Awards 2001 The Worldaware Not-for-profit Award

The Worldaware Not-for-profit Award

This is given to a non-profit-making organisation which has promoted sustainable economic development in poor countries in the developing world through the use of commercial best practice.

The Winner: Quesinor


A team of three, later eight, set out in 1996 into the Sierra Norte, between Quito and Ecuador's Colombian border, to persuade villagers to buy better cows, rear them better and set up cooperative cheesemaking plants. They would borrow the money from a fund provided by the Belgian government. The scheme is called Programa Queserias Sierra Norte.

The Sierra, close to the equator but ranging in altitude from 7,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level, is home to about 200,000 people. It has suffered an alarming loss of trees. Poor roads have meant limited opportunities for small farmers to sell their milk, which sometimes was sour by the time it reached a buyer. Some farmers made cheese on a small scale.

But times have changed for over a thousand farmers and their families. There are now 13 modern cheese plants (plus one under construction) in which 355 farmers are partners and to which a further 700 also supply milk, at an attractive price of 20 US cents a litre. The plants process two million litres of milk a year.

They are banded together in Quesinor, which sells $40,000 worth of cheese a month not just locally but to supermarkets in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil and to Colombia. Many farmers use their land better, planting it with trees, introducing sprinkler irrigation and controlling grazing with barbed wire or electric fencing rather than simply by tethering animals. The co-operatives have planted 40 hectares of trees. They have also set up village savings-and-loans banks.

Children go to school because parents no longer need them to help earn more from their farms. The scheme has invested over two million dollars in all. It has been hard going. High inflation makes purchased materials expensive. It was difficult to achieve a consistently high standard of cheese because milk was acid or adulterated or affected by mastitis; or trained cheesemakers grew careless or left for better-paying jobs. Drought in both 2000 and 2001 and controls on milk quality have meant less milk for the plants. Some unsatisfactory partners have been expelled for failing to observe the cooperative rules.

Nevertheless, the Quesinor scheme has provided a guaranteed market for milk, plus access to credit which farmers have faithfully repaid. It has encouraged farmers to switch away from arable farming in an area where rainfall is diminishing. It has produced cheese good enough to sell in another country.

Cheesemakers trained at one plant have gone on to give training at others. Quesinor workers, once trained, have shown they can hold their own in bargaining with supermarkets and other buyers. Local government has been impressed. Gustavo Tuquerres, Quesinor's president, comments: "A lot of villages where there are cheese plants have better transport and roads, health centres, drainage systems and better schools."

Senor Tuquerres says that farmers in the scheme typically have about three cows, yielding about nine litres of milk a day. They have fewer debts than before and they have water, electricity and even television in their homes. Partners share the profits made by cheese plants. Quesinor wants to ally itself with other cheese plants elsewhere in Ecuador and to cause other sectors of society to set standards for the food trade.

The Judges say

We applaud Quesinor for the dramatic improvement seen in the management and business performance of the 355 members of the organisations' 13 cheese making communities in northern Ecuador. That this has been achieved in a country currently experiencing such a steep economic decline is truly outstanding. We were particularly impressed by how the organisation has managed to increase production, employment and quality, and has involved the local community in education on livestock quality and breeding programmes. We strongly support this organisation and are confident that its inspirational work will expand further. Its concentration on training and good management practices is exemplary, and deserves replication worldwide. We feel that Quesinor provides a first class model for dairy quality control, which has led to debt free ownership for its members and increased export capability. Quesinor truly embodies the spirit of a co-operative venture.

Quesinor, Oviedo 11-18 y Luis Cabezas Borja, Ibarra, Ecuador
Tel: +593 6 601201 Fax: +593 6 956031