Biz Latin Hub’s Carina Zambrano had the pleasure of connecting with Cheryl Harvey, Founder and Mindful Director of Seeds of Ayllu Limited and former Country Manager to our office in Lima, Peru.
We gained insight into her experience exporting high quality, nutritious, consciously cultivated Brazil Nuts and Cacao from the Amazon Rainforest of Peru and communities in Guatemala to her home region, the United Kingdom.
Cheryl shares her perspectives on the challenges of doing business in Guatemala and Peru as a British business owner, as well as the differences in business culture while operating in Latin America.
Table of Contents
1. As someone from a small village in the countryside of England, what brought you to Latin America?
In 2010, I left England carrying my backpack and in search of adventure. My plan was to travel for 5 months in Latin America and then return to England to contemplate the next step in my accountancy career. Little did I know what this trip had in store for me and that 10 years later I would be living a very different life; living my true life and working in support of the small indigenous farming communities in Peru and Guatemala.
2. What led you to opening your business, Seeds of Ayllu, in Peru and Guatemala?
In early 2017, I left behind my management position in Lima, Peru. The major shift came when I spent time in the Amazon Region of Madre de Dios-Peru and did deep inner work with native plant medicine. I now have an incredibly strong bond with our Mother Nature and a mission to contribute to the wellbeing of both our people and our planet. I intend to achieve this mission through my business; Seeds of Ayllu.
Peru and Guatemala have been my homes for the last 10 years. I have nurtured both personal and working relationships within indigenous communities, I have recognised the high quality natural foods that these countries produce and I have also understood that, in supporting a collection of small, native farming businesses in Latin America, I can not only share their medicine foods with conscious consumers overseas, but I can also give back to these countries that have given me so much.
3. Why do you choose to sell Brazil Nuts and Cacao in particular? And why is the UK your main target market for these products?
Brazil Nuts are the agricultural pride of Madre de Dios, which is the only Amazon Region of Peru where Brazil Nuts grow. I feel a strong connection to this land, the farmers who carry out the arduous labour of Brazil Nut harvesting and the potential to improve the quality of life for these native communities by reaching external markets with their produce.
Cacao is another medicine food produced in Peru and also in Guatemala. In fact, Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate!
Consumption of both Brazil Nuts and Raw Cacao is increasing, particularly with the growing trends of healthy, raw food, vegetarian and vegan diets. In fact, the UK has the highest level of Brazil Nut consumption in Europe and the second highest in the world. Through my work, I also have the opportunity to unite these diverse lands so close to my heart and to share in my knowledge and experiences.
4. Can you describe what the supply chain looks like from the initial harvesting stage to reaching the final consumer?
At Seeds of Ayllu, we work directly with our producers. The first provider in our supply chain is of course our Mother Earth. Our products are grown naturally, with zero chemical treatment, and are then harvested by our native farmers. From the remotely located plantations, the harvested goods are then transported to sanitary processing plants. The transportation and moving of product requires much manpower, hours on Amazon riverboats, truck rides and experience with product handling.
After processing, quality control, vacuum sealing and packing, our products are then ready for export. The shipping container is loaded and then transported to the departure port for cargo shipping, which is typically 30 days of ocean freight. Upon arrival at the destination port, the products pass through customs clearance and are then delivered by road directly to our customer storage location. We supply to both wholesalers and retailers, through whom our natural food products then reach the final consumer.
5. What are some challenges you face when exporting your products? How have you adapted to those challenges?
The key challenge is to ensure that paperwork and administration are fully correct and complete to ensure that there are no issues or delays when the products pass through customs clearance, both at the time of export departure and arrival to the destination country.
Of course, language can be a barrier to smooth communication. Having lived in Latin America for 10 years, I do speak Spanish and this has been hugely advantageous to my business activities and community connections. I have needed to learn more industry-specific vocabulary and I continue to learn something new every day!
Any business transaction can come with an element of risk. This risk needs to be negated or at least minimalised, particularly when dealing with large volumes of product, large financial transactions and international shipping. This can be overcome by asking for larger advance payments from customers and/or requiring that transactions are handled via Letters of Credit.
6. What key comparisons would you make between the business environments in Peru and Guatemala as a British entrepreneur?
In both Peru and Guatemala, it is difficult for small farming businesses to trade beyond their local market and contacts. Whilst producers are experts in growing and harvesting their agricultural products, the majority have not had the education or experience to then market their products and to reach customers on a wider scale. Here there lies great opportunity for outside entrepreneurs and mutually beneficial collaboration.
Export prices are typically managed in US dollars, although the farmers and in-country service providers are paid in the local currencies. The Peruvian Sol is stronger than the Guatemalan Quetzal, with current exchange rates being approximately 3.5 Soles and 7.5 Quetzales for US$1.
Have patience! I have experienced that, in order not to disappoint, many individuals and businesses in Peru and Guatemala will be very optimistic in their time estimations. Often more time is needed than what is said. Learning and accepting this as being part of cultural behaviour can help to avoid upsets.
It also needs to be considered that there are far more informal businesses in countries such as Peru and Guatemala. In collaborating with and supporting these small producers, it may be necessary to assist in the registration of their businesses and to help obtain certain certificates that will be required when these products are then traded internationally.
7. How do you view the future of Peruvian and Guatemalan economies, and what does business development look like to you in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Peru and Guatemala are two countries that are abundant with natural resources and this has the ability to keep their economies strong.
It is undeniable that there has been great devastation on the national economies due to the effects of the pandemic. The loss of jobs, businesses being forced to close and the loss of income from tourism are just a few examples of how Peru and Guatemala have been negatively impacted by the crisis and the length of time spent in lock down. Recovery is most certainly needed, but these resourceful countries will rise again.
In terms of Seeds of Ayllu business development, early 2020 was looking very promising. However, we have been on pause for the last months as the pandemic halted international trade to some extent and buyers were unwilling to commit to large spending. My feeling now is that markets are becoming more active again. We are focusing on greater preparation, strengthening our foundations and heading towards great success in the coming year 2021.
8. Finally, could you tell us about your fundraising efforts to support local communities in Peru and Guatemala, and what you are working towards in this initiative?
I am currently raising funds to provide food aid and hygiene supplies to unprotected and vulnerable indigenous families in Peru and Guatemala. Distributions have already been made to families in San Marcos La Laguna-Guatemala, Puerto Maldonado-Peru and also a remote tribal community in Palma Real-Peru, with priority being given to the elderly, sick, single mothers and zero to low income families. More help is needed! Whilst other parts of the world are beginning to recover from the pandemic, Peru in particular is battling sickness and both nations are suffering from increased starvation and malnutrition. All donations to support this cause are deeply appreciated.
This initiative is strongly tied to the missions of my business. Seeds of Ayllu is a social and environmental enterprise. 10% of ALL profits made from the export and sale of our natural food products are donated to projects of reforestation, conservation, protection and sustainable management efforts within the Amazon Rainforest, and also to support impoverished indigenous families needing a helping hand in life. Once again, we care about the wellbeing of both our people and our planet, and consciousness is at the foundation of all that we do.
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