COVID-19 in Peru - A Fair Trade Silver Lining

 

For obvious reasons, life around the world has ceased to return to “normal,” and Peru is certainly no exception. The lives for many in developing nations prior to COVID-19 was never easy, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these hardships.  

Early on, Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus but they still had over 815,000 COVID-19 cases and experienced more than 30,000 deaths. As an NGO operating in Huaycan, Peru, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the devastation this pandemic has caused, while also recognizing the organizations that are continuously striving to better the wellbeing of others. 

Although Peru imposed such a strict lockdown, cases still skyrocketed and experts say this is due in part to the fact that Peru’s healthcare system was unprepared, along with other social and economic factors that might explain Peru’s struggle to contain the virus.

President Vizcarra said the country’s markets were “the main sources of contagion” which makes sense considering only 40% of Peruvian homes have refrigerators, causing people to frequently restock food. On top of this, at many markets, over 50% of sellers were infected, causing people to go home and spread the disease to their relatives. The government later reorganized to better control the markets and enforced mandatory mask mandates but many experts say this response was too slow.

 

 

The Light and Leadership Initiative (LLI) and Huaywasi are located in Huaycan, Peru which is a developing urban community in the outskirts of Lima. The pandemic created many challenges for workers in the urban areas because they were suddenly forced to quarantine back in their villages far away from the cities. On the other hand, in the rural Andean villages, it was a very different story


In the Andes, the mountain air is fresh and clean and local farmers seem to be thriving, according to Penny Livingston, who has been working with local organizations and community leaders throughout the quarantine.

 

Andean woman harvesting potatoes in a field in Peru

 

The main goals for these organizations and leaders in the Andes are to:

  • Raise watershed awareness within the region to clean the Wilkamayu River that runs through the Sacred Valley
  • Support food security and sovereignty in the villages
  • Create replicable models of crop diversification and transitioning to organic agriculture
  • Educate farmers, community leaders, and teachers, in permaculture and regenerative agriculture in the Sacred Valley
  • Organize a collection for the community that includes bioregional mapping, sharing visions for the future of the community, and document traditional ecological knowledge for future generations
  • Document nutritional values of Andean fruits and vegetables

 

 

Unfortunately in other Peruvian villages that lack the support of these outside organizations, there has been an increase in the mistreatment of farmers who sell to middle men buyers. These buyers are now paying very little for their produce and then upcharging the resale price of the produce in their own shops. 

A key silver lining in all of this is that this unfairness of trade has encouraged people in these villages to create a fair trade food distribution system that could maintain sustainability within these villages. 

This fair trade food distribution system brought forth a realization that there continues to be a major lack of food security within these villages, which is mainly due to the fact that  before COVID-19, there was never much encouragement behind storing food for emergencies.  A few strategies proposed  for village communities to follow consist of:

  • Teaching educators from these communities to encourage and normalize the action of attending school 

  • Encouraging villagers to support each other's local businesses

  • Creating markets and revenue systems 

By normalizing the action of villagers attending school and finding the willingness to accept education, community leaders have decided to offer villagers opportunities of receiving scholarships in their educational journey. 

The strategy of local farmers supporting each other's businesses strengthens the ties between the community by allowing the process of the fair trade food distribution system to flourish and continue moving forward. A result of this bond between community members coming together can be seen in the success organic farmers have had in being able to sell all of their produce, despite being deeply affected by the pandemic.

Watermelon vendor in Lima wearing mask during COVID-19 pandemic

Across these local villages, there has also been an increase in the demand for organic produce among community residents and foreigners in those areas. This demand for organic produce has encouraged the leaders of Huaran and surrounding villages to entirely become organic villages. 

The Huaran community plans on using municipal funds to support 20 farmers that will be transitioning and implementing organic methods. The community leaders have agreed that this approach of organic food producing is the future to sustaining their villages and creating a security of food for them as well. 

If there is one thing the pandemic has taught many Peruvian farmers and villagers is that they have the potential to be resilient and overcome any obstacles they are faced with. We know the effects of COVID-19 are extremely exacerbating for the nation of Peru, but it is good recognize the silver linings that have come of all this, especially within the fair trade industry.   

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