Farmers Association Development Project
Fundación Runa is supporting local Kichwa guayusa farmers with training and specialized technical support for organizational development, as they organize themselves into effective self-governing cooperative bodies. This began with the creation of the Producer Executive Body using Fair Trade Standards. As local producers learn more about cooperative organization and become more involved in this collective decision-making space, the options open to them have also evolved. Fundación Runa supports this process by conducting Community Needs Assessments and research, providing training, and serving as advisors.
The Producer Executive Body (PEB)
The initial move toward farmer organization was the formation of “The Producer Executive Body” in 2011, based on Fair Trade USA Standards and supported by Fundación Runa. The PEB represented all the guayusa producing communities that work with Runa, with each producer community represented by a local coordinator responsible for effective communication between their community and the PEB. At this early stage the PEB consisted of 7 Regional Representatives elected democratically from amongst the community coordinators (see below). The regions that were represented were: Arosemena Tola, Cotundo, Misahuallí, Pueblo Kichwa Rukullacta, San Pablo, Santa Rita, and Tena.
Considering that most of these farmers had little experience of cooperative organization, the decisions facing the PEB were complex. To support effective decision-making, RUNA facilitated Producer Executive Body meetings at least once a month at the Runa offices in Archidona, Ecuador. These meetings resulted in the establishment of a PEB Development and Work Plan. The work plan is essentially a road map for the PEB with key objectives, activities, responsibilities outlined, as well as details for the allocation of the Fair Trade Social Premium Fund. This innovative fund is a 15% premium on Guayusa purchases paid by Runa with the goal of benefiting guayusa farmers and their communities through investment in local projects. To support the effective investment of the Social Premium, Fundación Runa also conducted a Community Needs Assessment in 2012 to help the PEB identify the projects most appropriate to address farmer needs. (link to more info on needs assessment)
Given the rapidly growing network of Guayusa producers and the practical challenges presented by the physical distance between many of the communities, the PEB have had to tackle several challenging issues. For instance, how to manage communication between the PED, community coordinators and farmers themselves? To address this, the PEB held a workshop, facilitated by RUNA, to set up a functioning communication plan. This participatory planning and design process led to the establishment of the first communication strategy for RUNA producers.
Another, even more complex question that the PEB monthly meetings identified was that of attaining an appropriate legal personality for the new farmer cooperative. PEB members identified attaining legal status as a priority in their work plan. For a well organized farmer cooperative, having recognized legal status offers many more options for establishing partnerships and accessing finance. A decision was taken to communicate this to all communities for their feedback.
Community Needs Assesments
Fundación Runa is conducting vital research by assessing the needs of the communities that work with Runa. These Community Needs Assessments are incredibly important in helping the Producer Executive Body (PEB) determine how to invest the Fair Trade Social Premium Fund. With the help of Runa interns, volunteers, and field technicians, the information is gathered and analyzed and the results are provided to the PEB. It is an optional interview that is open to all members of the community, not only the members that produce guayusa.
The Community Needs Assessments focus on the following topics:
Not one PEB, but 10 decentralized farmer cooperatives!
A set of community meetings led to an almost unanimous decision that producers prefer to be organized in smaller localized cooperatives, rather than one all encompassing cooperative. Although some may see this as slowing down the process given all the work already undertaken by the PEB, this wise decision actually shows the benefits of collective deliberation and reflects vital ownership over the process of collective organization.
At present, the 10 associations are in the process of writing their by-laws and legalizing them. RUNA continues to work closely with these associations establishing robust partnerships that are tailored to individual circumstances.The Producer Executive Body meets at least once a month at the Runa offices in Archidona, Ecuador. They are currently working to create a Development Plan for the Fair Trade Social Premium Fund. This fund is an additional 15% paid by Runa which benefits guayusa farmers and their communities through investment in local projects. Fundación Runa is conducting Community Needs Assessments to help the PEB determine the most effective projects.
The community coordinators play an important role in communicating the decisions of the PEB. They also provide valuable input and reflection regarding community needs and project ideas. This representative system is being developed with the help of Fundación Runa, and it will eventually become a self-sustaining cooperative. Currently, the PEB seeks to serve as a voice and provide valuable service for all indigenous Kichwa guayusa farmers and their communities within the Ecuadorian Amazon.