The story begins in 1951 with twelve Quaker families leaving Alabama (US) and settling in Monteverde. Two families used their experience in dairy production to establish the Productores de Monteverde dairy company in 1953 with nine shareholders and two employees. Two years later, the Quaker community taught other community members how to produce milk. Horses and ox-drawn carts brought milk to the factory which processed about 400 litres per day.
In the 1960s, the Quakers decided to open the company’s ownership to the community and today 54% of the company is owned by the milk producers, 40% by people of the community and 6% by the employees. The company produces some 26 types of cheeses and other dairy products.
A driving force in the region
With over 400 employees the company is a driving force in the region’s social and economic development. Every day four trucks, each with a capacity of 12,000 litres, collect milk from nearly 200 small farms (15-20 cows) throughout the region.
Credit and technical assistance
In 2009, the Oikocredit-CEGESTI Schokland Fund provided the company with credit and technical assistance to improve operations and social and environmental outcomes.
Getting more out of our milk
Mr Jose Luis Vargas, the General Manager, appreciates the improvements that came with the partnership: “The loan from Oikocredit and the Schokland Fund enabled us to buy our first closed cheese vat. This enabled us to get more out of our milk thanks to better temperature control, improved curd cutting and better product quality because our product was no longer exposed to the environment and potential product contamination.”
The technical assistance provided by CEGESTI introduced rigour and discipline into the way the company measures and monitors its environmental impact.
In his office Mr Vargas showed us a series of tables and graphs reflecting the company’s achievements in reducing electricity, bunker fuel and water consumption. He also explained how they reduced organic and inorganic waste, which materials are now being recycled and how occupational health and safety hazards are being addressed.
Ambitious environmental targets
Mr Vargas has ambitious plans for the future: “For example, we are investing in water recycling technologies to further reduce our water consumption.”
“We are also introducing environmentally friendly technologies to our associates”, says Mr Vargas. “We are introducing freon-free refrigeration units and 35 farms have already switched to this technology. As a company, we are committed to delivering high-quality products in a sustainable way.”
Improvements don’t come easy
Mr Vargas concedes that not all of these achievements have been easy: “Educating and raising awareness among our employees and collaborators has been crucial as has been the commitment of management to the company’s social and environmental responsibility.”
The company’s vision is to be “widely recognized for producing in harmony with the environment” and for its presence in the community. For the past 11 years, it has been organising an annual mountain bike event which brings together over 2,000 cyclists to raise money for the Red Cross, schools in the area and associations working with the disabled.
Profit for training and technical assistance
The company allocates almost 1% of its gross annual profit to skills training and other technical assistance needs of its producer shareholders. The company also manages a savings and loan fund from which farmers can borrow up to USD10,000 to use for farm improvements. 135 milk farmers are participating in this scheme and in 25 years only one account has had to be written off.
The challenge of finding new markets
Mr Vargas believes that marketing is also a continuing challenge. "Our factory has a capacity of 55,000 litres per day, but we are only able to process about 40,000 litres. We need to develop new markets for our products – but not just any market. We need to reach out to consumers who value the fact that our cheeses are made all year round with natural forage. We need to reach out to a market which appreciates high-quality products delivered with full consideration of social and environmental impact."