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Earlier this year Christian Aid staff travelled to El Salvador to visit a cooperative funded by ITL from 2013 to 2018 through the ITL Inclusive Markets Programme in Central America. The purpose of the trip was to find out how the community is fairing five years on, and to help Christian Aid learn more about how it can ensure long term impact through ITL projects.

In Southern El Salvador, Christian Aid partnered with a group of ex-guerrilla fighters and their families to support their reintegration into society and help them find employment. We did this by supporting this community to establish a shrimp-farming enterprise. The first few years involved supporting the legal establishment of the cooperative, known as Zompopero. Once legally established, the cooperative was able to access national and international markets for their shrimp and production was increased. They built shrimp farms on the shore, alongside the mangroves that shrimp flourish in and constructed a processing centre, where shrimp were cleaned, packaged and frozen for transport. With ITL support they also purchased a chilled van and secured regular buyers, such as hotels and restaurants in San Salvador and beyond. In 2018, when Christian Aid stopped funding the cooperative, they were flourishing and the project was an excellent example of how ITL could bring real change to a marginalised community.  

Image credits and information i
Image of the shrimp processing centre workers working Credit: David Millar, 2023
Group shot of shrimp cooperative members

Then the pandemic happened. El Salvador was hit hard by Covid-19, because it relies on tourism so heavily. Zompopero was particularly exposed as all its buyers were connected to the tourism industry. When the hotels and restaurants stopped having visitors, they cancelled their orders for shrimp.  

So, three years on from the start of the pandemic, Christian Aid colleagues David Millar and Tania Grande, visited Zompopero with Berta from our partner Procares. The first stop was to meet with the cooperative chair, Moisés Hernández in his home.  

He shared how difficult times had been for the cooperative. In 2020 they had to let their paid staff go and could not sell anything, meaning their entire stock that year was lost. For the following two years, they only had two buyers for their shrimp and Moises explained how they had to think creatively to stay in business.  

They rented out the processing space to other groups, reduced the amount of shrimp they bred and started selling dried shrimp which has a longer shelf life, but high inflation made any profit marginal.  A new board was elected at the start of 2023 and spent the first 3 months creating a new business plan to diversify the business. Sitting down with the board, it was clear to see the desire to fight for their business. 

The pandemic has been a before and after story.... If we wanted to continue, we had to make new lines of business and that is what we have chosen to do. Although times are still difficult, the situation is improving. As the world begins to re-open, tourists are returning to El Salvador. The cooperative has managed to secure new buyers and has used the experience to learn more about how to run a successful business..... I did not start this cooperative to make a profit, I started it to create a future for my community. I want to leave a legacy that this business goes on for another 100 years!

- Carlos, Founder of Zompopero cooperative.

We have been able to add value to our shrimp because we have created our own brand and regional identity. This area is known as the ‘shrimp route’ and our tagline is “Taste the location”.

- Antonia, Board Member, Zompopero cooperative.

What was clear to see from the visit was that the passion and desire of everyone to ensure the business is successful is undiminished, in spite of the challenges of recent years, and that their future is looking promising once again.

I am confident about the future because we have survived many challenges. In this business, there are many ups and downs, but people always need food. I am not thinking about giving up because I trust that we will prosper again.

- Moisés, Zompopero cooperative.