Written by: Gabriela Vasconcellos
Photos by: Eduardo Moody
Ivaldino dos Santos's day begins at 5 a.m. The 71-year-old hearts-of-palm farmer is clearly eager to keep on tending the crop that has changed his family's life. Married for 40 years and the father of nine children, Ivaldino is a role model in the community of Areão in Nilo Peçanha county, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. The 25,000 peach palm trees on his property earn him an income of BRL 2,500 to 3,000 per month.
“If youve never had a paying job, peach palms are guaranteed to put money in your pocket. Today I own my own land and I've bought a car,” says the farmer, who is one of the founding members of the Cooperative of Southern Lowlands Hearts-of-Palm Producers (Coopalm), an institution supported by the Odebrecht Foundation that is part of the Program for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Mosaic of Environmental Protection Areas in the Southern Bahia Lowlands (PDIS).
His family's success is also down to the dedication of Coopalm's assistant educators. A team of 12 specialists advises the cooperative's 486 members on the best applications of farming methods. “We have trained everyone to achieve more productivity, profitability and liquidity,” says Erasmo Costa, the Educational Leader responsible for coordinating the technicians.
Ivaldino, who began planting peach palms in 2003, encourages other farmers, including his children, to invest in hearts-of-palm production. “I've seen my father turn his life around. I want to buy more farmland. Thanks to hearts-of-palm, I know I can,” says Joelme dos Santos, 32, who joined the cooperative in 2010 and has already planted 11,000 seedlings. Gertrudes Ricarda, Ivaldino's wife, expresses her pleasure at seeing her children working the land: “I've been dreaming about this for a long time.”
Coopalm wins national award
Coopalm has been elected Cooperative of the Year in 2010, in the “Quality Management” category. The award is an initiative of the Organization of Brazilian Cooperatives, National Cooperative Learning and Globo Rural Magazine. It is bestowed on projects that stand out for their innovation, creativity and efficiency, and makes them benchmarks for the sector.
Everyone working together
Cultiverde hearts-of-palm, the brand produced by Coopalm's associates, is sold by several retail supermarket chains that make room on their shelves for the cooperatives products, such as GBarbosa (Northeast), Pão de Açúcar, Extra and Walmart (Southeast and Northeast). Empresa Baiana de Alimentos (Ebal) and Perini, a Bahian chain of delis and bakeries, recently expanded their partnerships with the cooperative and are studying the implementation by the end of 2010 of a new project based on the “store within a store” concept: a space inside the store with its own cash registers that directs sales revenue straight to Coopalm. “What we will create is a link between the farmer and consumer, carrying out the Cooperative Act. I am keenly interested and applaud this initiative,” says Reub Celestino, Chairman of Ebal.
The challenges overcome and the results achieved are being built up in alignment with sustainability strategies. One is dedicated to grooming future cooperative members, which is the role of the Igrapiúna Rural Family House (CFR-I), a professional education unit that benefits about 40 youths. Joelton Santos, 19, studies at the CFR-I and is interning at Coopalm. “This is giving me the opportunity to learn ways to contribute to my community's development. In the future I will be another force in this region.”
Presence at Eco Run
A partnership between Braskem and Coopalme has made it possible to display the Cultiverde brand along the route of the Braskem Eco Run race. During all seven stages, held in seven Brazilian cities, the brand could be seen at the start and finish gates as well as the podium. “This was one of the ways we found to give greater visibility to this project, which actually brings about real social change,” says Braskem Sustainability Officer Jorge Soto.