Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Organics from the Amazon attract importers

Cooperative Cooperagrepa already exports its products, especially molasses and brown sugar, to Austria and Italy. The organisation works with small farmers to raise awareness of the value of non-wood products and the importance of preserving the forest.

São Paulo – A group of 300 families associated with the Cooperative of Ecological Farmers of the Amazon Portal (Cooperagrepa) is re-establishing ecological balance in the forest by means of organic farming and sales of non-wood forestry products. The group has even established its own brand, BioAgrepa, to promote sales. Brown sugar, sugarcane molasses, powdered guarana, powdered coffee and Brazil nut are the products that have been attracting importers attention the most.

"We have been exporting sugarcane molasses to Austria since 2006, and brown sugar since last year. This year, we should start selling brown sugar to Italy," says Gelsí Rosa Siviero, marketing coordinator at the cooperative.

According to her, the first international contacts were made when the cooperative participated in trade fair BioFach Latin America, held in 2004 in Rio de Janeiro (SE Brazil). Counting on support from the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development, Cooperagrepa showcased its products, which had been certified by Ecocert two months before the fair was held. In 2005, the cooperative participated in BioFach Germany.

"The fair gave us with a notion of the size of the global organic market, and provided a basis for comparing packing and product quality. We were also able to take part in several business roundtables. It was during an action to promote the participation of Cooperagrepa in BioFach that we first made contact with Multikraft Austria, which led to the first export by Cooperagrepa," claims Gelsí.

According to her, the cooperative is doing business with international companies by means of trade representatives only. A deal should be closed in 2008 with a United States-based supermarket chain of organic products, totalling 300 points of sale. "The product will be packed under the brand BioAgrepa," asserts the coordinator.

One of the cooperative's foreign market strategies is to sell products through Rede Cooperativas Sem Fronteiras (Cooperatives Without Borders Network), an organisation with which Cooperagrepa has been a partner since February 2007. By means of the network, access to a supermarket chain with 1,500 points of sale in Italy should be obtained before the end of the year.

Recognising the value of the forest

Species such the Brazil nut, guarana and buriti are native of the Amazon Portal. "Cooperagrepa works with the communities to raise awareness of the value of non-wood products and the importance of preserving the forest, so as to maintain ecological balance in the planet," explains Gelsí. According to her, products are collected, processed and packed in agroindustries located within the communities themselves, with inspection by the certifier company, which ensures quality and purity to consumers, and higher added value for the communities.

In addition to products to be supplied to large urban centres, BioAgrepa manufactures organic foodstuffs for the rural communities themselves. Dairy products, chicken, cassava, vegetables, sweets, and fruit are supplied to small supermarkets and for school meals, benefiting 25,000 students in the public teaching system and nurseries in nine municipalities in the north of the state of Mato Grosso (MW). The area has 60,000 square kilometres and is inhabited by 166,000 people. Organic school meals are served twice a week and consumption totals 2.5 tonnes of chicken, rice, flour, molasses, greens and vegetables.

According to Gelsí, reaching other domestic and foreign markets is a great achievement for small farmers and should leverage the lives of their families. Just to give an idea of how sales are increasing the group's economy, from one day's sales of products for school meals alone, farmers raise their income by an average of 15%.

And the economic front is not the only one in which small farmers are making progress. "Farmers' behaviour is changing," says Gelsí, who explains that they have started consuming organic products and negotiating with new buyers, meaning that important new skills were learned.

According to the coordinator, the embryo for the cooperative was the Amazon Portal Project – For Sustainable Rural Living launched in 2003. The project involves 1,000 family farmers' families in the Amazon Portal Territory, which encompasses the municipalities of Alta Floresta, Carlinda, Guarantã do Norte, Marcelândia, Matupá, Nova Guarita, Nova Santa Helena, Novo Mundo, Peixoto de Azevedo, and Terra Nova do Norte – all located in the north of Mato Grosso, within the Amazon Forest. The project aims to stimulate organic food production and contribute to the permanence of small farmers in the region, by backing up the actions of associations and cooperatives along the entire production chain.

Cooperagrepa was founded on August 20th, 2003, by a group of 50 small farmers. So far, 300 families are already associated. All of the farming is family-based, organic, and carried out in harmony with the forest, the fauna and the waters in the region.

http://www.anba.com.br/ingles/noticia.php?id=18545

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