The farmers in a small community in Sololá, Guatemala, had a problem. Middlemen were offering low, often unfair prices for farmers’ produce. Farmers would often accept these prices without really knowing what was fair. Later, they might learn that farmers in the next village were getting a higher price for the same produce. The problem was that it was difficult for farmers to get the information they needed to make a good deal.
Another common problem was low demand for some produce. At the beginning of the season farmers would sometimes plant a whole field, or even all of their land, in one crop – potatoes for example. Then at harvest time they would find that there was very little demand for that crop. Since nobody wanted it would be sold for a low price and the farmer would lose money.
The Parracana co-operative was created to help solve these marketing problems. The community recognized that they needed more information about fair prices and about the demand for different crops. They thought that as an organized group they could get the information they needed to make smart decisions about selling their products.
How does the co-operative work? The co-operative is a collaboration of farmers and teachers. The teachers have business experience and the farmers have agricultural knowledge. Teachers and farmers each contribute their particular skills so that everybody benefits from the combined knowledge.
The teachers are responsible for finding out about good markets and good prices before harvest. They travel, make calls, and visit people to get all sorts of information about demand and market prices in Guatemala and neighbouring countries. For example they find out which fruits, vegetables, and grains will sell best and what price they should sell at. When they have the necessary information they present it to the farmers. Together they make decisions about where to sell and what to plant. The teachers notify the buyers and arrange for them to come directly to the village at a certain time to buy from interested co-op members. For example this year they found good prices for potatoes in El Salvador, and many co-op members sold to this market.
There are quite a few advantages of this co-operative effort. The farmers get access to market information without having to spend much time or money. Instead, the teachers, who generally have had some business experience, do the research. Everyone discusses and makes decisions together. As a group they are stronger when seeking good markets because buyers are attracted to the opportunity to buy large quantities. So, working as a group they have more power and a better chance of getting good prices.
The teachers are also satisfied with the results. They know that farmers are a central, important part of the community. If the farmers benefit from the co-operative, the rest of the community also benefits.
Some co-op members still sell individually. They are not obliged to sell to any particular person. But if they want they have the opportunity to make decisions based on the research done on their behalf. However, most farmers find that it’s usually worthwhile to sell to the markets the teachers find. The important thing is that this collaboration provides a way for farmers to have access to important marketing information that they might not be able to get otherwise.
The farmers of the Parracana Co-operative now ask themselves lots of useful questions before they decide which crop to grow and where to sell it. These questions are really important for any farmer to ask. For example:
- What prices do other farmers in the region get for produce?
- What are the prices in the town and city marketplaces?
- What does the consumer want? It is important to think about what the consumer wants because that is who will eventually be paying money for the product. Farmers don’t want to work hard all season to produce a crop that nobody wants. So it is important to ask around and make sure there is a demand for a certain crop and what characteristics are important. For example, does the local market want large or small pineapples?
The Parracana Co-operative is one example of a co-operative effort. Of course co-operatives can be set up in different ways to serve a variety of needs. The farmers in this co-op do not share land or profits. Instead they co-operate by sharing information that helps them to get better prices for the products they work hard to produc
Interview with Eugenio José Ixol Mus, Parracana Agricultural Co-operative, Canton Chuchexic, Santa Lucia, Ututlan, Department of Sololá, Guatemala.
Interview with Carlos Fausto, Executive Coordinator of Proyect PRAUM, Multi-Purpose Tree Reforestation Project, Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Interview with David Arrivillaga, SHARE, Guatemala City, Guatemala.