This is an exciting time for our cashew nut partners from APRAINORES in El Salvador. This year sees a late cashew nut harvest yet they are hopeful that 2010 is going to be a successful year for them. Last year they broke even and celebrated with a trip to the beach and a food hamper for all their workers in their factory. This year their dreams are to build a canteen in the factory and get their solar panels up and running.
Aprainores is a cooperative based two hours from the capital (a four hour round trip that the coop manager knows all to well) and is by the Lempa River. This small cooperative of only 60 members is isolated and has had to overcome many obstacles to export its fabulous tasting organic cashew Many would have thought its dream was unrealistic; Equal Exchange however saw this opportunity as the perfect example of what can be achieved by Fair trade!
What follows is a story from one woman from this cooperative, a voice that would not have been heard if it wasn’t for fair trade and the opportunities that it has brought to her…
“My name is Ines Aviles Flores. I am 63 feminist and cashew nut farmer. I am originally from Honduras however I followed my husband to El Salvador with our children over thirty years ago. It was the best option in order to be close to him and also the only option for the family to be able to survive financially. We came in 1970 when the war began… I was the first person to organize the people in the community where we were living. The people felt resentful because there had been a lot of violence and unrest because of what was known as the “dirty stain” war. Many people fled the country scared. This was part of the history of the civil war in El Salvador. At the time there was a lot of unrest and discontentment which was then followed by the 100 hours of war which was known as the “football war”; many people died and the rape of women and young girls was common. People were scared and the country was unstable.
I worked during this time for the revolutionary party as a messenger; I carried money and messages to wherever they needed me to take them. They used radios to communicate with secret codes. I travelled from one place to the next for the party. I went to places like San Miguel, San Salvador and the Angela. I carried a fake identity card of the [right wing] political party and so of course people did not expect anyone from that party to cheat or be dissident. I also always had the money hidden under camouflage and was lucky that I was never discovered. Only one time did I come close when we were moving people to a social gathering; a reunion for family members of the party. We got stopped at a road check by the military and they singled out five of the men that were with me. One of them was a Commander who had just arrived from Cuba. They killed all of them in front of me. I had to keep going to the community where the families were waiting for the men. The worst part of all was that I was not able to let them know what happened except that the men had got detained as my work was a secret. The families began a search for them immediately but they never found them as the military had killed them and chucked their bodies away as if they were unknowns and like rubbish…..
During this time, thousands and thousands of people died including priests, children and woman.
Although it was an incredibly difficult time, I worked hard through out the civil war despite having six children. All my children were brought up in refuges organized by the church for children of (ex) combatants. They were registered as orphans in order to help me continue working for the party. Soon after this they opened another refuge called “breaking the ice” which was a refuge for the population displaced by the civil war. This was organised and funded by the Red Cross and other organisations. More and more were built as the death rate rose. Four of my children died in the civil war.
I worked from 1973 until 92 when the war eventually finished. I worked in camps and in communities as a cook and also as the messenger – carrying and distributing money. The money was never used to buy arms in the war as these came from other countries; the money went to support the work of the marine army. I participated in the war from its beginning alongside my family. I worked as a guerrilla until the peace accords. After this we began to have a relatively normal life as a family, working as cashew nut farmers until Hurricane Mitch in 1998 which devastated everything we had. We lost everything in the Hurricane: our harvest, the animals and our land was stripped bare. Then my husband left me and so I had nothing but a barren farm and my two children: Jorge and Luis. However this didn’t defeat me as I have always been a fighter. I have also always defended the rights of women and fought for a change. I immediately got involved in lots of different social activities and picked myself up again. Once the war had stopped there was a lot of organising to do and we had to organise whole communities and help support them build a democratic structure of which I helped promote. I facilitated the construction of boards of directors and the organisation of collective work. We had to find ways to survive…Although it was hard work, I always believed in the importance of my work and also fundamentally I am a feminist and proud. And actually a book was written about this experience and in particular about eight feminist guerrillas in El Salvador of which I am one of them. It’s called “I am a feminist and so what?” (“Soy feminist y que”?)
So during this time I got involved in cashew nut farming in 1994 through a project called CORDES which studied cashew nut production on the Island of Monte Cristo. They realised that it was profitable and that there was a lot of demand so they shared out 100 manzanas (172 acres/70 hectares) to the people as part of the “Peace Accords agreements” which was signed at the time. I grow both organic and conventional cashew nuts and I sell to the cooperative Aprainores because they pay us a better price then what we would get on the street or with the coyotes. For example, on the black market the scales are always wrong and they don’t pay you the correct amount, they cheat you; whereas with the cooperative it is always fair. I am loyal to Aprainores as they are always pay us a just price and give us a lot of support and because of this each year I increase what I sell to them. I am also committed to organic production despite all the extra work and risks of diseases and despite the fact that my children always tell me off and want me to stop working so hard!! You see organic involves much more work than conventional production. Yet despite all of this I continue to believe in organic farming as I take pride in the fact that the person who consumes our cashew nuts is eating a healthy and organic product free of chemicals and contamination.
I want the consumers to know my history and to understand that despite receiving the land that I now work on; I have never sold it or given up. The importance of fair trade for me is land and food security. So what we have done in the coop is actually brought more land collectively- even though we all face an increasingly difficult economic situation. We want our livelihoods to be sustainable. We have to fight to improve our lives despite all odds and fair trade is the most viable vehicle to help us achieve this. Just the fact that people continue to buy our nuts is enough and although we are not rich from it, the important thing is that we can keep working and providing for our families as after all, all humans are the same: “We all need to earn to be able to eat; even you the consumers”. I look forwarded to continuing to work hard alongside my two sons in the future and hope to continue improving the quality of the product we produce and also our lives.”