Coop Coffees Members and Producer Partners, 2007 AGM, Matagalpa (Nicaragua)
"We do not see you as buyers whose primary responsibility is to buy our coffee. We see you as partners who have taken on the major responsibility of treating farmers as equals" Carlos Murillo, General Manager of Coocafe.
Alternative Trade, now more commonly known as fair trade, began as a movement that sought to address issues of social and economic injustice in the coffee market. Traditionally, small coffee farmers have been forced into exploitive relationships with local "coyotes" or middlemen, to whom they sold their coffee, often at less then the cost of production. This in turn, perpetuated a cycle of poverty, tying the farmer to the "coyote" for loans to produce next years crop, or put food on the table. Those without land were often caught in the same cycle of poverty working for less-than-living wages picking coffee on large estates. Fairtrade is one powerful mechanism that can help break the cycle of poverty and build self-sufficiency and community strength.
Fairtrade works with small farmers who work together to develop community cooperatives. Working with a fairtrade organization, the cooperative sets a mutually agreeable fair price, known as a "living wage". This price is independent of the wild fluctuations found on the New York Stock Exchange where the price of coffee often falls below $1.20 US, which is the amount of money it actually costs the farmer to grow the coffee. It also eliminates dependence on the "coyote", providing farmers with direct access to the market place. Building cooperatively means that small farmers can not only become part of the bigger picture, but can also help define what that picture will look like. Profits from the premium paid for beans through fair trade are distributed within the cooperative and enable the farmers and their families to control and direct the growth of their business's and communities. It also encourages farmers in the stewardship of their land, utilizing farming practices that nurture and support the integrity of the land and the people who are responsible for its continued well being.
At a glance, fairtrade criteria include:
- fair prices
- credit for farmers where possible
- longer term purchase agreements
- coffee purchased from democratically organized cooperatives
Ultimately, fairtrade utilizes consumer buying power as a way to help producers help themselves. Fair trade is not charity. It supports on-going sustainable trade relationships. In many ways, fairtrade is a global form of Community Supported Agriculture.
"If we have justice in our trading relationships people will not need our charity" (source unknown)
Look for the Fairtrade symbol to be sure that the coffee you are buying is fairly traded. And in case you were wondering fairtrade is indeed for the birds!
Lately we've been hearing a lot about shade tree coffee, and its role in maintaining biodiversity, and a home for many species of birds several of which are endangered. Well, if you are drinking fair trade coffee, you can drink easy. The shade tree coffee campaign was designed to direct consumer attention to the farming practices of large multinational coffee corporations. These corporations tend to use a hybrid coffee plant specifically designed for full sun growth and heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This resulted in clear cutting large areas of forest already under siege. The idea was to produce a higher yield which it initially does, but at great cost to the environment.
Fairtrade focuses on small farmers who have traditionally grown their coffee along with a variety of other food and natural shade plants and trees. Cooperatively, these farmers are concerned about issues of sustainability and work hard to continue to learn and develop ecologically sound farming practices.
The members of Cooperative Coffees work hard at trying to ensure that fairtrade is meaningful to its producers partners - otherwise what is the point! To that end, our AGM of 2005 was held in Guatemala to enable as many of our producer-partners as possible to attend. We talked, we listened, we ate a lot of good food and began to create something which we believe takes fairtrade to the next level. We called it the "Xela Accords". So click on the left hand side and read on!
Hurray for transparency!!
Visit our section at Fairtrade Proof to view how we are truly brewing change! This website was created by Cooperative Coffees to help illustrate its members' commitment to transparency and sustainable long term partnerships with farmers in the South. Here you can trace our beans from Farmer Coop to Roaster. Also, you can learn about all the fine details involved in this complex but rewarding path we have chosen to travel (ie. contracts, pre-financing, cupping reports, etc.). You can also read more about this here. So get out those pens and papers and browse through, from field to cup we are all together making this world a better one for ourselves and future generations.