How Oikocredit partner PAI cultivates quality and equity in Argentine agriculture

How Oikocredit partner PAI cultivates quality and equity in Argentine agriculture

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The agricultural consortium PAI, an Oikocredit partner since 2015, promotes sustainable agriculture in Argentina through fair-trade farming, strategic partnerships and innovative investments.

The agricultural sector has a strong role to play in maintaining food security while improving the livelihoods of farmers and food producers. At Oikocredit, agriculture accounts for 17% of our development financing and our partners work with 2.59 million farmers around the world. One such organisation is Productores Argentinos Integrados (PAI).  

An Oikocredit partner since 2015, the Latin American consortium of fresh fruit exporters promotes sustainable agriculture in Argentina through strategic partnerships, innovative investments and a commitment to quality and fairness. 

This article highlights PAI’s fair-trade work and its impact on our interconnected food system. 

Ensuring fair prices for farmers  

PAI comprises 12 fruit packing companies located in the Alto Valle del Río Negro region and in Neuquén in northern Patagonia.  

Created in 1974 to improve competitiveness and achieve economies of scale, the consortium is Argentina's largest exporter of pears and apples, selling its produce to over 30 countries. Organic fruit accounts for almost 20% of its exports. In addition, PAI guarantees fair prices to the 280 small and medium-sized fruit producers it works with, providing essential support to these players with limited bargaining power.  

To meet its ambitious commercial programmes, the PAI network collectively operates across more than 3,200 hectares. Operations span production areas, packaging facilities, refrigeration systems and logistics services. 

PAI is a pioneer in the development of organic farming in Argentina and is the country’s first company to export biodynamic pears and apples. 

Above all, PAI stands out for its concentration on markets with high purchasing power.  

In 2015, PAI became Oikocredit's first fruit trading partner in Argentina and northern Patagonia. 

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Certifications to guarantee product quality 

As an association that promotes fair trade, quality control is fundamental to PAI's operations.

To this end, PAI's teams work with some of the most prestigious labels and certification bodies in the industry. These certify its track record, performance, commitment and compliance with standards on preserving the environment and respect for the people and communities in which they operate. On the food safety front, these certifications include Brand Reputation through Compliance Global Standard (BRCGS) and Global Gap. The consortium’s organic orchards and packing centres are likewise certified organic. Finally, its social responsibility is certified by Fair Trade USA, the Global Gap Risk Assessment on Social Practice (GRASP), and the Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (ETI Smeta).

“Oikocredit's loans are essential for us”

Since the 1920s, Humberto Canale is a producer of apples and pears in the picturesque countryside of General Roca, in the province of Río Negro, in northern Patagonia. Founded by Humberto Canale himself in 1909, the family business has diversified from wine production to fruit growing.

Under the management of German Barzi, great-grandson of the founder, Humberto Canale is still thriving, with many generations of the family contributing to its success. Growing apples and pears on 400 hectares of land, the company employs around 150 permanent workers and welcomes up to 680 seasonal workers during the harvest season, from January to March.

Humberto Canale has been a member of PAI since 1977.

German, who is also Vice-Chairman of PAI's Board of Directors, says Oikocredit’s long-term loans have been important in helping farmers to modernise their operations and invest in technologies such as elevated harvesting platforms. Overall, investment in technology has become a necessity for the business.

German reflects on his experience with Oikocredit: “After planting fruit trees, it takes ten years to reap the full benefits. Oikocredit's involvement has therefore been particularly important, as it offers long-term loans which are essential for us. Especially given the economic instability in Argentina, it is almost impossible to obtain long-term loans in the country. With Oikocredit, we obtained our first loan about eight years ago, and the second two years ago. We use these loans to invest in harvesting platforms and other machinery.”  

Each year, the farm produces eight million kilos of fruit, and German intends to invest progressively in new picking platforms.


Fostering prosperity for a lasting impact  

PAI’s commitment to quality and sustainability enables companies such as Humberto Canale to thrive in international markets. Thanks to its association with PAI, the fruit grower has obtained several quality certifications and follows a fair-trade approach. These enable Humberto Canale to maintain high standards of quality and environmental impact while responding to growing consumer demand for organic products.  

“Not all our production is organic, but we use virtually no chemicals, thanks in part to the dry climate of this region,” German says.

Humberto Canale has a long-term vision of more than 10 years, aiming not for quantity but for quality. German also stresses the importance of investing in sustainable practices, including the use of solar panels and efficient irrigation systems to meet the challenges of climate change, while preserving the family heritage and culture of the business.

“We have solar panels that provide 80% of the energy we need in the offices and the winery,” he adds.

The association currently exports its products to a number of countries, including the US, the Netherlands, England and Italy.

These countries impose strict standards on fruit, whether conventionally grown or organic. Ensuring that producers can meet these benchmarks strengthens quality across the value chain while contributing to overall food security and securing better prices for farmers.

Together with financial support from Oikocredit, PAI can look forward to a promising future with potential for market expansion.

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