Ecuador Fair Trade Visit Part I: Adventures in Organic Fair Trade Alcohol
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When the first FLO certified pound of fair trade coffee reached consumers over 11 years ago, no one could have possibly imagined that within a decade, fair trade products would expand to include everything from quinoa and cosmetic products. While fair trade has expanded steadily to include cocoa, tea and sugar, in recent years the market has witnessed an explosion of products and producers, thanks to growing consumer demand, innovative producer groups and pioneering companies.

Enter CADO. Deep in the foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes, small-scale family farmers are growing sugar cane on steep hills.? CADO, or the Sweet Organic Agro-craft Consortium (Consorcio Agro-artesanal Dulce Org?nico in Spanish) is a consortium of five small regional sugar cane producer groups, representing 18 communities in two provinces. Founded in 2003 with the support Rural Forestation and Progress Network Corporation or CRACYP, an Ecuadorean Non Governmental Organization, CADO?s mission is to facilitate fair prices and local self-development for member families.

CADO formed to provide value added product for sugar cane producers in the provinces of Bolivar and Cotopaxi, two of Ecuador?s the poorest provinces. With 198 member families, CADO has the capacity to produce 24,000 tons of organic certified alcohol annually. Located in a prolific sugar producing country, CADO undertook the challenge of finding a niche for producing socially and environmentally sustainable alcohol. At present, CADO produces organic ethanol for use in extraction of compounds, potable organic alcohol for use in the liquor industry and organic alcohol for use in perfumery or industrial processes.

Despite early setbacks, CADO has successfully secured contracts with the UK?s Body Shop and Dr. Bronner?s Magic Soaps. CADO attained The Body Shop sources CADO alcohol for a number of products, including its Love Etc?? perfume. Dr. Bronner?s will use CADO?s alcohol in its organic and fair trade Hand Sanitizing Spray as well as other products. Dr. Bronner?s will be the first to market products with certified organic and fair trade alcohol in the United States.? CADO was recently certified fair trade under IMO?s Fair For Life program.

More than just a mechanism for commercializing organic alcohol, CADO has embraced and advanced the fair trade ethic of true sustainability. Not only must CADO members commit to organic practices, and agree to have their land certified organic and fair trade, they pledge not only to leave existing forest intact, but also reforest degraded or logged land. CADO?s own internal social premium model requires a percentage of all sales be earmarked for a small reforestation fund. Maintaining and reestablishing the native forest is essential to both alcohol distillation and the integrity of the local ecosystem. To distill sugar cane juice into alcohol, families need access to an ample water supply. Without proper forest cover, the land dries up and families are left without water for personal consumption and the ability to distill alcohol.

Key to CADO?s approach to fair trade is fair and stable prices for its members. CADO members receive upwards of double the local market price for alcohol. According CADO member and Internal Control System team member, Luis Fredy Avalos, CADO?s program has provided a ?for my family, a fair price [for our organic alcohol] is very important. It allows us to provide for our family and send our children to school. Before fair trade, we were at the mercy of intermediary buyers.?

More than fair prices for their products, CADO members regularly point out two important outcomes of their organization: technology transfer and improved access to education. CADO facilitates microloans to families to purchase new distilling equipment, organic farming inputs and other resources to improve efficiency and quality of their alcohol. Rural technical advisors provide on the ground training for families on everything from organic farming techniques to quality control measures for the distillation equipment.

Prior to CADO, local community members rarely advanced beyond a 5th grade education. Children often worked side by side with their parents in the fields out of economic necessity. Today, the younger generation of CADO families universally graduating from high school. CADO policies and fair trade standards require that children not actively labor, but attend school. CADO?s efforts at improving efficiency on the farm and raising the standard of living for members has greatly facilitated educational endeavors for the communities? young people.? For Carlos Cabrera, CRACYP Director, CADO?s efforts go beyond simply ?creating a stable market for producers. Implementing traceability and internal control measures, key requirements in organic and fair trade certification, have greatly improved communities? environmental health and have assured that more children are now attending school.?

Looking to the future, CADO and CRACYP are setting their sites on diversification and cooperation. Next in the product pipeline is a ?Cocoa Cr?me? liqueur, blending organic and fair trade dairy, sugar, and cocoa from producer groups in the area. CADO is also working on developing a Farmstay EcoTourism Project and providing a sustainable alternative to the agrofuel craze. If the demand for agrofuels continues to rise, fertile land will continue to be converted from growing food to producing agrofuels. CADO?s vision provides a model for utilizing marginalized land, while safeguarding local ecosystems and provide just? and dignified work to vulnerable communities.

For CADO President Cecilia Arcos, ?fair trade is more than a fair price. It is about building consciousness in our communities. It is about acquiring the tools to be self-reliant?.It is about lifting up the poorest of our members and making sure no one is left behind.?

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