An initiative of

Jan Bernard


Hi, I'm Jan Bernard of ProNatur and I grow organic exotic fruits such as maracuja and granadilla in the jungle of Peru. ProNatur is an association of individual landowners who have organized themselves to pool their resources in order to afford technical assistance and gain access to the export market. The association was founded in 1996 in the tropical highlands of the Peruvian rainforest around the town of Moyobamba. Today more than 1,000 families participate in the organization and actively cultivate just over 3,300 ha of coffee, mango and limes together with other crops such as beans peas, bananas, asparagus and more. In addition to the cultivated areas they also care for approximately 50,000 ha of (mainly endangered) Amazon rainforest.

The average plot size is usually between 2 and 5 ha, depending on the number of family members. They are located in remote areas in the northern highlands of Peru. Some of them are farmed by recently established migrant families from the higher, impoverished Andean regions, others by local people, and some by small groups of descendants of Aguaruna and Huambisa (the original native people of this Amazon region) who are slowly but progressively integrated - socially as well as economically.

The majority of the plots are in the Altomayo region, on both banks of the Mayo river, and on the eastern slopes of the mighty Marañón at an altitude of 1300 to 2000 m above sea level. These rivers wind their way through the fertile, high lying rain forest of the upper reaches of the Amazon basin in Peru, famous for its biodiversity. However, due to the fragility of these fertile soils they need to be protected from heavy rains to prevent them from eroding.

Therefore each family receives assistance to improve their agricultural practices and learn about agro-ecological concepts to preserve the delicate balance of this eco-system. The continuous presence of agronomists specialized in agro-ecology, sociologists and technicians, all of them dedicated to developing sustainable agro-ecosystems, are helping to introduce new concepts of efficiency, product quality and environmental responsibility in the area.

The families are individually responsible to cultivate their land, but have agreed to follow organic principles which comply with the regulation of various European and U.S. certifiers, such as Bio-Suisse, Naturland, USDA-NOP. An internal control organization is responsible to ensure that their standards are fulfilled and that the necessary certification requirements are adhered to.

ProNatur has succeeded in improving and assuring incomes to its members and their communities through efficient and transparent methods of production and marketing.


Interview with Jan Bernard

N&M: What motivated you to start an organic project in this remote region of Peru?
Jan Bernhard: Given the fragility of our eco-system and the wealth it offers in terms of bio-diversity, ecological (organic) farming was the only option. We had seen the detrimental effects of the "Green Revolution" in other regions of Peru, which had been settled much earlier. And when the first signs of deterioration were evident in our region, we felt that we had to do something in order to secure our livelihood. Ecological farming is based on the principles of soil fertility, bio-diversity and making use of local resources
All that suited us well, since we needed to preserve our soils and bio-diversity. Since we could not afford any external inputs, we had to become creative with what we had at hand.

N&M: Can you give an example?
Jan: We used simple techniques such as mulch and compost to prevent erosion and the leaching of nutrients from the soil. Careful, well-balanced pruning avoids the rapid aging of trees and provides optimum conditions for understorey plants such as the typical coffee varieties of this region. The extraordinarily wide variety of old-growth shade trees is not only important for migratory birds who winter in this region. They form an extensive canopy for the traditional varieties of coffee, which require shade to do well. By preserving them, we were able to overcome the ill effects of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture. Instead of relying on foods brought in from far away markets, we encouraged our people to cultivate more crops such as beans, peas, cassava, bananas, etc. to supplement their dietary needs while maintaining a greater diversity at the same time.

N&M: Are these crops all well suited to be grown in this area?
Jan: Yes. The beans, for example, belong to the Phaseolus and Vigna genera and are considered wild. Their cultivation over a period of 3,000 years has allowed them to adapt well to this arid region. They provide people with essential protein and are an important source of vitamin B1. Cassava originated in Brazil, but has been cultivated here for hundreds of years. It is an important source of carbohydrates and forms part of most meals.

N&M: It sounds as if Pronatur is more a development project, rather than a business?
Jan: Actually, it is a cooperative business venture with a strong development aspect. Everything we have done is the result of commitment and hard work of the people participating in Pronatur. Due to our ecological practices and our democratic organization we qualified for organic certification, which allowed us to achieve a better price for the crops we export to Europe and the U.S. But without these markets this development would not have been possible.

N&M: Have you received any assistance from aid organizations to make all this development possible?
Jan: No. Everything Pronatur stands for today is the result of our own resources.
N&M: Given the size of your organization there must have been quite some logistical challenges. Can you describe some?
Jan: Getting everybody lined up for certification may have been the most difficult aspect of all. That required that everybody understand the importance of adhering to a set of pre-established standards. Although traditional agricultural practices were well in line with organic practices, we still had a lot of explaining to do, particularly in terms of basic pruning practices and erosion control. But once people realized that adhering to somewhat stricter standards resulted in better crops this work became easier. Nevertheless we have a full time team of agronomists which assists our members wherever necessary. In order to obtain organic certification we had to develop an internal control system to document our agricultural practices so that these could be verified by the respective certification organizations. All that created a lot of paperwork which we were not used to and nobody likes to do. But we did it. With our growers being spread out over quite a large area, which is difficult to reach by road, we also had to overcome the issue of transportation. Rather than do it all ourselves, we cooperate with small existing companies which move our products to Chiclayo from where they get shipped to their final destination.

N&M: What are your hopes for the future?
Jan: I think it is important that consumers realize that they can have an effect in world affairs, despite all the negative press on globalization. I would like to see many more projects such as Pronatur receive the active support of consumers worldwide. That way, globalization can be seen in a positive way, because it enables people in other parts of the world to share the wealth and live in dignity

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