Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Standing by the farmers: Inocencio’s story

Outside the gathering facility, I met 44 year old Inocencio Figueroa Herrera. He lives in San Antonio town, and is the president of Cooperativa Sejana. His two hectares of organic cacao farm provides for his family. He grows organic citrus, oranges, mandarines and bananas.
Don Inocencio has worked very hard to get where he is now. He left his hometown in Oruro’s western area, looking for a better life in Alto Beni. In 1973, he bought his first piece of ground. As an immigrant from an Andean area, he grew potatoes, quinoa, cañahua and raised some sheep/ovines, but this did not generated sufficient income to provide his wife and eight children. His personal journey took him to Northern Chile as worker, where he discovered he liked agriculture, especially irrigation activities. So he came back to Alto Beni to produce cacao. In the beginning, it was very difficult as he had little knowledge about the different varieties, yield, and quality of cacao. Six years ago, he became a member of the Sejana cooperative. Before that, he accepted any price a wholesaler would offer for his cacao, which was not enough to make ends meet. Through El Ceibo, he received training to convert his plot into an organic farm. This process took him three years.
Without much problem, Don Inocencio climbed to the top of a large in-house facility shows me how to roar the cacao. “Thanks to El Ceibo I’ve learned good techniques to grow organic cacao. Moreover, I have developed myself. I receive a fair price for my cacao and many benefits to have a better life. El Ceibo provides guarantees as well as loans in difficult times.”
The cooperative provides emergency health loans and jobs for members. Don Inocencio would like to equip his cacao plot with new tools, a cacao drier with rails, and a small pick-up truck for transporting. He is grateful for the warm welcome from other members. “I do not feel isolated anymore.”

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