Coffee cooperatives support a policy platform of the wider agricultural sector

Giel Ton

In Peru, the ESFIM programme was used by the Junta Nacional de Café (JNC) to strengthen a platform of economic farmer organisations. The JNC, representing 44 coffee cooperatives and associations, has a strong record in policy advocacy and had experienced that many policies affecting the coffee sector could best be tackled through an cross-sector platform. At the start of ESFIM, JNC was one of the most active members of such a platform, ‘La Convención Nacional del Agro Peruano’ (CONVEAGRO). The CONVEAGRO was created in 1994 and its membership includes a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), farmer organisations and research institutes. Currently, it has approximately 40 member organisations, half of which are farmer organisations.

When ESFIM started in 2008, Lucila Quintero, a board member of JNC, was also a member of the board of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP). Her role was to represent the Latin American members of IFAP and she felt that ESFIM was an opportunity to support her in sharing experiences between the four Latin-American countries taking part in ESFIM. However, even more important was the focus that JNC wanted ESFIM to have in Peru: to build a national platform that includes economic farmer organisations in all sectors, not only in coffee. In 2007, the JNC had taken the lead in exploring the possibility of forming a confederation of farmer organisations (‘gremio de gremios’) that could act on its own, independently of the NGO members of CONVEAGRO. They concluded, however, that there was a rather large difference between the policy perspectives of the economic farmer organisations dealing with collective marketing and quality issues, and that of the other farmer organisations and NGOs that did not have collective marketing activities. The JNC seized the opportunity created by ESFIM to further exploit this sector of market-oriented farmer organisations and develop a strategy to increase their advocacy capacity, within CONVEAGRO and/or independent from it.

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Development challenge

The development challenge that JNC hoped to tackle had, therefore, a strong political-organisational component and a focus on market-related policy issues that, according to them, had low priority within CONVEAGRO. The secretariat of CONVEAGRO is based in Lima in the building of the Centro Peruano de Estudios Sociales (CEPES), a non-governmental organisation. Although CONVEAGRO is technically independent of CEPES, the key role of CEPES is technical support and channelling donor funding from international donors to sustain the activities of CONVEAGRO. Farmer organisations were influential in Peru in the 1980s but suffered active obstruction by the Fuijmori government until 2000. Fujimori abolished the levy on exports that funded most of their activities (auto-gravamen), and effectively weakened most of the commodity-based farmer unions. In the late 1990s, the role of CONVEAGRO became more important and visible than the role of the individual farmer unions that were member of the platform, with the notable exception of the JNC.

“The ideological orientation of the Fujimori government was such that ‘farmer union group’ was synonymous with communism and cooperatives were associated with failure. In general, Peruvian society was dismantled, even the organisations of professionals disappeared. Most unions functioned on strong ideologies and as places for party-political action and not as genuine unions that have a structure of empowerment of their members. Thus, the structure of agricultural representation collapsed, with their economic structures and even with their paradigms. I would say the second part of the nineties, the unions were thinking about ways to survive. When they managed to survive, they started to develop again, like the coffee producers. The coffee producers benefited from their ample experiences in the eighties, especially in business organisation.” (Interview with Lorenzo Castillo, June 2009)

At the start of ESFIM in Peru in 2009, the bigger farmer unions, such as the Confederación Campesina del Perú (CCP) and Confederación Nacional Agraria (CNA), were foremost dedicated to the struggle to protect the rights of smallholders and communities against the international companies that increasingly limited access to resources such as water (irrigation) and land to agro-exports. The major effort of CONVEAGRO related to water rights, free trade agreements and the ban on genetically-modified organisms. Less attention was paid to issues such as taxation policies, which at that time threatened to strangle the cooperative sector, or designing institutions and administrative procedures to facilitate public investment in collective marketing. In 2007-2008, CONVEAGRO had lost their battle against the bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States. One of the results of this agreement was the removal the tariff protection to cereal producers on US imports, which came into effect on 1 February 2009, and changes in intellectual property rights and regulations to facilitate foreign investment. Several government programmes were designed and implemented to compensate the domestic producers for this increased competition. For example, one of the new programmes was an innovation grant fund Programa de Compensaciones para la Competitividad (PCC) and some enhanced credit facilities through the agricultural development bank AGROBANCO. These new policies opened advocacy opportunities for economic farmer organisations such as the JNC, but they were felt to be held back due to the other priorities and sensitivities in the supporting NGOs.

Lessons learnt

  • It proved advantageous to provide research support to an organisation already having a strong track record in advocacy. JNC had the capacities to ‘mold’ the ESFIM research support to their advocacy priorities. Of course, the downside of this is the modest role of ESFIM in triggering a qualitative upgrading of advocacy capacities. In fact, JNC provided support and expertise to the ESFIM programme and researchers, perhaps more than vice-versa.
  • However, JNC had problems coordinating the activities of ESFIM with other organisations in the platform. The support to COSTACH was very successful, but for some of the others it proved difficult to define clear terms of references. In response to this, JNC delegated the responsibilities for this support to other sectors to the new CONVEAGRO board, in which these farmer organisations were represented. CONVEAGRO, however, proved to have other priorities than research support consultancies for some of their members, focusing on policy issues related with the presidential elections (external focus) and their relations with the NGOs in CONVEAGRO (internal focus).
    Therefore, a part of the budget was unspent and re-allocated to support activities that were more supportive to JNC’s own advocacy priorities, and less relevant for the platform of economic farmers organisations.
  • Strengthening advocacy platforms of farmer organisations takes time and needs perseverance. The constitution of the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives, in September 2013, resulted from a process in which the ESFIM activities in 2009-2010 have been catalysing factors.