As Supporter Relations Officer part of my role involves promoting Shared Interest to potential new members. Fairtrade Fortnight in particular usually means the opportunity to speak to a myriad of different groups. I often find that case studies are the best way to illustrate the work that we do. One group that I tend to talk about is Apicoop. I recently had the opportunity to meet Apicoops’s Manager, Chino Henriques, I love meeting the people that we work with as it’s great to put faces to names as well as hear their stories directly.
Apicoop was established in 1980 and was a direct result of the challenging political situation facing Chile at the time. There was little trust and communication among the population so the idea of Apicoop was to work with insects, in this case bees, to encourage co-operation among the people. Chino explained this concept: “Bees organise themselves in a way very similar to that of a co-operative with the Queen Bee as the CEO with Worker Bees working together, with a 97% female workforce and 3% male, who are kicked out once their work is done anyway.”
The co-operative’s 300 members cover an area of 1,200 km2 to reduce the risks associated with beekeeping. By covering a wide area any localised issues, such as weather conditions, may affect some honey production but not the entire co-operatives supply. Due to the widespread membership the co-operative requires trucks to be able to deliver the hives and reach their members, they started by hiring trucks but with their first Fairtrade premium they were very pleased to be able to purchase their own truck.
Another clever investment Apicoop made was buying 20 hectares of land, they didn’t initially know what they would use it for but they thought it would be a good investment. Now they operate a blueberry farm there where 80 women work as part of Apicoop. They earn 100% more income than other blueberry fields and next year they will need more women and every woman who works there has vowed to bring a sister, daughter, mother or friend to work. Apicoop aims for the blueberry field to be an example of good work to others in the country and around the world.
Chino explained to an audience in Nottingham that without finance from Shared Interest Apicoop would not have been able to set up the blueberry project but since setting it up three banks have visited the blueberry field and asked how they can help. Apicoop’s first crop of blueberries produced 80 tons, 50 tons of them going to their main Blueberries UK buyer, the Co-operative, with fellow North East organisation, Traidcraft, among their other buyers.
After the blueberries are collected, they are sent to Apicoop’s local exporter who packages them before sending them on to the UK. There is a risk that the exporter may be unable to fully support Apicoop in the future and so they plan is to build their own packing station…their innovation has no bounds!
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