'Yes, I'm a real entrepreneur'
In her youth Carmen Chito seemed to be destined for a life as an illiterate farmer. It was not until the guinea pig breeder joined the cooperative Señor Cuy in 2007 that she was given the opportunity to discover her talent. Early 2014 she was presented the Womed Award South by the Belgian Queen Mathilde, an award from Markant to put role models for female entrepreneurship in the spotlight.
If you were born as a girl in the Ecuadorian highlands of Chimborazo one generation ago, you were destined to be the family’s fifth wheel. Carmen’s school career ended abruptly when she was twelve years old. Father became ill and she had to start working to pay for the medication.
‘Because we did not have any land of our own I worked as a farm labourer three days a week’, Carmen says. The rest of the time she looked after the animals that were living on their farm: a few pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs. ‘I have always had the ambition to continue my studies. But my father wanted me to stay at home. He was terrified by the thought that I might be violated on my way to some course.’
Carmen was not able to start her self-development until after she got married. Her husband did allow her to take courses and her parents-in-law put a few small plots of land at their disposal for the cultivation of maize, beans and forage crops. The selfmade farmer specialised in the breeding of guinea pigs, a delicacy that is on the menu of Ecuador’s more expensive restaurants.
‘At the time the cages with guinea pigs were stacked in our living room. We consumed them ourselves, because we did not know who to sell the meat to. In 2007, everything changed when the cooperative Señor Cuy was founded. Today I have a separate stable that houses 180 animals, divided in compartments according to the production cycle’, Carmen says. Guinea pigs are ready for slaughter in three months’ time. That makes them similar to milk cows: they provide permanent cash flow. Furthermore, compared to cows guinea pigs do not require heavy investments or hard labour.
I would like to expand the production of my guinea pigs and compost.
Carmen knows that Señor Cuy has been supported by Trias for years. Not only did we strengthen the organisational structure, we also ensure that the cooperative delivers quality services to its members. As a result Carmen knows every trick of the trade: sickness prevention, stable infrastructure, the cultivation of feed, breeding strategy, etcetera. Every month she sells a few dozen animals to the cooperative at an average price of 6.5 dollars per guinea pig. That price is considerably higher than the average market price, because Señor Cuy slaughters the guinea pigs itself and transforms them into high-grade end products such as vacuum-packed sausages and nuggets.
‘The income from the breeding of guinea pigs help Carmen to pay for the studies of her two sons. Each year that costs me 2,500 dollars. Especially the bills from the military school that my eldest, twenty-year-old son, attends weigh heavily on the family’s budget. We will have to persist a few more years, until they have both graduated’, Carmen explains.
The professionalisation of the breeding of guinea pigs has given Carmen the confidence to start up an additional activity. She collects manure from nearby guinea pig breeders, which she then combines with organic waste to obtain a SuperMezcla, a compost that she sells as a biological fertiliser. A few years ago she started out with ten bags per month. The monthly production has now increased to 500 bags. The average net profit per bag is 0.39 dollars, which means an additional income of about 200 dollars per month.
The sales of guinea pigs and compost earn Carmen an income that is higher than her husband’s. He earns 300 dollars per month from a company that sells fertilizers, crop protection and sowing seed to farmers. ‘But my husband and children do help me for the production of compost’, Carmen modestly adds. ‘I am responsible for general management, while they perform all operations on the computer. I have never learned how to do that.’
Carmen’s big dreams? ‘I feel like a real entrepreneur and so I would like to expand the production of my guinea pigs and compost.’ The future looks rosier than ever for Carmen and her family. Her only fear is that the physical labour will get to her one day. ‘I have a hernia, but the pain is bearable for now’, she states. Every year Carmen pays a social contribution of EUR 35. In return the cost of the medication is refunded. But just to be clear: if she were unable to work one day, then she would not be entitled to any benefits.
Carmen assumes that at least one of her sons will continue the breeding of guinea pigs and the production of compost. ‘But they will have to develop additional activities, so as not to deal with the financial insecurity that we are faced with on a daily basis.’ How would she like to spend old age? ‘I plan to remain active as long as possible. And if I am really no longer able to work I will depend on my children. Apart from a sense of entrepreneurship the care for each other is our main source of social security.’