To boldly go where no woman has gone before
I kind of stumbled into the agribusiness sector by chance. I studied international relations and I’ve always worked with entrepreneurs. That is how I started my career in management consulting but, as the years went on, I developed an expertise and an interest in agriculture. So, I made the switch in 2012 and haven’t regretted it since.
We at the Fairtrade Access Fund (FAF) believe in inclusive, sustainable food systems and invest in sustainably focused agricultural producers, agro small and medium enterprises, and microfinance institutions. Our clients work with more than 90% smallholder farmers; very fragile producers who usually have less than five hectares of land. The fund wants to help these smallholders get a sustainable living income.
While commercial agriculture has mechanised production, large-scale irrigation, and hired labour, smallholders do not. They do, however, love their farms and their plants. They can tell you which tree was sick last month, which one is their best producer, and which one produces the most beautiful cherries. They identify personally with the plants – to them it’s more than some nondescript, 500 hectares of wheat. When living in a city, it is easy to lose touch with the land that feeds us. Smallholder agriculture fills me with admiration for how our food is produced.
The amount of land you need to get a decent living out of farming depends on the crop. For bananas, for example, you need more land than for coffee. On average, however, you need to own three to five hectares or more to earn a living wage, less than that and it becomes quite challenging. A smallholder typically holds between one and three hectares, right on the cusp.
Another difficulty we face is that these fragile producers usually operate in very remote locations. To reach the producers of Brazil nuts in Bolivia, for example, you have to go from La Paz to Riberalta, right in the heart of the jungle; then you need another seven hours by boat and another two hours by truck through very muddy roads in order to reach the furthest collection centre. We truly go where few people have gone before.
But that is also the most rewarding part of my job: going on due diligence and meeting the producers. I remember this one woman, living with her husband in Arroyos y Esteros, a small town in Paraguay. They produce sugar and sesame, and they also have lots of different fruit trees. Their commitment to their land is so impressive. I love the fact that so many of our clients are committed to sustainability.
Fallon Casper is Head of Debt – AgroFinance & Food in the Incofin Bogotá office.
She is deeply involved in the operations of the Fairtrade Access Fund.
Fairtrade Access Fund
Equity € 3,000,000.00 (2019)Latin America and Caribbean, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda
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