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Ecocitrus becomes an association/cooperative

Date interview: June 20 2016
Name interviewer: Manuela Rosing Agostini
Name interviewee: Jorge A. Eswein
Position interviewee: Ecocitrus producer and founding partner

Values Social-economic relations New Organizing Networking Legal status Internal decision-making Institutional void Finance Compromise Civil Society organizations

This is a CTP of initiative: RIPESS/ Ecocitrus (Brazil)

This CTP has a strong relationship with CTP 1, since it was due to the project analyzed in that CTP that Ecocitrus began its career. After the creation of the PRORENDA project, a group of farmers started an experiment with organic farming. This group was part of an association called Harmonicitrus, which worked with conventional agriculture. All the members were consulted, however only a small group adhered to the new idea, as can be seen in the following statement:  

"My job was to get information so that they would produce more. One of these pieces of information we tried to get together with the farmers was organic production. The idea of having independence with inputs, having another type of relationship with the market, with traders, with industries and everything. It was there that this idea of organic citriculture came to life. A group within Harmonicitrus decided to do it. All of the members of Harmonicitrus were invited, but only a small group ... Initially, we did some courses, there were 60, 70 farmers. In the end, when it was decided to make an association of organic citriculture, there were 14 farmers, who founded Ecocitrus as an association" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  

Ecocitrus began its activities as an association in 1994, but in a short time realized that this legal format did not allow the commercialization of products. Then, in early 1998, they formed a new legal entity, as a cooperative. Here we note the presence of legal and financial aspects that were critical for decision making:  

"We spent years as an association, 95, 96 and 97. At the end of 97 and early 98, as the cooperative was already thinking of selling the products together, and because of taxes - associations can't commercialize products. Here in the South, an association couldn't be commercial, because it would generate profit, among other things" (Juice industry director and producer).

 "We already had an idea of forming a cooperative. At first it was not a cooperative because we didn't have the minimum number of members, which was 20. The association was made out of 15 members and we found 5 more partners, who were people who already had ties to the association or had worked in ecological agriculture. So, we got these 20 people together and formed the cooperative, for legal reasons, to be able to put the associates' fruits on the market" (Juice industry director and producer).  

It is interesting to note that the transition to a new legal form took place only due to legal issues, but not because of an ideological point of view. They even had to look for new producers to form this new organization. This difficulty in finding new members who were exclusively linked to organic production was an important factor at the time, but remains a major obstacle today.  

"To this day, our major difficulty is getting new members. Members have a number of benefits with Ecocitrus: the cost-effectiveness is much more favorable, you get inputs for free, you have technical assistance for free, and you even get fuel for your vehicle. You get a lot of free things. But what do you have to do in return? You have to be an organic producer" (Ecocitrus VP).


The actors involved in this CTP are essentially the same as in CTP 1, that is, the state government of Rio Grande do Sul - the southernmost state in Brazil - and the German technical cooperation agency GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit). In addition, the citrus producers of the Caí Valley region, local institutions such as Emater, the state secretariat and municipal administrations.  

"The program had technical cooperation agreements between Germany and Brazil via GTZ. They reached the conclusion that there's no point cleaning up a polluted river if everyone was going to pollute it again. They started working with reality, with the producers. At the time, these agrochemical residues would end up in the rivers that supplied the Guaíba basin. That's when they started the PRORENDA project, and this project involved the Ematers, the agriculture departments of the towns and the farmers, teaching them new ways to produce in order to create less impact on the watershed" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 

"Several groups of farmers were formed, and within these groups a group of organic farming emerged, and then this group evolved into the Ecocitrus association, later cooperative" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 

Related events

1988/89 - start of negotiations for PRORENDA Project, a partnership between the state, GTZ and Harmonicitrus Association (event related to CTP 1 as well).  

1991 - beginning of the PRORENDA project (event related to CTP1 as well).  

1994 - creation of Ecocitrus as an association.  

1998 - transformation of Ecocitrus into a cooperative.  

1999 - Acquisition of the building (all of the members' production is sold by the cooperative).  

1999 - Acquisition of Parking Houses (fruit processing machine, washing and selection).  

2009 - Ecocitrus is no longer a fruit trading company and becomes an industrializer.    


When it came to disputes the arguments focused more on what would be the new accounting and legal organization and if this would not imply a greater financial burden on the members. At first the partners distrusted the new implementations, but the change occurred and an adaptation out of the old culture into the new one was necessary. The type of social innovation that we observe here is related to socio-economic relations, as we can observe in the following statement:

 "That was another concern. Since we're in Brazil, everyone wonders if they're not going to pay more taxes. Or if it wouldn't be worse for their activity. Unfortunately, that's the first thing people think. Until then, they had been selling to middlemen who didn't issue invoices and didn't pay on time. From that moment on, they would be selling with invoices and getting paid through the bank. The cooperative doesn't have to pay taxes. There was a change of culture that we had to implement with the producers" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner).  

In this period, the interviewee also recalled another moment that was discussed by the partners, when Ecocitrus ceased to be a company that sold fruit in natura to become an industrializer, that is, a company that processes raw material and sells juices or essential oils. Once again, the members feared financial issues, as they wanted to receive the same amount for the industrialized products as they received for the sale of fruits. This challenge was overcome and Ecocitrus managed to balance the values.  

"By 2010, Ecocitrus ceased to be a fruit trading company to be an industrialization company. Today all the fruit of the cooperative goes to industrialization, which is the way we found of quickly using the fruit from our harvest and having a continuity for the markets because raw fruits are a very volatile thing. The discussion was that there needed to be a way for the product that goes to industrialization to pay off at least the same way as the raw fruits did. And we did it" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 


When asked if at that moment of transition they were already aware of the transformation that they would carry out, the interviewee easily said yes. He mentioned that since the first discussions, the partners already understood the importance of their actions and how this would transform the reality of Ecocitrus. The transformations began with the new philosophies of organic production and more sustainable production. Soon after, Ecocitrus became a cooperative in order to do business transactions. Another decision was the market change, to stop selling raw fruits and industrialize the raw materials. Great investments were made as well as many cultural changes.  

"We're a production cooperative. Today our goal, in the fourth year, is to have our own production to occupy 100% of our industry. The orange juice industry is a bit complicated. We needed to scale it so we could have the international certifications, all the quality policies of the department of agriculture... Anyway, it ended up getting bigger than our harvest, and today our biggest challenge is to aggregate more producers and also increase the current producers, increase production to occupy 100% of the industry with organic production" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 


With regard to learning, the interviewee addressed a very important point by mentioning that Ecocitrus was one of the responsible for the growth of the organic production culture in Brazil, helping shape laws and incentives for small farmers. In this sense, we can mention that Ecocitrus filled institutional voids, since it helped in the elaboration of laws and incentives, which, without its help, the institutions would not have done it - or, at least, would have taken a long time to do . In addition, the cooperative helped change consumer culture in Brazil, allowing more consumers to have access to more sustainable and healthy produce. In addition, this shows Ecocitrus' commitment to these values.  

"In the beginning, 20 years ago, nobody talked about organic farming, they said: 'Oh, that’s just for small farmers’ markets. You can’t produce that way.' Since that time, we've been in universities doing research. In the agricultural field, organic farming. We even helped in the creation of the Brazilian organics law. We were part of the working group in the production entities that participated. Anyway, a lot of people helped directly and indirectly those who produce organic to have this space, to have public policies for them. Today there are 4, 5, 10 lines of credit for organic production. Twenty years ago, if you said you were doing organic farming, you wouldn’t have any credit because they only knew you would really produce if you bought fertilizer. I believe that was important for a number of changes that were not only due to the cooperative, but to a whole network of organizations that were fighting for the same goal. The issue of participatory certification, organic law, public policies for organic production... These are all important advances" (Ecocitrus producer and founding partner). 

Another learning that was mentioned relates to teamwork and solidarity, which are principles of a cooperative. When thinking about social and supportive economy, one of the most relevant aspects is to provide better living conditions for all involved, and one way to achieve this is through cooperative work. The way Ecocitrus found to transform the environment it was acting in was through new networking, which in this case was organized in the form of a cooperative.

"What I'm going to say is that it's worth it. Working together will always be better than each farmer working separately. This is the biggest lesson: the importance of having a collective job "

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