Meet Raquel, a Peruvian oregano farmer

Raquel Cupa de Justo (in the middle) accompanies
IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze on a visit to Sibayo, Peru.
©IFAD/ Oscar Durand
Raquel Cupa de Justo projects a quiet dignity earned over years of facing down adversity and reaching for her dreams in the rugged, unforgiving landscape of Peru’s highlands. Today, in Talaca, Candarave, a town located at 3,350 meters above sea level in the south of the country, she is a successful oregano farmer and founder of “Asociación de productores agropecuarios ecológicos Imperial de Talaca” and contributed to the founding of an umbrella organization,“Central de Asociaciones de productores de oregano de Candarave (CEAPRO)”.

Life has not always been kind to Raquel. Born in Payaya, located in the region of Tacna, in the southern most point in Peru, as a young woman, Raquel worked the corn fields for 10 soles (US$ 3,6) a day. At the time, she had two small children and a husband. When he left her, after 15 years of marriage and she became head of her household, she learned that it would be impossible to raise her two adolescent boys, Jose Antonio and Henry, with her meager income. It was only normal that Raquel felt depressed. But, her brother told her: “Don’t waste your time crying, just work very hard and focus on educating your children and putting them through college”.

And so, Raquel set out on a mission. She started an oregano plantation in the mid- 1990s, with the price of oregano at about 4 soles (US$ 1,4) per kilo. Today, a kilo of oregano sells for 7.20 to 8.20 soles, nearly double. “Oregano takes time,” Rachel says. It took her two years to make any profit, but she thought, “If I dedicated 22 years of my life to my children and educating them, I can dedicate two years to start up with oregano”. Her first big success came in 2006, when Imperial de Talaca sold 300 kilos of oregano. With the money she earned, she was able to buy a few hectares of land and added to her holdings in 2011 when she bought land in Sama, on the coast of Tacna, where her children also grow oregano.

CEAPRO was founded in 2007 and, in the same year, won a CLAD award (Comites Locales de Asignacion de Recursos), a local competition through the Sierra Sur Project, funded by the International Fund for Agrucultural Development (IFAD) and Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture, to start up their business. Now, CEAPRO manages 203 hectares and has 231 members. Oregano is grown on about half of the land, while they cultivate thyme and rosemary on the other portion. Her association’s long-term vision is to become a direct exporter of oregano, and they are well on their way, already exporting to Chile through a broker for its national markets.

Their next milestone will be when their products are certified organic. CEAPRO was one of numerous organizations which participated in an annual rural development fair and competition earlier this month under the Sierra Sur project. The event took place in Quequena, Peru and coincided with the visit of IFAD’s President, Kanayo F. Nwanze, and Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Josefina Stubbs.