Replacing coca with quinoa
Ceres Organics’ way of doing business is seeing positive changes for the people of Huamachuco, Peru and communities all over the world.
G rowing quinoa is helping to transform the lives of growers and their families in Peru, a fact that Ceres Organics managing director Noel Josephson celebrates.
Ceres Organics' trading partnership with Organic Sierra & Selva in Huamachuco, Peru is enabling communities to be self-sustaining by making growing quinoa a feasible option. This has provided an alternative to relying on the coca industry, which often leads to involvement in the production of cocaine.
Three years ago Huamachuco had no access to the international market. Most agriculture, including quinoa, was oriented toward self-consumption or for local markets so coca leaves were a more attractive alternative for these growers. Organic Sierra & Selva have helped bridge that gap for farmers by connecting them with international partners like Ceres Organics. Now quinoa growing in the region is thriving and the local economy is beginning to pick up.
In December 2015 a social programme run by Sierra & Selva (which is sponsored by Ceres Organics) saw more than 2000 children and their families receive warm clothes, dental checks and treatments and lessons in making toys using recycled and sustainable materials. Two hundred homes without electricity were also gifted solar panels and 10 university scholarships awarded to high-achieving students.
Ceres Organics, which was founded more than 30 years ago on good ideals and ethics, has always put people first. It’s a formula that has proven to be good for people and the environment as well as for business.
“By having relationships with traders like Organic Sierra & Selva who share our values, we help to create a ripple effect out in the wider world all the way from New Zealand,” says Josephson. “We too are able to create shared value with the broader global community that we are part of, and I believe this is the way that business can make real change in the world. And this change is already happening.”
Josephson takes the time to meet farmers and growers, which often involves travelling to Asia and South America.
In 2009 Ceres Organics obtained the first EcoSocial certification in the country. Based in Brazil, EcoSocial is the only fair trade programme that focuses specifically on organic production. At the core of the programme’s philosophy is a commitment to the land and to human beings, including respect for the environment and good working conditions.
“We’ve got a whole network of suppliers and consumers that have grown around what we have done and we’re responsible for the health of that community. It needs to be a healthy relationship from suppliers through to the consumers and then the money flows,” he says.
“It’s thinking about it in that way rather than trying to think about the economics of it which alienates the human relationship. We don’t see traders, we see human beings with families, who are part of a community and are trying to achieve similar goals to us – to improve the health and wellbeing of people – and the planet – through organics.”
Five years ago Ceres Organics joined forces with like-minded companies from Denmark, Argentina and Thailand to form Organic Latin America after identifying a surplus of rice in South America. “It wasn’t being processed properly so it wasn’t up to international standards. What we were able to do was bring the expertise to process it differently and we also had the knowledge of where the markets were. Now it’s the largest organic rice exporter out of South America,” says Josephson.
Josephson is always looking for new suppliers because the growth and demand in the organic market is growing faster than supply.
“We could just go to the market and buy a commodity but you’ve got to get beyond that sort of mentality and think that every action you take creates the world as it is,” says Josephson.
“So when we take an action it’s not just an economic action, it has social consequences and we want to take that into account. We try and find people we can work with who have similar views to us – they want to create a better future for their community, for the world that they’re in ... that’s the people we look to partner with. Sometimes we are successful in finding them and sometimes we’re not. It’s still worth searching. We’re always looking.”
It takes three to four years to transition a grower from conventional farming through to organic. Currently Ceres Organics has multiple projects in Asia, transitioning farmers to EcoSocial.
“I think for many years people have been so fixed on science, and science as the answer. That sort of thinking focuses on the economics and how to make things more efficient, more cost-effective ... but nowhere has nature been in the equation,” he says.
“I think people are consciously and subconsciously waking up to the fact that the environment isn't in such good shape. There’s been a lot of health issues and people are starting to say ‘actually, I want something natural and healthy'. At the apex of all that movement is organics.”