“Organic farming is above all a story of passionate people with common values,” say team ProNatura. This organic trading organisation was founded in France in 1987, with the ambition of bringing together like-minded farmers and customers. Farmers would have a reliable market; customers would have easier access to good organic produce. Win-win.
Over 30 years later, ProNatura have seen their vision through – and then some. They coordinate production and provide support for 1500 small-scale organic farmers, not only in their native France, but also further afield in Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean.
Trade may be their, er, trade, but ProNatura play a much bigger role than that. They form unique partnerships with farmers, offering all sorts of resources and expert guidance: from funding organic certification (so far they have helped over 1000 farms go organic!), to offering their pro agronomists’ advice on how to promote soil fertility and choose the right varieties in each particular region. They even help store and package the end results.
“We provide them with technical assistance on crop management and harvest organisation... We plan harvest volumes with them in advance, to secure them with retailers… We offer harvesting advances, investment aids…” There’s not much ProNatura’s uniquely supportive partnerships don’t offer. To farmers, especially those in developing countries, who would otherwise be subject to the whims of fickle supermarket buyers, this can be a real lifeline.
We saw this first-hand a few years ago when our own Guy Singh-Watson went out to Togo to meet the growers of our beautifully sweet organic pineapples, along with ProNatura founder Henri de Pazzis. A co-operative of 300 Togolese farmers each works their own small patch of organic land, and transports their fruits to a shared central facility to be processed, packed and shipped. It’s hard work – most farm by hand without machinery, and must carry the produce a kilometre or more from their remote fields to the nearest road. But for a while it seemed as if all that work would be for naught.
“On our farms, we were the first producers of organic fair trade from West Africa,” said pineapple grower Francis, “with the aim that we’d be able to export. Unfortunately, we couldn’t sell, so we couldn’t pay most of our workers. Boys were sitting in their village doing nothing.”
Thanks to ProNatura, the cooperative now have a secure market for their outstanding produce. And their Fair for Life certification (a Fair Trade scheme that guarantees good working conditions for everyone in the supply chain, not just farmers) means we can enjoy their fruit safe in the knowledge that everyone involved is getting a fair deal.
“To trade organic is to respect our customers and our producers,” say ProNatura. “How could we conceive that environmentally friendly production would not be accompanied by fair relationships with farmers?”
ProNatura’s fresh fruit has been such a smash hit at Riverford that we also enjoy dried pineapple from the same Togolese growers, and dried figs, apricots and mangos from similar projects in Turkey and the Ivory Coast.