The business model that is "knitting" a response to Covid in Ecuador

The business model that is "knitting" a response to Covid in Ecuador

14/12/2020
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In the south of the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, a neighbourhood initiative is giving life to a participatory process in which both consumers and producers have strengthened links that go beyond the purchase and sale of agro-ecological products, forming a space to create and build responsible food consumption and resilient practices.

In 2017, after several individual and group experiences, an economic model which was both social and one of solidarity, was conceived, with its main objective being to promote and consume healthy food, directly from producers. This is how the Consumer Cooperative: Sur-Siendo Redes y Sabores (meaning knitting networks and tastes in Spanish) was formed.

Each of the characteristics were defined in a participatory manner, and from the outset it was decided that six-monthly meetings would be held, at which consumers and farmers set the prices of products and producers, and a percentage was also set for distribution.

However, this amount should not make products more expensive, nor deprive consumers of the most vulnerable sectors, because the motto was "eating healthy and without exclusion," as Roberto Guerrero, manager of the Cooperativa Sur-Siendo Redes y Sabores, explains.

Three years have passed since this autonomous process of training and neighbourhood participation, in which the Cooperative tested alternatives based on the needs and realities of the actors involved. Thus, for example, in addition to fairs, the collective basket distribution groups and the bio-shop, there were also educational activities and activities to promote responsible consumption.

The Cooperative had a positive impact on the consumption of healthy and accessible products in several neighbourhoods in the south of the capital, in areas where they were scarce or non-existent, because they were considered more expensive, or due to ignorance of their benefits.

Roberto highlights a survey carried out by the Indoamerican University, according to which 150 families have changed their eating habits and are now regular consumers. 60% of the people who know about agroecological products have changed their diets and 41% have indicated that these new habits and daily practices were learned through the promotion activities of the Cooperative.

He says that by 2020, the model of larger fairs was expected to be strengthened, such as the Mother Earth Festival, which in 2019, registered revenues of 15 thousand dollars a day and included musical, artistic and cultural events, training sessions and the participation of more than 40 producers and 300 consumer families.

This year also saw the formalisation of the alliance with Rikolto through the "Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems (SAS)" programme, which for Guerrero represents a great opportunity based on trust, to develop new alternatives and advance the process that has developed autonomously.

With Rikolto, we are working so that these strategies are systematised with an internal management structure, and an assessment of the work of our colleagues, because we understand that this is part of returning to a sustainable Cooperative.

Gabriela Paredes Project consultant – Rikolto

Learning: our capacity for resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic and the government's decision to limit mobility to avoid an escalation of infection and loss of life, radically changed the landscape and our plans. "We understood that this model is resilient, because despite all we faced, distribution channels were maintained and families were cared for," says Guerrero.

During the food shortage in Quito, the Cooperative acted on the spot, responding to the needs of hundreds of consumers, receiving orders by mobile phone, managing storage spaces, and distributing orders for the agro-ecological baskets.

We understood that this model is resilient, because despite all we faced, distribution channels were maintained and families were cared for.

Roberto Guerrero Manager of the Cooperative

Gabriela comments that, in the face of the emergency, the Cooperative reacted alone and through "social roots" that had been built up over all these years. It carried out collections at neighbours’, at the same time, managed the resources strategically, implemented digital forms and the design of the virtual shop through which the orders are made online, improving the commercial structure and the quality of customer service.

It is at the fair where these relationships are consolidated, where this dynamic of face-to-face consumption and access to healthy and fair food is developed. However, together with Rikolto, marketing lines are also analysed in larger volumes to alleviate logistics costs.

Bio-shops, social franchises

Gradually, new agro-ecological fairs are organised.

The bio-shop that emerged as a working alternative for female members of the Cooperative, could also be a strategy that allowss the model to be sustained through a process of social franchising.

Roberto points out that they are still analysing and designing the most suitable model, because there is not much experience here. For him, the most important thing is that the marketing scheme keeps the spirit of the initiative intact.

He comments that there are similar experiences in Colombia where the franchise is owned by social and solidarity economy companies and in its structure, the management has solidarity and support mechanisms for the capitalisation of families.

"The idea is to leave the costs, the business plans, the brand manuals to the Cooperative, with all the financial documentation, so that this can be reflected in the franchise manuals, in the cost calculations and a legal structure that defines what can and cannot be marketed in these spaces," explains Gabriela.

The franchise model, in addition to being a point of promotion, in terms of sales, should be a means of generating knowledge, debate and education about food and food sovereignty, thus maintaining its essence and being a vehicle for disseminating the vision of the Cooperative.

"The idea is to leave the costs, the business plans, the brand manuals to the Cooperative, with all the financial documentation, so that this can be reflected in the franchise manuals, in the cost calculations and a legal structure that defines what can and cannot be marketed in these spaces," explains Gabriela.

Also, certifications are pending, as well as commercialisation in greater volumes, as part of the distribution system and strengthening of the channels, actions that according to Roberto are motivating because "such harmony and possibilities exist," as he states when referring to Rikolto's support.

"We have fulfilled our social mission, we continue to eat healthy and bring healthy food to the South for everyone (...) Later, as a Social and Solidarity Economy Cooperative, some challenges must be taken up again", concludes Roberto.

Writer: Isabel Proanio, Communication Consultant | Edition and style: Natalia Palomino, Communication Coordinator Rikolto in Latin America.