Breaking New Ground with Organic Fair Trade Alcohol in Ecuador

Ryan Zinn, Fair World Project Campaign Director, interviewed CADO President Cecilia Arcos and Internal Control System team member, Luis “Fredy” Avalos.


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 Orgánico in Spanish) is a consortium of five small regional sugar cane producer groups, representing 18 communities in two provinces. Each producer group is represented in CADO by a President and a technical team. Each President is elected to a 3-year term.  Founded in 2003 with the support from Rural Forestation and Progress Network Corporation or CRACYP, an Ecuadorean Non Governmental Organization, CADO’s mission is to facilitate fair compensation and local self-development for member families. At present, CADO produces organic and fair trade ethanol for use as a solvent, diluting agent and carrier of fragrances in personal care products, perfumery and industrial processes. Some of its output is sold as potable organic alcohol for use in the liquor industry. To document its commitment to fair trade to its customers, CADO recently obtained certification under IMO’s Fair for Life program.

CADO members are small family farmers that produce sugar cane for alcohol production and other crops, like banana, for personal consumption. The vast majority of the sugar cane is fermented for alcohol production, with a small percentage of cane juice used to make sugar. CADO members generally own their own land, with most parcels averaging between 2-5 hectares (5-12 acres). Historically, alcohol producers have used a combination of low-tech distillery equipment like metal drums and animal powered mills. With the support of CADO’s low-interest loans, CADO members are now transitioning to stainless steel stills and diesel powered mills. These and other technical advances have greatly improved producer efficiency and the quality of the alcohol.

Among CADO’s customers are the UK’s Body Shop and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. The Body Shop sources CADO alcohol for several products, such as its Love Etc…™ perfume. Dr. Bronner’s will use CADO’s alcohol in its organic and fair trade Hand Sanitizing Spray and other products.

Ryan: Tell us a little bit about CADO.

Cecilia: “CADO was formed to organize poor sugar cane producers in the region and allow them to add value to their product. CADO pays members a fair price for their alcohol and invests in local community projects. CADO’s headquarters is in the town of Palo Seco and the consortium serves the provinces of Bolivar and Cotopaxi, two of Ecuador’s poorest provinces. CADO has 198 member families. CADO obtained organic certification in 2007 and the consortium initially focused on the domestic antiseptic and the national drinking alcohol market.”

Ryan: What has fair trade meant for you

Fredy: “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, it allows us to survive. Before fair trade, we were at the mercy of intermediary buyers. They often set the price for our alcohol at below the cost of production. Now, we can count on a stable and profitable price and a stable market. With CADO [and fair trade], I now receive more than double the local price for alcohol. I have also been able to invest in new technology on my farm, including new distilling equipment. This new technology has made me more efficient and has improved the quality of the aguardiente.

Ryan: What has been the impact of fair trade for CADO members

Cecilia: “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. As a consortium cooperative, CADO has been able to provide resources and technology to members that not only improve quality and resources, but [workplace] safety as well. Members now have safety measures in place to protect them while milling and distilling sugar cane. With newer distilling equipment, CADO members can reduce the time it takes to produce alcohol and improve quality, both of which lead to better prices for producers. Another important impact of CADO’s work around fair trade has been education. CADO and fair trade policies do not allow for child labor. Now children of CADO member families regularly graduate from high school, where before most would only reach 3rd or 4th grade.”

Ryan: As a fair trade and organic farmer, what are some of the steps you have undertaken on the farm

Fredy: We work hard at improving soil fertility by using organic fertilizers. This improves yields, outputs and profitability. Organic farming also helps control pests. We use all the spent and dried sugar cane to fire our stills, thus eliminating the need to cut down trees for fuel wood. Another important aspect is protecting our forests. We set aside and preserve the existing forest. The forest provides the family and still with a steady water supply. We are also planning to reforest land that was logged long ago.”

Ryan: What other projects is CADO working on

Cecilia: At CADO we are looking to diversify our offerings and not be dependent on just one product or buyer. We are launching a few new products in cooperation with other organic and fair trade producers in the region, including cocoa and coffee liqueurs. These liqueurs use milk, cream, sugar, cocoa, alcohol and coffee from small organic and fair trade producers. We are also developing an artisanal rum and a farm-stay eco-tourism project.



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