The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Peru particularly hard. With over 600,000 cases reported nationwide, Peru has the second highest number of cases in Latin America. In addition, the per capita mortality rate in Peru is now the highest in the world. The government has reacted strongly by closing its borders to international travelers and restricting interprovincial travel within Peru to areas under quarantine, such as Huánuco and–until this month–San Martín, regions where NCBA CLUSA carries out the majority of its work in the country. The government has also imposed mandatory curfews in both quarantine and non-quarantine areas, which have impacted commercial activities.
Since the first reported COVID-19 case in Peru in March, the Peruvian economy has contracted by 30 percent and millions of people are out of work. In a COVID-19 impact survey focused on agricultural cooperatives in eight countries led by Land O’Lakes Venture37—in collaboration with NCBA CLUSA, Equal Exchange and Global Communities through the USAID Cooperative Development Program (CDP)—it was found that travel restrictions in Peru have led to a slowdown in operations among 95.5 percent of the cooperatives surveyed. These restrictions were considered among the most severe impacts of COVID-19 on cooperative operations, particularly in the coffee sector.
Peru and its largest coffee producing regions, like Huánuco, face a dilemma: continue quarantine at the expense of the country’s largest export commodity (i.e. coffee) or open up the country at a great cost to human life. Peru is trying to strike a balance between the two by taking a phased-in approach, with regions moving back-and-forth between phases as local case counts either improve or worsen. While this strategy allows the country to mitigate some of the worst economic and health impacts of COVID-19, its unpredictability has made it difficult for cooperatives to plan for the future. NCBA CLUSA is supporting Peruvian coffee and cacao cooperatives to manage this uncertainty so that they are better able to cope with the slowdown in operations and are more equipped to emerge from the pandemic in a stronger position than before.
Through the USAID CDP project, NCBA CLUSA is supporting cooperatives, apex organizations and government partners in their COVID-19 responses. At the cooperative level, NCBA CLUSA is conducting nearly 50 virtual coaching activities in six target areas, which were identified during a needs assessment carried out with the general managers of 15 partner coffee and cacao cooperatives and updated soon after the first effects of the pandemic were felt. They include coaching activities on cooperative law, accounting and taxes, finance, marketing and member relations, governance, and psychological support services. The coaches are helping cooperatives apply for COVID relief and other available funding, adapt to new standards and norms under COVID-19, expand their buyer networks, and strengthen their online presence through an emphasis on digital marketing, among other objectives. In addition, NCBA CLUSA, in partnership with the Peruvian Ministry of Production and DEVIDA (National Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs), has organized biweekly meetings on Fridays and Saturdays—called Marketing Fridays and Cooperative Saturdays, respectively—that will provide cooperative members and subject matter experts an opportunity to discuss and coordinate responses to the main challenges their sector is facing as a result of COVID-19. These activities are broadcast on NCBA CLUSA’s new Facebook and Instagram pages, managed by the NCBA CLUSA Peru country office.
NCBA CLUSA also partners with the National Confederation of Cooperatives (CONFENACOOP) and the National Coffee Board to reach a larger audience with their interventions, which will include holding virtual workshops nationwide for cooperatives on several priority topics, such as cooperative law, gender and youth inclusion, and psychological counseling for cooperative members, many of whom are dealing with anxiety and grief brought on by COVID-19. NCBA CLUSA will also provide strategic planning support to the National Coffee Board to help them accomplish their goal of becoming a national federation of coffee cooperatives and a member of CONFENACOOP, which would also help CONFENACOOP better reflect the cooperative sector’s diverse members and interests.
At the national level, NCBA CLUSA continues supporting cooperative stakeholders’ legal advocacy work, as COVID-19 has created an urgency to bring about changes in the country’s cooperative law more quickly. In collaboration with AGRITERRA, NCBA CLUSA supported a measure led by the Ministry of Production to develop and pass an emergency decree in June 2020 to extend cooperative representatives’ legal powers to sign contracts, access credit, and organize activities, and to allow cooperatives to hold virtual general assemblies during quarantine. NCBA CLUSA regularly participates in the Ministry of Production’s Aprendo en 20(Learning in 20 [minutes]) webinar series to deliver critical information on the implications of the emergency decree on cooperatives, as well as on how to apply for emergency funding from the government.
Lastly, NCBA CLUSA is excited to partner with Direct Global/Direct Co-Ops to pilot an e-commerce platform in Peru that will advance cooperation among cooperatives in both a commercial and social sense. This partnership will facilitate sales, make it easier for cooperatives to purchase inputs, and strengthen cooperative apex organizations (read more about this initiative here). Despite disruptions to in-person activities, NCBA CLUSA’s CDP project is adapting to virtual programming, responding to unexpected challenges, identifying opportunities, and imagining new possibilities for cooperatives in a post-pandemic Peru.