Diego Verdesia, responsible for Sustainability, Agriculture and Projects at Greenyard, has been working with Latin American farmers for almost two decades. “The commitment of these growers to make their production more sustainable is huge. As a connecting partner in the industry, it is our mission to help them overcome any challenges they face on their path.”
Working with these farmers and helping them improve their activities and their lives on a daily basis is truly a wonderful job.
“When I first started out, the main project was supporting growers – of mostly bananas – from Ecuador to implement social and environmental better farming practices”, says Diego Verdesia, who is covering the important sourcing region of Latin America. “Today, our aim is to ensure that the produce we bring to Europe is fully certified in a wide variety of protocols aiming for a sustainable agriculture, satisfying customers’ requirements, such as Rainforest Alliance, GlobalG.A.P., BRC-Food Safety, etc. and complies with strict social and environmental standards.”
There are many challenges to overcome, depending on the local context and even the location of the individual farm. “One farmer may have direct access to water, while his next-door neighbour does not. In some regions it’s about using crop protection, in some farms it’s about improving working conditions. In 2020, a lot of attention was paid to reducing the spread of COVID-19 among workers through social distancing strategies.”
“Many of these farms are family-owned, led by experienced farmers who have learned on the job from one generation to the next”, says Diego Verdesia. “But setting up a management system is a completely different matter. It is my job to translate the complexities and the very technical language of certification into a common language that they understand. It’s too easy to say that certification is their problem, and not ours.”
“The key is to make them see the benefits to their activities. At first, they may wonder what’s the use of keeping track of fuel consumption or measuring rainfall. But once they understand the implications, they are fully committed. Let’s not forget that they depend on nature for their livelihood and understand that it is in their own interest as farmers to protect nature and make careful use of the available resources.”
Recognition is needed
Over the years, Diego Verdesia has witnessed the impact of these continuous efforts in the field. “The differences between certified and non-certified farms are really huge and immediately visible. But it is important that the markets recognise these efforts as well. How else can we explain to farmers they need to invest in sustainability if we do not reward them with fairer prices? We also need to educate consumers and explain what they are paying for. I believe this is one of our biggest challenges for the near future.”