Traidcraft: helping a co-operative meet challenges in Chile

Cooperativa Campesina Apicola Valdivia Ltda (Apicoop) is a co-operative based in Chile. Founded during the Pinochet regime, Traidcraft started a formal relationship with Apicoop in 1999.

With a turnover of over $4 million pa, the co-operative depends on approximately 300 beekeepers. These beekeepers represent 148 members, who are located from just south of Santiago (the Rancagua area) to Chiloe island, more than 1000 km away.

Traidcraft works closely with Apicoop, buying both honey and blueberries and has put Apicoop forward to the ACRE investment syndicate, as a company with the kind of credentials ACRE is looking for to build community impact through economic growth. When the Apicoop project launched as a co-operative, the intention was for the project to provide an income to families, some food security,  and an opportunity to meet (illegal for a group of more than 3 people to meet together at that time) under the church cover –one of the few institutions outside of the state that had some protection; and find solutions to their problems together.

Seventeen years on and Apicoop has 400 direct beneficiaries and more than 1600 indirect beneficiaries, including family members. An example of what this means in real terms can be seen in the education of the children of the beekeepers. In a country with one of the most expensive education systems in the world, honey income has meant that they have been able to attend school regularly. This income can therefore be seen as a catalyst to change the economic status for a significant number of the members by the second generation. Husband and wife Guido Guenupan and Sonia Chicao are both members of Apicoop (see image).

Says Guido, “I have no doubt keeping bees was a good decision because now our main income is based on beekeeping. The bees look after us.”

Apicoop and Traidcraft have participated together in several activities to promote fair trade practices. Since 1999 Traidcraft has ordered 42 containers (840,000 kg) of honey – this represents nearly 1 million kg. Added to this, since 2009, there have been several tons of dried blueberries .

Besides the trading activities, Traidcraft has been part of several support projects such as the Blueberry Diversification project (2006-9); and the Apicoop-The Coop-Traidcraft project (2011-13), building a fresh blueberry packing facility as well as introducing some environmental technologies to better understand  the environmental impact of the activities in the Blueberry field.

It is interesting to note that one of the great successes of this relationship has been that members are sufficiently efficient and productive now to move beyond Traidcraft to a number of other mainstream buyers (under Fairtrade terms). For example, over the last few years Traidcraft hasn’t bought more than one container of honey per year which is supplied between 5 and 6 beekeepers. Technical Assistance, provided to Apicoop’s beekeepers in conjunction with Traidcraft and others, has led to the market driven self-reliance that is seen as key in terms of driving long term sustainability.

Apicoop is an ideal ACRE investment prospect. It is commercially viable with a good, sustained turnover. It also demonstrates clear social impact in the context of rural livelihoods and it has the potential to solve constraints in a market system. In short, through Apipcoop, an ACRE investment would be able to contribute to the investment readiness ecosystem.

Says Traidcraft’s Alistair Leadbeater;

“As an organisation Apicoop is a role model partner –it delivers on the development agenda as well as commercial activities, demonstrating significant vision and resilience!”