around 22,000 people live in the town and in small rural communities spread throughout the district.

The central region of Paraguay is subtropical, and heavy rains can make the dirt roads impassable for several days during the winter which complicates the harvest. In 2009 a severe drought through the summer meant a reduction of 60% in sugarcane yields, and a harsh frost in July reduced the amount of sugar present in the cane itself.
In spite of the fact that the district is highly dependent on agriculture, the soil is fragile and its fertility is low. In fact, the degradation of the land, mainly due to overpopulation and a lack of land management programs, led to massive migration out of the region in the 1970s and 1980s. The cooperative carries out training programs with its producer members to improve the quality of the soil with organic inputs (manure, compost, ash etc) and good land management practices (such as crop rotation).

Arroyos y Esteros lies on a major road connecting Asuncion with the north of Paraguay. Work to asphalt this road was completed in 2002, cutting the journey time to the capital by two thirds and opening up possibilities for the sale of produce in the capital city and for export. The new road also brings a constant stream of trucks and cars whose drivers are an important source of income and more diverse employment for the town. The electricity grid reached the town in 1986, although it remains unreliable and does not reach out to all the rural areas.

Since becoming Fair Trade Certified™, MANDUVIRA has had enormous success, the greatest of which is that they have become a sugar exporter. Previously, MANDUVIRA’s members depended on a third-party sugar mill to buy their cane, process it to sugar and negotiate the price on the international market. Through Fair Trade connections and financial premiums, MANDUVIRA members now process their own sugar at the mill and the cooperative directly manages the exportation of its sugar.

MANDUVIRA supports environmental stewardship by producing 100 percent organic sugarcane.

The Fair Trade premium has enabled Manduvirá to establish various social and productive programs.
 

Quotable

It is not only about the Fair Trade premium, today we have a much clearer vision, we can look beyond our own coop and business. FLO brought us the contacts with traders and importers, gave us access to market information. Thanks to Fair Trade, we grew from small sugarcane farmers to sugar producers.  

Andrés Gonzáles Aguilera, Manager of Manduvirá

I’ve been a member of Manduvirá Cooperative for three years, producing sugarcane and now sesame too. At the moment I’m weeding my sesame; I planted it with the money I got from the Fair Trade premium. It’s really important because the income for that comes when there isn’t any money from sugarcane. I’m on my own, a single mother – there’s no one I can ask for money. The Fair Trade money came just when I needed it and I’m using it where I need to.

I’m the secretary of the local committee in my community, 25 de Diciembre. There are 29 members and every year we elect a new president, secretary and treasurer. Only two of the members are women, and some of the men are getting on a bit…sometimes you have to say things four or five times for them to take it on board! My job is to take minutes, and if anything’s missing at the meeting I bring it. Today I’m bringing a folder to the cooperative with the names and ages of all the children. The cooperative uses some of the Fair Trade premium to buy school kits, clothes and medicines to give out to the children of the members. You can see there really is a need, they don’t have anything. Some families have eight or nine children. Without the kits, they can still go to school but they’re all over the place – if the teacher says ‘do this and bring it for tomorrow’ they just can’t.

I really like Fairtrade, that’s why I’m working within it and I will be until I die. What would I say to consumers? Please buy! We are working hard and making sure there’s no chemical contamination. Our plan to have a factory in the future is really important. It will be good for a lot of people.  

Maria Pabla Cacerez

Programs

Manduvirá funds school supplies to promote education

All cooperative members’ children under the age of 15 are required to attend school. Education is free in Paraguay up to the age of 16, but without the necessary materials, children cannot play an active part in lessons. The school year begins in February which is a time of year when producers have no income from sugarcane and it can be difficult to find the means for even these basic essential tools. MANDUVIRA pays for books, uniforms, supplies and backpacks.

Construction of health centre, dental clinic and laboratory

MANDUVIRA used the Fair Trade premium to build a health centre with a dental clinic and laboratory that would be available to the whole community with subsidized rates for co-operative members. The laboratory built with the premium funds is the only one available in the area. Test results are now available here within a day, rather than the three-day wait in the capital city. This means patients are more likely to be able to afford the time and money for a diabetes, cholesterol or HIV test.

When the centre was built, there were no state health services in the town. The journey to the nearest services in the capital was three hours on a bus, down a road which was impassable to navigate after heavy rains. There are now some government services in the town but not enough to meet the needs of the community: the doctor is available two days per week, the dentist has time only to treat children and emergency cases.

Crop diversification

Members receive support in crop diversification, including the production and sales of organic cotton and organic sesame.