“You see private enterprise as a monster that will devour you, but if PepsiCo had not appeared, the field does not grow.”
This is how Javier Castaño, a Colombian farmer who provides green bananas to the American soda and food company, expresses himself.
Castaño is known by everyone as “Tata” in the National Agricultural Association of Banana Producers in the town of Belén de Umbría (Asplabel), in the “Coffee Axis” of central-western Colombia, which brings together 200 farmers and 50 women used in its maquila, the processing plant where the fruit is peeled.
Asplabel leaves the largest supply (40%) of banana for PepsiCo, the first industrial buyer of this fruit in the country and producer of the popular snacks Natuchips and Toditos, which are seen in stores and in typical street carts.
Coffee in hand, Tata, legal representative of Asplabel, remembers that the local farmers, “almost all victims of violence”, joined in 2000, to dedicate themselves to the cultivation of bananas, which for many has gone from being something residual to a livelihood
The “parameters changed” nine years ago, when they signed a contract to sell their product at a price agreed with PepsiCo, a company that has given them infrastructure and training.
Before, “marketers were enriched at the rib of the producer”, often subject to violent agents, robberies or scams when he took his merchandise to the fresh market, says Lucia Marin, another farmer.
She arrived in Asplabel in 2003 after losing her husband, murdered, who managed the family coffee farm and with two children in charge. “I had to face the reality of business,” says this little businesswoman who now employs five people and shuffles to plant more bananas.
The banana that these farmers produce on their farms is transported to the Asplabel maquila, in the Risaralda mountain range, from where about 30 tons of peeled fruit are sent to Bogotá every week.
The maquila stands sheltered among palm trees and next to it the works of a kindergarten for the workforce are completed, mostly composed of women who are heads of household.