“Like Equal Exchange, we want to improve the lives of our small farmer members,” said Hildebrando Cárdenas Salazar, general manager of Oro Verde. The co-op was founded in 1999 with 56 members, and now there are 1,200 members.
La Asociación de Cañicultores Organicos de la Zona Central (ACOZC) is an association of sugar cane producers located in Guarambare, Paraguay, about 22 miles outside of the capital city of Asunción. Formed in 2002 to improve the livelihoods of small-scale sugar producers in the community, the association has grown from 45 founding members to about 200 members.
Before ACOZC, producers sold sugar cane to the local mills as individuals, often at disadvantageous prices. As an organized association, however, the farmers have more leverage. ACOZC represents the interests of it members and negotiates prices with the mills, which means that they get better prices.
ACOZC is democratically governed by a Board of 15 representatives who are elected by fellow farmer-members to serve two-year terms. To join the association, each member pays an initial fee of $60 and an annual membership fee of $20. Producers mainly cultivate organic sugar, but also grow crops such as yucca, beans or sweet potatoes for their family or to sell to the local market.
Not only does the organization positively impact the livelihoods of its members, but it also supports the community at large. ACOZC invests Fair Trade premiums into social and development programs such as purchasing tractors, providing technical assistance to members, purchasing school materials for farmers’ families, and supporting a medical and dental center that provides discounted services to association members and their families.