Peru | Smallholder farmers

Brothers in business for a fair society

7 December 2020 21:21

Pedro Martinto believes in a fair and sustainable society where knowledge and opportunities are spread out throughout everybody. In Peru, together with his brother Daniel Martinto, he is committed to a sustainable future for smallholder farmers in his own country.

Man in field holds a burlap bag on his shoulder

The province of Cajamarca, high in the Andes Mountains, is home to some of the poorest people in Peru. It’s also home to Villa Andina, a food-processing company that is determined to have a positive social impact on the local community. Despite sustained economic growth in Peru for more than a decade, more than 20% of the population lives below the poverty line. The majority of them live in geographically and socially isolated rural areas such as the Cajamarca province.

Villa Andina processes organically grown fruits and grains sourced from 13,000 smallholder farmers across Peru. Traditionally, those farmers grew a limited number of subsistence crops such as wheat, barley, peas and potatoes. But Villa Andina encouraged them to diversify their production to include several indigenous crops of higher nutritional value already cultivated by the Incas. Products include dried goldenberries, powdered maca, yacon syrup, and cocoa. The largest component of Villa Andina’s product portfolio is quinoa, chia, and amaranth grains.

High altitude, high expectations

Villa Andina’s office and main processing facility are situated in the Andean village of La Huaraclla, at an altitude of 2,800 meters. This location is significant, because the lower atmospheric pressure enables efficient drying of fruit and grains at lower temperatures. That in turn reduces fuel costs and maintains the nutritional integrity of the final product and helps to reduce CO2 emissions.

Crucially, the location also places Villa Andina in close proximity to thousands of local suppliers. Most of the farmers who supply to Villa Andina have limited or no experience growing the required crops. The farmers therefore rely on technical advice and other support to optimize their production. Villa Andina trains farmers on subjects like soil management, organic production, and farm administration. It also monitors and audits farming practices and product quality.

A stable income for farmers creates a virtuous circle

It is common for Peruvian smallholders to operate outside the market economy. Some farmers travel to urban or coastal areas to find seasonal work. This requires them to live apart from their families and communities for several months each year. Yet this seasonal income covers little more than basic clothing and food staples such as oil and salt. By contrast, farmers who grow crops for Villa Andina earn a regular weekly income, and guaranteed market access.

Pedro Martinto, who founded Villa Andina with his brother Daniel, has repeatedly seen how a monetary income generates sustained benefits for Andean farmers. “It means they can do things like improve and maintain their homes, invest in their farms, and send their children to university,” he says. “One parent no longer needs to leave home for several months in a year to find work. That in itself creates stronger family ties and a more stable social environment.”

Farms provide employment opportunities for the community

Most of the crops grown for Villa Andina are labor intensive, particularly during the soil preparation and harvest phases. Smallholders therefore often hire local workers, further extending the economic benefits and social impacts of Villa Andina’s operations. In turn, local stores and service providers benefit from the increased disposable income of the farmers and their employees.