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Last year we discovered the harsh reality of the superfood industry first hand as we met a Peruvian maca farmer named Florencio and his family. Florencio comes from a family of farmers who have lived off the land high up in the Andes in Peru for generations. His house is in need of serious construction, with no running water, intermittent electricity, no heating, no internet, no television and very little comforts. To wash dishes his family must trek to the local mountain stream and fill buckets of water, before bringing them back to boil. The only road into his village requires a 4WD and is often cut off in the rainy season. In winter they use fire too stay warm as the overnight temperature can easily plummet to zero given they are at 4100m above sea level. Everything we take for granted on a daily basis is a struggle for our farmer and his family.
Florencio cannot afford to pay people to help him on his farm, so every harvest he and his entire family must work frantically at 4200m with backbreaking manual labour from sunrise to sunset to harvest maca before the end of the drying window (July-August) or else their precious crop goes to waste. His children attend the local school that also has no heating, no warm water, no internet and classrooms that reach near freezing in winter. They have blankets to stay warm that are often made from recycled clothes as they cannot afford to buy fabric. They have little in the way of school supplies and are forced to recycle almost everything purely out of necessity instead of choice. Some children will walk for an hour or more to school as there are no buses, or forms of transport. They have a handful of teachers, that have to teach all subjects and are lucky to have 1 student per year progress on to attend university purely due to the cost of tertiary education.
The community itself is one of the warmest and kindest we have ever met. Despite having so little they give so much. On one day we bought volunteers they prepared a pachamanca feast (traditional Inca feast cooked in the earth) for us as a cultural experience and never asked for a cent in return. They welcomed us in with open arms and warm hearts and were so enthusiastic to show us their culture and way of life. These people have such a strong connection to the land (Pachamama) and such a rich culture and heritage. Its inspiring to see how they have such pride and love for the people and world within which they live.
Some harsh realities:
It can take up to 10 years to regenerate the soil from one harvest of maca and each harvest needs to financially supply the farmer until the next harvest one year later. With the recent superfood boom and corporations now selling maca into supermarkets the demand has led brokers in Peru to pressure farmers and their communities to produce more and more product with less compensation. Brokers are experts at exploiting the humble and often unknowingly naive maca farmers who have been living a simple farming life for generations. Many farmers in the region don’t even speak Spanish (they speak Quechua – the language of the Inca) and with little understanding of the global market for their products they are overworked and underpaid, causing many to want to give up their profession and move to the cities in the hope for more money. The sad part of this is that the history of maca dates back over 2000 years and the culture surrounding it’s harvest is being lost by many. Little do the farmers know they are sitting on an agricultural gold mine that is the envy of the western health world. Farms, communities, environment and farmers are physically and emotionally stretched to keep up with demands. Combine this with unsettled global weather patterns, continual exploitation of farmers and the supply chain is now at the brink of breaking point where the maca industry in Peru may soon collapse without intervention and assistance. To make matters worse the government of Peru offers no protection for farmers, communities or the environment from exploitation.
Is it right for a farmer producing one of the rarest and most potent medicinal superfoods in the world to be living in such poverty? Is it right that corporations and brokers are getting rich off the backs of these farmers? Is it right that there is no hope for the children of this community and no future for such an inspiring and culturally rich community?
At Seleno Health we believe it is up to us as consumers, suppliers and retailers to protect the heritage, culture and history behind maca and to create an ethical and sustainable way to produce it that benefits all involved. We have a direct partnership with our farm, farmer and community and are committed to offer protection from exploitation and environmental damage. As an ethical company we have taken many steps to ensure the long-term survival and prosperity of our farm and farmer so we can continue to share the wonders of maca culture, history and health benefits with the world. If we all benefit from the rich agricultural resources supplied by our farmer then so should they. When you choose to buy a food from a developing country, buy ethically and support companies who are giving back. Your purchase is like a vote, vote wisely and vote for the people who are trying to preserve and protect, not profit. If you eat superfoods or feel passionate about our cause then please help us make a difference and give back to those who work so hard to bring you your foods.
What are we doing to help?
- We are selling Florencio's maca direct from farm to table. To see its journey click here. We and our volunteers help harvest his maca and we buy each bag directly him, so he receives the full profit for his product. This ensures we avoid using brokers who we have found generally exploit the farmers and are notorious for scamming both farmers and buyers with poor quality or diluted powders, fake certifications and unethical practices.
- We are donating $1 per 500g bag, 50c per 125g bag of maca and the full profit for each maca recipe book sold into this fund every month.
- We pay an additional Fair Choice premium which is put into local development programs managed by our farmer to improve the quality of life for him and his community.
- We run a volunteer program that brings eco-tourists to our farm to assist our farmer and our local community and school. http://www.selenohealth.com/volunteer-in-peru/
- We are raising addition funds to allow opportunities for rural Peruvian children to visit New Zealand on a cultural and educational exchange. We also offer professional development opportunities for Peruvians from our community.
What can you do to help?
Firstly you can support our brand by advertising our cause, buying our maca or recipe books. Secondly you can donate to our fund to help our farmer and community.
The San Jose de Quero School:
- Blankets for the children in winter
- School supplies (pens, pencils, books, calculators and other consumables)
- A heating system for keeping the children warm in winter
- Internet to allow access to online education and link to a New Zealand college as part of a cultural and language exchange initiative.
- Accommodation for volunteer English and general teachers
- A travel fund to allow 2 students the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for a 3-month education and cultural experience, linking with a New Zealand college and sharing their stories and culture with our consumers.
Our farmer and his family:
- Infrastructural improvements to allow access to running water, power, internet and to create a healthier and more comfortable home for the whole family
- A heating system to keep the family warm in winter
- Installation of accommodation units to allow a long-term sustainable income through eco-tourism
- A travel fund to allow our farmer's son the opportunity to visit New Zealand and work with the Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) on a research project looking at the variations in the bio-activity of maca with different farming and production techniques.
Raising awareness about the realities of superfoods:
- Funding for a documentary that tells the story of our community and farmer in Peru and the harsh realities of the battle they face to generate income, provide for their families and maintain their culture and heritage.