A letter from our publisher.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador— It’s an almost perverse reality that more than 80 percent of global food production is produced by family farmers, many of whom live on less than $5 per day. You would think we would look harder to find ways to express our gratitude to these hard working people who provide us with the essentials of life.
It was with a desire to improve the lives of poor communities that we launched Acceso some 13 years ago. We decided to focus all our efforts on agribusiness given its high social impact. Our approach to poverty alleviation is through building and scaling “social enterprises” because we want our solutions for farmers to be sustainable.
Our enterprises look to connect large companies with smallholder farmers and fishers. We help them buy from small producers by removing the risk barriers normally associated with directly dealing with them. We saw the success of our model yesterday when we visited our operations in El Salvador. Our large client here was initially Super Selectos, the biggest supermarket chain in the country. We subsequently added Subway, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s. Although they had a willingness to buy locally, they didn’t have the expertise to work out the logistics, nor did they want to take the risk of buying from a large number of small farmers.
To get rid of this hurdle, we started by negotiating floor prices and volume commitments for the specific produce these large companies needed. We also took note of their quality standards and delivery schedules. Next, we organized a number of small local farmers and fishers to train them on sustainable agricultural and fishing practices. Most importantly, we provided them with credit in the form of inputs like seeds, fertilizer, and fish food. In this way, we ensured they could produce consistent volumes of quality produce while giving the producers the financial flexibility and steady income they didn’t previously have. In essence, we reverse-engineered demand.
To enhance the value of these partnerships, we’ve also made smart investments in storage and delivery logistics. This ensures our buyers get timely delivery of fresh product. An added bonus is that we create new jobs in this supply chain. We ended up with happy farmers, who saw their income increase by two to three times and happy buyers, who not only purchased the local products they needed, but also fulfilled some social good in the community.
Since we started our initiative in El Salvador five years ago, we’ve created a network of more than 1,000 farmers and fishers, producing more than 75 products that we deliver to more than 100 Super Selectos stores and more than 80 Subway restaurants. We have built a seedling nursery, a produce processing plant, invested in various processing machines, and developed a fingerling fish hatchery. A fish processing plant is in the works and I feel like we’re just getting started.
I had a conversation with a woman farmer during my visit who told me about one of her sons that moved to the US five years ago because there were no decent job opportunities in El Salvador. When her second son recently suggested he might do the same, she convinced him not to go by showing what a great opportunity he would have in the avocado farming business she had built up by partnering with Acceso. Perhaps, by creating jobs that pay well, I hope we can also help reverse the flow of immigration of the many people that have been leaving this region seeking better lives elsewhere.
But the moment that really made my day was meeting a very young farmer named Hugo. He started with one employee five years ago and now employs 15 people on his farm. When I asked him what his dream was, he said “to keep growing so I can continue generating jobs and make a better life for other families.” I don’t believe that anyone could have said more to inspire me to continue our work. People like Hugo deserve not only our gratitude, but our support. People like Hugo don’t need handouts. They are proud and hardworking. Our role is simply to give them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.