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It’s quite a ride to reach Wilson Sanchez’s mountain banana farm high in the Ecuadorian Andes. The only route is via a long, winding, rutted road dotted with potholes, mud and some vertiginous drops, set amid lush rainforest.
Wilson’s abundant farm is named Finca Aguas Callientes, after the natural hot water springs in the surrounding jungle. He is proud to be an agricultural forest farmer, specialising in organic farming methods.
It hasn’t always been so abundant here. “The first owner of this farm destroyed the mountain growing only cocoa for 40 years,” says Wilson.
Wilson has made it his mission to bring the land back from a mono-culture to create a sustainable farm and regenerate the environment. He has introduced organic intercropping methods and grows a range of produce -citrus fruits, avocados, trees for wood, flowers and of course, bananas.
“I conserve it, not only for me, but for my family and the rest of the world,” he says.
“It also provides us with a more dignified life, to be proud to produce bananas of high quality.”
The farm is hilly, so it takes much more effort and skill to pick bananas and then get the 20kg bunches back to the pack-house. All the weeding, organic fertilizing, plant care and labour is done by man and donkey.
Wilson’s hard work has paid off – his chemical free farm produces clean, healthy, tasty bananas.
A farm free from chemicals also attracts abundant wildlife -sweet water crab, frogs, sparrowhawks, woodpeckers, parrots, and toucans. The biodiversity in Muyuyacu helps protect banana plants from pests and diseases and the natural cycle of flora and fauna breaking down and producing nutrients in the jungle soil provides nourishment for the banana plants. In the past, Wilson packed his products for big export companies.
They would come take the fruit and pay Wilson every 15 days yet there was no stability in payments. One week they would buy from Wilson, the next from another producer, playing producers off against each other and never buying from the same one each week.
Without regular payment for their crops it was difficult to live from week to week –to pay for food, to pay staff and to support their children’s studies and plan for the future.
Many producers had to leave their farms to search for work in other areas- other banana farms, shrimp farms, gold mines or even out of the country.
Fairtrade has changed all that. It has helped Wilson to gain his independence, to take control of his farm and future.
“Being a member of El Guabo we have a great opportunity to satisfy our needs. To sell the products of our hard work. We receive our money weekly.
Wilson knows what’s happening with his produce as the cooperative have a direct relationship with the customers buying their bananas - like All Good in New Zealand.
“As producers from Ecuador we are very thankful to the consumer of New Zealand. As farmers we are now able to, for the first time, directly connect with consumers and have the opportunity to stretch out and link hands.”