Chile: Producers are devastated but determined

13 March 2010

Almost two weeks have passed since central Chile experienced one of the largest earthquakes on record and the scale of the effect on our producers is now becoming clearer. The news is unfortunately quite sobering, with reports of loss of life, damage to housing and production facilities. It is not yet clear if yesterday’s 6.9 magnitude aftershock has caused even more damage. However, there is encouraging news in the form of new exporting possibilities for Fairtrade certified grapes from Chile and the determination and resilience of the Chilean people.

Fairtrade producers directly affected by earthquake
To date we can report that, of the 26 Fairtrade producer organizations in Chile, at least 16 have been directly affected. The level of damage and loss varies greatly, from minor structural damage through to tragic loss of life: FLO was very saddened to learn of the death of six members of the cooperative Sociedad Vitivinícola Sagrada Familia (Vinos Lautaro) in Curicó, and also the death of three producers at two cooperatives currently applying to join the Fairtrade system. Our sympathies go out to their families.

In terms of structural damage we have been informed that the houses of over 60 producers and workers have been destroyed, with countless others suffering damage to their fields and homes.

Aldo Opazo, member of Cooperativa Agrícola Vitivinícola de Cauquenes, surveys the damage to his house, and the big crack on his land.

Impact on production and export

Production and delivery is also proving to be problematic: Three cooperatives have lost a total of 730 000 litres of wine, with Cooperativa Agrícola Vitivinícola de Cauquenes being the worst hit. More than 60% of the town of Cauquenes was destroyed and the cooperative– a long standing Fairtrade wine producer with 278 members –has suffered severe damage to its production facilities and has suffered severe damage to its production facilities and loss of part of its wine stock. The timing of the earthquake is also very unfortunate, as the harvest season for wine is just beginning. Honey producers also face difficulties due to beehives being overturned and damaged by the quake.

On a positive note the initial exporting difficulties seem to be easing, with Southern ports coming back into full operation, and the use of Northern based ports as an interim solution.

Chilean table grapes- A first for Fairtrade

We are pleased to report some good news from our producer group Mi Fruta, based in the town of Los Andes. The cooperative has been a Fairtrade certified producer of raisins since 2008, but thanks to an extension to the Fairtrade standard a few months ago, Mi Fruta has expanded its operations to include table grapes. In so doing, the cooperative has become the first ever exporter of Chilean Fairtrade grapes. The grapes are produced, packaged and exported by Mi Fruta, and have been well received in the UK, where they went on sale last week. The cooperative was fortunately not badly affected by the earthquake, and has been able to continue exporting without problems.

Eugenio Navarro, chairman of Mi Fruta, is overjoyed that his product has received such a good reception: “This is the best news we have received in these past weeks, especially in such difficult times. It is a great joy to pass the news on to our members. Now, more than ever Chilean Small farmers need Fairtrade, good treatment and a fair price for their products”.

Rob Cameron, Chief Executive of FLO also echoed this sentiment by saying: “In times like these, the worst of times, it becomes crystal clear that Fairtrade must make a difference by continuing to work on the goals of broadening, strengthening and deepening our impact for the producers.”

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