OPN Connect Newsletter 59 · April 12, 2018

Covilli Steps Up in Support of Mexican Citrus Farmers with Fair Trade Strategy

Covilli Brand Organics is continuing their cooperative approach to sustainable agricultural programs by partnering with an association of citrus growers of Sonora, Mexico. This partnership has the means to make substantial positive impact on growers, communities and organic standards throughout Mexico, while offering consumers safe, socially and environmentally responsible organic citrus choices.

The association, made up of 12 citrus growers and farming over 1,500 acres of organic Valencia and Navel oranges and red and white grapefruit, is located in San Jose De Guaymas, a coastal region in Sonora, known for its microclimate and juicy, high-brix, and robustly flavored fruit.

Farming in Guaymas, Mexico since the 1990’s, Covilli’s current proprietary organic farming operation consists of about 2,000 acres, of which about 1,200 are actively farmed under an intensive crop rotation program. Covilli’s entire vegetable operation is Fair Trade USA Certified; part of the company’s objective for all programs, including the citrus program.

Covilli programs have achieved considerable recognition with retailers.  Nicholas Christopher, director of organic purchasing for Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, in CA, said, “Our customers have benefitted from the prudent crop management and diverse  Covilli offerings.  Their venture into organizing the company’s entire commodity list as Fair Trade Certified, was a very progressive, positive transition that should be a template for other growers to follow."

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The partnership takes advantage of Covilli’s organic expertise and loyal customer base. Alex Madrigal, president of Covilli, was captivated by the challenging nature and permanence of orchards vs the annual, capricious nature of vegetables. The fact that Mexican citrus continues to gain market relevance only roused the groups’ plans.  Madrigal said all parties knew the endeavor would be long and complicated, but were willing to work together to build programs that endured.

A significant amount of energy and 36 months later, some of the citrus growers hold active organic and food safety certifications, operate their own packing shed and are learning to pack and ship superior quality.

“Before the partnership, the group of growers sold their fruit “on the tree”; based on an agreed price, buyers would pick, pay and leave. Growers had never harvested, packed or operated their own packing shed and didn’t have the first idea on how to approach food safety, organic certification or audits,” said Madrigal. “The possibility of achieving greater, sustainable returns was hindered by their lack of knowledge.”

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Iris Montano-Madrigal, marketing manager at Covilli, said,  “Few brokers or selling agents are willing to share valuable information with producers and most growers have had bad experiences resulting in zero returns, extra charges and contract modifications. We want to change that experience.”

The season will continue to be challenging, as the group continues to work diligently to achieve quality packs which reap the highest returns. But as Iris Madrigal noted, the support they receive from customers is strong, and helps drive the program’s quality, consistency and mission forward.

The extended outlook is for all 12 growers to be certified organic, Fair Trade USA Certified, all selling under the Covilli banner. The plan ensures that growers are fully independent, operating their own orchards and packhouses. The idea of a no strings attached partnership, based on equal risk, sharing of information and transparency is a core Covilli philosophy, according to Madrigal.

“We are trying to change agricultural systems, putting our money where our mouth is. Placing faith and trust in the consumer, while continuing to educate on the holistic nature of food and agriculture,” Iris Montano-Madrigal said.

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