Horticulturists from the Andes impressed by impact of cooperation in Flanders

The power of cooperative collaboration in Flemish horticulture makes a lasting impression. That's what farmers from the Andes have said today, during their working visit to Belgium.
Last week five representatives from ANPE and Pacat paid a visit to horticulturists in Flanders. Accompanied by Trias and the Associaton of Belgian Horticultural Cooperatives (Verbond van Belgische Tuinbouwcoöperaties) they visited horticultural companies, wholesale businesses and a test centre.
According to Sven Debuysscher from Trias Andes, access to services is the key challenge for horticulturists in Peru and Ecuador. 'In both countries the government has made some serious investments in road infrastructure. But it is still difficult for farmers and horticulturists to access seeds, warehouses and microloans. Joint sales are another important point of attention for cooperatives in the Andes.' Debuysscher is convinced that the working visit to Flanders was a real eye-opener for the participants.
Fully-fledged players
'It struck me that Flemish horticulturists really are fully-fledged actors in their chain of production. The market isn't just something that exists over their heads,' said horticulturist from Ecuador Edith Freire during an evening of debate organized by Trias in the Boerenbond building, under the expert guidance of moderator Guy Janssens, former VRT journalist.
In her home country, Edith Freire feels caught between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, the government barely invests in agricultural research and on the other hand, consumers are not inclined to pay an honest price for their food. 'With our organization Pacat, we work towards biological horticulture in order to obtain a decent income.'
Agrarian schooling
Felimon Mechato, president of ANPE, the largest horticultural organisation in Peru, is hopeful. 'Thanks to Trias we have been able, these last few years, to make some serious progress in looking after our members’ interests. But we have still to do a lot of work. Some areas of agricultural production haven't been regulated yet and existing rules often remain void of sense from a lack of government financing.'
At ANPE the horticulturists understand that they will have to work together even more to improve their organisation's impact. 'Above all else, we have to lead our younger members towards cooperative principles,' says Mechato, who wants to invest more in agrarian schooling in collaboration with Trias. In order to design better courses, the people of Peru require teachers in marketing and business management. Would it be possible for the VBT to send over some experts?
Future collaboration
'It is logical that Peruvian horticulturists are reflecting on a marketing strategy,' said VBT director Guy Callebaut, who grows fruit in the Pajottenland area and who has been very successful so far in both Flanders and Africa. However, such a strategy is a complex matter in a country like Peru. Its surface area is 40 times that of Belgium and many regions are hardly accessible. 'In an early phase, we should perhaps dedicate our energy to some proper feasibility studies,' he said.
By evaluating the working visit, we will be able to shine a light on the future collaboration between the VBT and the Andean horticulturists. 'Sustainable development is an important theme for us,' emphasised Philippe Appeltans, general secretary of the VBT. 'With Responsibly Fresh, we created a special programme for this purpose. Solidarity with fellow horticulturists in other parts of the world fits perfectly in this picture.'