Name: Bryan Dodson
Current title/profession: Investor and Entreprener for Mombacho Cigars SA
Current hometown: Narragansett, RI
Areas of expertise: Business leadership, international business, strategic development
Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Caribbean Region
Location of the project: Colombia
Organization that sent the volunteer: Partners of the Americas
Partners of the Americas’ Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program in Colombia centers mostly on strengthening the business side of agricultural associations comprised of smallholder farmers. Partners F2F Colombia’s most important partner organizations is CorpoValle, a non-profit development agency focused on planning, evaluating, and implementing agricultural development projects in Colombia’s Valle del Cauca department. They support 65 smallholder agricultural associations by strengthening their business and technical capabilities. CorpoValle assists 3,200 fruit and vegetable growers from 29 municipalities, impacting approximately 12,000 people.
F2F Colombia has completed eight volunteer assignments with 11 different associations under CorpoValle. One of these was with ASOPROUVAS, a smallholder farmer association that produces mostly Isabella grapes in the El Cerrito municipality. ASOPROUVAS currently works with 50 producers that grow about 600 tons of grapes every six months. 80% of them are smallholder farmers that work their land themselves; only 20% can afford to hire workers during certain seasons.
Although about 90% of the ASOPROUVAS associates are actively involved in the organization, by then most were still selling their produce independently when the F2F volunteer arrived in December of 2019. Individual selling is a risk as it increases the likelihood of opportunistic behavior by buyers, reduces their market power, and prevents them from achieving economies of scale to reduce their costs. ASOPROUVAS also aligned with three other grape-producing associations to form a cooperative called Corpouvas, which is the holding company of a pulp processing plant that is currently being built by the local government.
The volunteer that flew to Colombia to support ASOPROUVAS is Bryan Dodson. Bryan currently resides in Rhode Island and holds a master’s degree in Management Science. He has been a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer more than 20 times in Central Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central America; he was also a two-time Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and Ukraine.
Before his assignment, Bryan had several online meetings with representatives from ASOPROUVAS. He conducted a market analysis of grape and grape-related products in the U.S. to analyze the potential to develop new products. These included fruit leather, purees, juice, pulp, dry and dehydrated fruit (raisins), and freeze-dried grapes. Some of these products are not produced or commercialized in Colombia, and seeing them motivated the farmers to innovate. As ASOPROUVAS’ President, Jaime Arana, explained, “Bryan opened their eyes to the possibility of diversifying their products.”
The farm of one of the ASOPROUVAS' associates, which Bryan visited on December 2nd, 2019.
Once in El Cerrito, Bryan toured the pulp processing plant and visited a table grape sorting and distribution center, a juice processing facility, and the country’s largest pulp producer. Bryan also conducted an in-country market survey and held meetings with ASOPROUVAS representatives and potential commercial partners.
He explained to the association the importance of finding common buyers and selling collectively to guarantee better prices and stable incomes. Since January 2020, most of the associates have come together to sell 15 tons of grapes per week; five tons go to a purchaser for supermarket stocking in Medellin, and a pulp processing plant purchases 5 tons. By selling together, they guarantee a buyer as well as higher prices.
Bryan visiting Colombian markets to study different products made from grapes, on December 5th, 2019.
At the end of his assignment, Bryan left the organization with several recommendations to continue their development progress. He recommended that ASOPROUVAS establish a commercial committee and hire one person as a general manager. By February, they appointed not only a general manager but also a logistics officer that visits the farms, identifies the quality of the grapes, and supervises the logistics of the deliveries. These positions have improved their efficiency and functionality. The associates also agreed to direct all interested intermediaries to the commercial committee so the latter can negotiate collectively. ASOPROUVAS also established a marketing team under the commercial committee that aims to position the Isabela grape as a unique variety, sweeter, and more flavorful than others. The team is planning to start a website and Facebook page and is looking into certifications.
Bryan also recommended that they identify potential needs and customers and strategically create offerings to meet new market demands. For example, Bryan told ASOPROUVAS that most of the plants and processors that they visited in the country bought grapes from intermediaries, so they did not have to worry about harvesting, pruning, packing and transporting them to their facilities. Taking Bryan’s recommendations into account, ASOPROUVAS partnered with an intermediary to access a permanent team that offers all its associates these services.
Members from ASOPROUVAS have said that Bryan’s support and advice were vital, as it made them feel proud of their work as farmers and motivated them to work hard to benefit their fellow members. They also credit his support with empowering them to come together to grow, both personally and collectively. It was this confidence that encouraged them to meet with the Municipal Secretary of Agriculture and Environment in El Cerrito on January 2020 to request their support in finishing the pulp producing plant formally. Additionally, they also asked Colombia’s National Institute for Learning (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje – SENA) for support, which agreed to provide them with free training on drip irrigation and Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). These workshops will help them to comply with certifications and will guarantee better prices.
Although Bryan’s recommendations have been implemented for a relatively short time, Mr. Arana says that they can already feel the difference. The farmers are less stressed, and their client base has expanded. Their number of associates has also increased from 44 to more than 50, and Mr. Arana credits Bryan with “igniting that spark that motivated them to commercialize their produce after being too scared to do so for 17 years”. ASOPROUVAS remembers Bryan’s advice with gratitude and positivism.
Through volunteers like Bryan Dodson, Partners of the Americas F2F supports smallholder farmers in developing countries that promote local economic development while improving the quality of life of those most in need.