This CTP was important to the history of Ecocitrus because the producers were indecisive as to the installation of a new plant of oils and juices. After numerous discussions and different positions on the feasibility of installing the new plant, the decision was to hire a company to conduct a study of financial and strategic viability of the new project. The CTP was important for redefining the real goals for Ecocitrus. Moreover, it was a process of empowerment of producers who decided to increase the size and scope of Ecocitrus.
"There was another moment where we were indecisive too whether we should invest in a plant of oils and juices. Why? As farmers, we didn’t know where the best place for a plant was. We thought the place we had, and have today, was too far from the farms. Communication was also a problem. There was no telephone and a cell reception was really bad. So how could we work in a plant, in a factory, where you have no communication? We thought this was a big problem. And labor, too. People to work for us. Because it was a little far from the city. So how can you have employees there? How could people commute? How could you commute? That makes it all more complicated to get employees" (Ecocitrus VP).
After the feasibility studies in three different places, they reached the conclusion that staying where they were was the best solution. Contrary to several pre-formulated thoughts, producers tried to find alternatives to meet their needs.
"After all the studies, we went back to thinking about what kind of plant we wanted. From that moment on, 2007, 2008, we started investing more in the plant. Rearranging the technical part. We based everything on the studies of the environmental impacts of the plant. That’s when we also thought about the possibility of having a project for the generation of methane, so we could have another product, compressed natural gas. So, again, there were moments where first there were conflicts, and then based on the conflicts, we could try to find solutions" (Ecocitrus VP).
In times of dilemmas, producers found alternatives, such as the development of new skills, as can be seen in the statement below:
"That moment showed the importance of the empowerment, so we can look at a difficult situation and use it for bonding. A lot of people thought the group of farmers wouldn’t have any structure or enough competence to run this business. I think that when we were in a standoff as to whether we should do it or not, that’s when we realized we could do it, and I think that time has shown that we could do it" (Ecocitrus VP).
The main people involved in the CTP are the producers-partners of Ecocitrus themselves, their management and the consultancy firm hired to perform the technical feasibility study. This relationship with the company demonstrates a search for expertise that Ecocitrus alone could not solve, as well as a socio-technical relationship necessary for the continuity of the social innovation process.
An important issue that appeared in this interview refers to the process of changing managers. In this CTP, the participation of the directors involved in the cooperative’s decision-making was decisive. However, it is clear that Ecocitrus believes that the whole cooperative must have a rotational management, with all members being able to participate actively in management positions. This can be seen in the following statement:
"Today we have an agreement that we elect a president for two years with the possibility of reelection for another two years, but we always demand that there be a change in administration every four years. No one is so good that can be president forever and everyone can be president. We always try to work like this. Everyone’s got their own identity that helps do certain tasks" (Ecocitrus VP).
In an attempt to bring more partners into this process, Ecocitrus tried politically a number of incentives with the municipal government of a neighboring town (Harmonia). The attempt was unsuccessful, but they got some learning out of it:
"In 2009, we made that experience in Harmonia, to try and install a plant for oils there with the support of the town government. That was the idea. The city offered us a plot of ??land, they would let us build it, they would give us the electrical network and I don’t know what else… They’d build a well for us. They would give us a lot of things. So, in 2009, we tried that and it was nothing but political promises. The mayor promised all those things but never pushed them through" (Ecocitrus VP).
For relations with the dominant institutions, networking and connecting were necessary to get financing and be able to have a closed citrus supply chain.
2007/2008 - investments in composting plant
2008/2009 - feasibility study to define the location of plant (event related to CTP 5 as well)
2009 – attempt financial support from the neighboring town of Harmonia
2009 - Ecocitrus ceases to be a company that sells fruit to be an industrializer (event related to CTP 2 and CTP 3 as well)
In the face of all the investments put into the composting plant and the technical feasibility study of the plant, one of the biggest problems that arose, which generated discussions among members and internal crises, were the personal guarantees that must be given to get funding. Ecocitrus as a company did not have sufficient collateral to get the loan, and the members should present family estate collateral, which generated many inquiries and questions:
"We always have this problem. We always have to give the bank collateral in order to get financing. When cash flow can’t work as collateral, you have to use property, real estate. Investing in the plant, with the biogas, was the first step, and this was a second step. We invested here and then we invested in the plant. Then we have this obstacle now, getting the farmers to use their property as collateral. Because the cooperative is the farmers. When you talk about security, transparency, to have this sensitivity, for you to provide your family goods and give them up as collateral, it’s difficult. This has always happened and always will. Because it’s not about one person, it’s a family. And when it’s the whole family, you don’t know what another person is thinking. How do you make it happen in a cooperative? This perception of the act of cooperating, of joining forces for the sake of 'us' and not 'me' is very complicated. I think this is something that’s very important, in any organization" (Ecocitrus VP).
Another challenge that we observe in Ecocitrus’s CTPs refers to organic production. This issue does not generate controversy within the cooperative, which is very settled as to its principles, but there are conflicts with external agents. All interviewees reported the difficulty of working with organic production in Brazil, citing the lack of incentives and awareness of the population and market.
"This issue, it’s not different from the work that Ecocitrus does, which is in the midst of it all… When you talk about organic production, we’re always contrary to what’s considered ‘normal’. When you speak of supportive economy, cooperativism, you’re going against consumerism - buying more, spending more, selling more… You know? We want to do the opposite. Spend less... Yes, we gain something, but not in our pockets, we gain health, we gain in leisure, we spend more time with our families, we’re interested in other gains" (Ecocitrus VP).
As noted earlier, the number of investments made by Ecocitrus brought on some financial struggles, but that was anticipated when they chose which investments to make. The interviewee states that the members and leaders have predicted these difficulties and opted to take a risk for new projects, as can be seen below:
"Yes. When you decide to invest, you have to know what you’ll do, and how you’ll pay for it. It’s no different than the plant. Of course, today we’re suffering a bit from this boldness that we have, like, "Let’s do it." Or, "We’ll do it." "We can do it." So today we suffer a little from it, too, because today times are tough economically. There’s a retraction for us too. Banks are more demanding when it comes to credit lines, interests have gone up, it’s not looking good" (Ecocitrus VP).
The decision-making process is always carried out by the joint committee of members and the decision for funding was no different:
"This business has a management and this management is collegial. When there’s a lot of people managing a business, things take long, they don’t work, there’s no clarity, decision-making is difficult. Sometimes you have to take care of it. Sometimes you try to be transparent and everyone to make the ‘us’ together, but that interferes in agility. Sometimes we go, "Oh, farmers manage, that’s what we do..." But that sometimes that can give you trouble. I think that we have to be very careful. You have to have participatory management, but you also have to be professional" (Ecocitrus VP).
When asked about what they have learned, the interviewee mentions the need to seek technical support to find a balance between the form of a more personal management and a more technical one:
"From a more institutional standpoint, we have to learn more how to manage the business. We have to have a little more control, seek advisory services, technical monitoring. We sometimes act more with our hearts than with our reason, so we have to be careful. I think some of that learning is linked to us, because we always have to find the balance in the business. This business has a management and it’s a collegial management" (Ecocitrus VP).
Another important factor mentioned is learning about working with market expectations without hurting the principles of the cooperative, focused on sustainability:
"This is a learning experience that we’ve had since we started. It’s a razor's edge that we walk on forever. It’s very difficult. Every day we’re looking for this other side that is sustainability, which is not merely economic. What’s sustainability? Concern for the environment, concern for social things, concern with food, concern with... You know? We’re inside all that in the market, which is very averse to it all. There’s a truck coming in our direction and we're biking the other way, you know? We have to be careful not to let this business drag us down and make us fall. This is complicated" (Ecocitrus VP).
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