Fair Trade Coffee Cooperatives

Bit by bit, fair trade coffee has made a tangible difference in many farmers lives. Children gain access to medical care and education, where before these services were non-existent. Much needed infrastructure is built, and progress against poverty is achieved. These advancements are being made because people in consumer countries realize that they can have a positive impact with the way they choose to spend their money. Fair Trade Certified coffee is a socially and environmentally responsible way to conduct trade between developed and developing countries. This alternative form of trade has the power to revolutionize the global economy, illustrating that the global community can work together to provide for everyone's needs.

Fair Trade Farmers in:




Fair Trade Farmers in Ethiopia

Fair Trade
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Fair Trade Farmers in Ethiopia

Fair Trade guarantees a minimum of $1.26/pound (a living wage) and access to credit at fair prices to poor farmers organized in cooperatives. These fair payments are invested in food, shelter, health care, education, environmental stewardship, and economic independence. Fair Trade promotes socially and environmentally sustainable techniques and long term relationships between producers, traders and consumers.

The Crisis
As of January 15, 2003, world's coffee prices are at their lowest level in 30 years, having fallen by 50 percent in three years. The global supply is estimated to be about 8 percent above demand and has accordingly depressed world prices. The oversupply is often influenced by centralized political decisions - small coffee farmers are encouraged to grow more by governments eager to boost exports earnings. These governments are sometimes encouraged by the IMF and the World Bank to produce more, without being made aware of the potential of catastrophic price falls.

Coffee historians agree that the energizing effects of coffee were first discovered by a goat-herder or more precisely, the goats - in present day Ethiopia. Today coffee remains one of the most important sources of export income for the East African nations of Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee exporter and the birthplace of coffee, has been hard hit by the recent price slump. Coffee accounts for more than 60 percent of Ethiopia's exports, generating vital income for its population of 65 million, more than half of whom live on less than a dollar a day. Ethiopia?s coffee income has dropped by US$110 million, severely affecting the one million families who depend on coffee for their income. While still selling to consumers in Western countries for around US$10 per pound, the world market price for coffee is less than US$0.50 per pound, of which farmers only receive half. Just five years ago, the farmers would receive at least five times that amount. As a result of this massive slump in coffee price, the Ethiopian coffee farmers are facing a sharp increase in poverty and hunger.

Khat, the (narcotic) alternative income
The rise in poverty level among Ethiopian coffee farmers has developed into another unexpected problem. Many farmers have abandoned coffee and started growing a more profitable crop: khat, a leafy narcotic often mentioned as the region?s version of moonshine. Khat is chewed legally by millions of people in the Horn of Africa and Middle East. However, in Britain and United States (where it is illegal), khat can fetch as much as $200 a pound.

Unlike coffee, khat bushes are drought and pest resistant. A farmer would be forced to abandon his coffee crops if he could no longer afford pesticides. Khat also grows on less water and less time than coffee. When chewed for a long time, khat has another powerful draw: it makes people feel less hungry.

Ethiopian officials say that the khat production is hurting the country's economy because it is part of the underground economy and therefore is not taxed. By contrast, coffee was Ethiopia's prime source of hard currency. Hard currency is what Ethiopia will need to pay for imported food next year when aid workers are predicting that as many as 11 million Ethiopians could face starvation.

An estimated 75 percent of coffee farmers in the highlands of Hararghe, home to the aromatic Harar coffee, have either uprooted coffee trees to plant khat or are growing both, according to the Tadesse Meskela, general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian coffee farmers cannot grow large quantities of food given drought-prone conditions; nor, as the World Bank suggests, can they grow cash crops, such as cotton and sugar, for export. Ethiopia cannot compete with more efficient and heavily subsidized U.S. and European farmers. There is little incentive to invest in tractors and irrigation systems because the government owns all the land. Rapid population increase has also shrunk farm sizes with each generation.

The Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU)
Ethiopia's Oromia Coffee Farmer's Cooperative Union (OCFCU) aims to help small-scale coffee farmers take advantage of the Fair Trade coffee market, the viable alternative trade strategy. OCFCU was established in 1999 in order to help the 100,000 farmer families working in Oromia cooperatives to get through the difficult price crisis. OCFCU comprises 34 cooperatives, cultivates 86,487 acres and has an average annual production of 16,507 tons, is known for its high quality coffee, all of which is heirloom, forest-grown, organic, bird friendly and smallholder produced. In only its third year, the OCFCU is already starting to return 70 percent of its gross profits back to the Fair Trade cooperatives, in order to help coop members.

Coffee farmers would prefer to work their own way out of the current crisis, which is deepening each day. According to Tadesse, "There are communities that are growing coffee that have never bought clothes for the past three years. Malnutrition is seen in coffee areas" We have a plan to establish societies to help them save, then to use the money for when they are short of cash to buy food [during the growing season] when there is no harvest."

Another essential way to fight poverty everywhere in the world is education. Tadesse pointed out: "The farmers cannot afford to buy [school] uniforms for children, cannot afford to pay even a small amount of contribution to the schools, they cannot afford to pay for food for when they stay in school, because it is 10 to 20 kilometers from their house." Part of the sales of OCFCU's Fair Trade coffee is going back to the communities to be used to build schools, which will help to address the problems in the impoverished communities in a country where only about a quarter of the school-aged children attend school.

Fair Trade coffee helps to provide living wages to the farmers, and up to three times as much income as the average coffee producer. This income will help farmers provide for their families, increase their quality of life and allow them to continue working on their farms.

By helping the Ethiopian coffee farmers economically, Fair Trade also provides the farmers with access to greater political power. Furthermore, the farmers learn about the democratic process through the democratically run cooperatives. Decisions connected to development are not dictated from above; instead, Fair Trade represents a "bottom-up" approach, respecting the rights of people to make their own decisions and thus respecting their dignity and cultural traditions.


Fair Trade Farmers in Mexico

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Coffee has been an important export crop in Mexico for hundreds of years, especially for the southern states. Coffee exports generate about $700 million in national income. But for the majority of small-scale farmers, the earnings from their coffee harvest remain nothing short of miserable. Earnings from this labor-intensive crop do not cover even their basic needs -- food, housing and health -- much less do they provide the capital necessary in order for the small-scale producer to consider personal or community development.

Today approximately 200,000 of the 283,000 coffee producers in Mexico are indigenous campesinos with land holdings of less than 5 acres. Most farmers continue to live in a state of acute poverty.

UCIRI, Oaxaca

In Oaxaca, Mexico, the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Isthmus Region, established in 1982 now has over 5,000 families who farm roughly 15 acres. The tree was chosen by UCIRI to represent the structure of the organization. The roots are the families of 53 communities that make up UCIRI. The trunk stands for the General Assembly of Delegates elected by each of the communities. This assembly is the primary forum for the creation and implementation of the Union's projects, signified by the branches. The fruit hanging from the branches represents the results of their labor, shared by all of its members. These fruits include schools, health clinics, home visits by doctors, the training of nurses and dentists, and the strengthening of their indigenous culture. This coop has helped create the region's only public bus line; a hardware and farm supply center; healthcare services; cooperative corn mills; an agricultural extension and training program; accounting training; and the only secondary school in the region.

S.S.S. Mut Vitz Bird

The cooperative Mut Vitz is primarily comprised of Tzotzil Indigenous campesino farmers from the 6 municipalities of El Bosque, Simojovel, Bochil, Jitotol, San Andres Larrainzar, and Chenalho. Since its few short years of existence, over 1,000 farmers have joined the cooperative, and will produce about 15,000 100-pound bags of high-altitude coffee this year. The producers are currently in transition from "natural production" to "certifiable organic" production methods and pay particular attention to all appropriate practices for sustainable, shade-grown coffee.

Mut Vitz coordinates a network of 48 organic promoters working in 28 communities to promote organic production practices. Because of the lack of government support for people living in this zone, producers have been searching for autonomous economic and social alternatives to support development in their communities. One critical aspect is the creation of alternative, economic models, supporting social development for the promotion of democracy, self-management and sustainability, as well as covering the people's basic needs of food, health care and local infrastructure.

Lucio Gonzalez Ruiz, Past President of the Board of Directors, spoke recently about organics: "Years ago, a government coffee institution, IMECAFE, gave away chemical fertilizers to the small producers and encouraged them to use it. The farmers used it in their plants that first year, and the plants looked very pretty and they produced very well. The following year the fertilizer was no longer for free. Still, some farmers went ahead and bought it. The third year the price for the fertilizer went way up, and the farmers could not afford it any more. So, many coffee plants died in this process. The plants got used to the chemicals and they suffered without it and dried up. We realized that the chemical is good for only one year; that for only one year the plant produces coffee, but not after the second year. Then the coffee plants die, and even if we plant new ones they do not produce because the soil is already damaged with the chemicals. For this reason we are doing organic work in all the parcels; we are growing only organic coffee; we are using shade for our coffee plants and we are diversifying our shade trees; and we are also using compost in our corn fields or milpas."

The Crisis

For the last ten years, the price of coffee in the world market has hovered around $1 per pound -- meaning that the farmers get between 30-50 cents. However, in recent months a crisis of overproduction has pushed prices down to below 60 cents a pound -- less than the costs of production.

The price crisis has hit Mexican farmers extremely hard. In November of 2000, Mexican coffee producers called on the government to declare a state of emergency in the country's coffee zones as coffee prices hit a seven-year low in international markets. "There is a major problem with harvesting the coffee in many growing zones because of the lack of financing. Producers simply cannot afford to harvest at the current prices," said Fernando Celis of the Coffee Producers Associations Council, which represents 70,000 producers.

Serving as grim proof of the severity of the social crisis in Mexico caused by low international coffee prices, six of the 14 found dead in the Arizona desert in May of 2000 were identified as small coffee farmers from the state of Veracruz.

Luis Hernandez Navarro of La Jornada, a national newspaper, writes; "the alarm signals have gone on in the Mexican countryside. The coffee growers have sent the country a distressing S.O.S. The new government officials would do well not to disregard this message. The Chiapas rebellion of 1994 was fed by the coffee crisis that began in 1989."

Resources on Fair Trade Coffee in Mexico



Fair Trade Farmers in Nicaragua

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José Tomás Tórres is a coffee farmer in the Segovia region of Nicaragua. Tomás is 29 years old, married, and has four children. Coffee farmers have never been wealthy, but recent drops in world coffee prices have made farmers' lives even worse. Prices are currently at an all-time low, sliding below 80 cents a pound last August, and reaching 49 cents in August of 2001. With production costs averaging 90 cents a pound, coffee farmers, usually forced to work within a vicious cycle of poverty and debt, are facing starvation.

Not Tomás. Tomás is lucky because he is a member of the Luis Alberto Vásquez cooperative. It is one of 45 Nicaraguan coops that make up PRODECOOP, a larger Fair Trade coffee export cooperative that is part of the even larger worldwide Fair Trade network. The international Fair Trade community promotes social change by more than tripling the incomes of farming families in developing nations.

Many children of coffee-farming families begin working around age 10 to help with the February harvest that coincides with the school year. Tomás hopes that his children will never have to do so. Because of his work in the cooperative, all four of the Tórres children are currently in school. Tomás' dream is familiar to parents all over the world: he wants his children to have the opportunities he never had.

The Luis Alberto Vásquez cooperative, founded in 1983 as a land grant from the agrarian reform-inspired Sandinista government, allows this humble dream to continue. The farmers never forget this. For example, when Nicaraguan banks were privatized in 1993, cooperatives that had been given their land by the government were given 72 hours to pay back their debt, or lose their land. The cooperative appealed to PRODECOOP for help. PRODECOOP responded by paying the debt for the farmers. Otherwise, they would have lost their land forever.

Tomás and the other members see the coop as the only way to move forward in one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. "We are a cooperative of 70 members, ready to harvest and to improve our yield little by little, but always producing good quality coffee. For us, the most important thing is maintain the good prices from Fair Trade."

PRODECOOP was born in 1993 to provide its member farmers assistance in sustainably producing and marketing their coffee. Based in Esteli, Nicaragua, it includes 45 cooperatives with over 2,420 families, most of whom typically farm 7 to 11 acres.

PRODECOOP markets its members' coffee to Europe and the US. They also provide much-needed loans for rehabilitating and improving coffee production. Additionally, they provide advice and technical assistance with the goal of improving self-management capabilities and productive capacity for the member cooperatives.

Projects undertaken by PRODECOOP involve the construction of schools and healthcare centers; training in administration; legal matters and organizational issues. From sales to the fair trade market, PRODECOOP will generate over $600,000 in premiums for the membership this year alone. This is used to pay bank debt and retain landholdings, invest in farm improvements, improve nutrition and education.

In October of 1998, Hurricane Mitch ripped through northern Nicaragua, damaging homes, farms and roads. With the organizational strength they had gained over the years, PRODECOOP was able to provide assistance and channel outside aid, rebuilding homes and roads, and repairing coffee processing equipment so that farmers would have incomes the next year. Merling Preza Ramos, PRODECOOP's Director, told Global Exchange that "the producer is offering coffee of very high quality, and in return, asks that they are paid a fair price, the real price, the real value of their product. Therefore, it's not a charity. Behind the cup there are faces, there are people. People who are working to produce a good quality coffee. The structure should be revised because we can see that there is a lot of money here, and yet the small producer is far away, often times without anything to eat."

PRODECOOP is also a leader in the organic coffee movement. Almost all of their members grow their coffee organically under the shade of the forest canopy. This results in better soil conservation, reduced pollution of streams and groundwater, and the preservation of songbird habitat in the trees above the coffee. PRODECOOP's organic, shade-grown, fair trade coffee is one of the best tasting and most renowned coffees in the gourmet coffee market today. The coffee production is often integrated with other crops like corn, beans and bananas, which are grown for the consumption of the families themselves.

Santiago Rivera has worked on coffee farms for 35 years. Joining PRODECOOP has made a tremendous impact on his family's situation. "Before I joined the fair trade movement, we didn't have extra money to invest in the farm. We never had money to spend on pack animals, so I had to haul the 100 pound sacks of coffee on my back all the way down the hills. Since I joined PRODECOOP, our family income has doubled and our efficiency has really gone up."

The crisis in the coffee industry has affected Nicaragua significantly. An estimated 300,000 people have been left without work in Nicaragua due to the collapse of this year's coffee cycle.

In April, 2001, some two thousand coffee farmers joined together for a march in Managua to bring attention to the crisis. This action was later followed by President Aleman's veto of the Coffee Moratorium bill, which would have suspended all foreclosures due to debts and unpaid loans for all coffee growers in the country for 300 days. Despite the bill having been approved unanimously by the National Assembly in April, pressure from the private sector, especially by the banks, as well as from international organizations such as the Inter-American Bank (IDB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), led to the bill's eventual demise.

The social impact of the crisis is made apparent by the increasing malnutrition among children of the region, which has already led to a number of deaths. Matagalpa's parks have been transformed into shantytowns of make-shift shelters as more than 5,000 people have arrived in the city since January. Mayors of nine municipalities have declared their own state of emergency as the national government has failed to address the crisis with serious attention.

Funds must be raised to provide relief for hungry and out-of-work coffee farmers. The current situation is dire and famine is imminent. Now more than ever, Nicaraguan farmers deserve a Fair Trade opportunity.


Resources on Fair Trade in Nicaragua


Fair Trade Farmers in Costa Rica

A long history of agrarian reform as well as government programs supporting small farmer cooperatives has created a greater counterbalance between the interests of small farmers and those of large plantations in Costa Rica. COOCAFÉ, the Consortium of Coffee Cooperatives of Guanacaste & Montes de Oro, is an excellent model. COOCAFÉ was founded in 1988 as a coalition of small producer cooperatives working in the Fair Trade market in order to build an economy of scale large enough to provide direct marketing and services to the nine member cooperatives. In January of 2001, Global Exchange visited COOCAFÉ to hear directly from producers about how Fair Trade affects their lives.

Costa Rica was the first country in Central America to register coffee exports in 1840. Coffee currently accounts for 11% of export revenues and employs 5% of the nation's labor force, which represents 20% of the rural workforce. Costa Rica accounts for 2.6% of world production of coffee and 20% of Central American production. There are 72,942 coffee growers in Costa Rica, 45,000 of whom are members of cooperatives (62%).

Although Costa Rica claims a stronger focus on small farmers than in other countries in Latin America, concentration of land in the hands of the few still disadvantages small producers. Most farmers (92%) produce with less than 5 hectares, which amounts to 44% of the total coffee production. In terms of medium-sized farmers, 6% of growers own between 5-20 hectares, accounting for 21% of the national production. However, while only 2% of coffee growers own more than 20 hectares, they produce an entire 35% of the national crop. In terms of processing, the concentration of mills reveals even more disparity; of the 94 coffee mills (beneficios), only 25 are owned by cooperatives. Additionally, there are only 35 roasters and 44 exporters in the country.

Representing nine of the smallest co-ops in the country, COOCAFÉ works to improve standards of living and provides resources for crop diversification, rainforest reforestation, women's development and educational programs. They have twelve staff; 3 sales and marketing, 3 accounting and finance; 3 general administration; 1 quality control; and 2 technical assistance and proposal writers who work directly for coops. Founders of the Latin American Small Coffee Growers Front (Frente Solidario), COOCAFÉ also works to strengthen co-ops in other countries.

COOCAFÉ is a second level cooperative of nine producer cooperatives, with a total of 4,000 small farmer members. The average landholding in production of coffee is 2 hectares. They account for 3% of the total coffee production of Costa Rica. Many of their members are also involved in production of citrus, plantains, tubers (root vegetables like yucca) and macadamias. Cooperatives of COOCAFÉ include Pilangosta, Tilaran, Coopeldos, Santa Elena, Sarapiqui, Buenavista, Montes de Oro, and Llano Bonito.

Although COOCAFÉ is a strong cooperative offering good quality Costa Rican coffee, the Fair Trade market is still not yet big enough to absorb all of their production. From 1993-2000, an average of 53% of their sales went to the Fair Trade market, meaning that 47% had to be sold at conventional terms to importers or to national exporters. Their primary Fair Trade market is Holland, followed by Germany and then the United States.

Since their founding ten year ago, they have earned over $7 million in premiums from Fair Trade out of a total income of about $40 million. How have they allocated these premiums?

  • $2.8 million into the savings loan fund, so that they can give loans to the cooperatives at a 2% interest rate; most bank loans are 22% in colones or 11% in dollars.
  • $2.3 directly to growers
  • $1.5 million commissions for COOCAFÉ
  • $250,000 to the Frente Solidario (Latin American Small Coffee Growers Front)
  • $250,000 to the Hijos del Campo educational scholarship program; see below

COOCAFÉ cooperative of Sarapiqui, Costa Rica One of the producer cooperatives of COOCAFÉ is the Coope Sarapiqui. Sarapiqui has its own processing mill, which has a capacity of about 15,000 QQ (quintales, or 100 pounds) per year. Sarapiqui markets its own packaged coffee. They also have two local stores for members to purchase goods at reduced rates, as well as a delivery service for bulk cooperative purchases of farm goods.

Coope Sarapiqui has invested significant resources into sustainable coffee production. They have a large water treatment facility, with three different lagoons with a capacity of 5,000 QQ (quintales; 100 pounds) each. Up on the hill, a large vermiculture compost mill churns out beautiful organic compost. They are developing a model diversified organic farm on the hillside above the mill. There they grow impatients as groundcover (to attract the nematodes away from the coffee), banana and other trees, and palmito, or the plant from which comes the hearts of palm.

COOCAFÉ has made serious investments in environmental conservation programs on the cooperative farms and processing mills. One is the ten-fold reduction in the amount of water used in the processing to separate the bean from the cherry pulp. The 9 cooperatives have collectively invested $600,000 in these water treatment systems. They have reduced the overall usage of chemicals by half. The Montes de Oro cooperative boasts the only hi-tech solar dryer in Costa Rica. Coopeldos is certified organic, and Montes de Oro and Santa Elena are in the three year transition period towards organic. They have serious investments in reforestation programs (see below). They have reduced wood use in dryers, using the coffee husk instead to fuel the drying ovens.

A recent document entitled Fair Trade in Costa Rica: An Impact Report gives concrete examples of some of the achievements of COOCAFÉ from working together in the Fair Trade market. The information in the following summary is taken from that report by Loraine Ronchi, University of Sussex, l.ronchi@sussex.ac.uk

Like its member cooperatives, the management and departments of COOCAFÉ are accountable to an Administrative Council elected by the General Assembly. Most major cooperative policy decisions are made in the General Assembly, the highest decision-making body, held once or twice a year to which all members are invited to attend.

Some of the benefits and programs of COOCAFÉ include the following:


The Fair Trade premium is the difference between the higher price paid by the Fair Trade market and the conventional market. COOCAFÉ cooperatives have decided to divide the premium as follows: 15% to the Development Fund, 15% to the Social Capital Fund, and 70% to the Producer's Fund for distribution to producers by the primary level cooperatives. Over the ten years of operation, the producer's fund has distributed $1,260,000 to some 4,000 affiliated small coffee producers and their families. The Social Capital Fund provides much-needed credit to the farmers in a revolving loan fund. Records of coffee prices demonstrate consistently higher prices paid to cooperative farmers than to farmers in the area who were not involved in Fair Trade.

Preserving landholdings

The best indicator of the financial impact of Fair Trade on the cooperatives is witnessed by the continued existence of the cooperative in times of low prices and high production costs. "In the period from 1989 to 1994, the Fair Trade market and COOCAFÉ were essential to the survival not only of the Cooperative Sarapiqui: to ALL of the cooperatives of the consortium," says the Manager of Coope Sarapiqui. Many other cooperatives closed their doors during this time period, leaving the farmers with no marketing options.

Development of final products

The export department of COOCAFÉ entirely credits the successful production of final products to the assistance received from Fair Trade organizations. The experience has had a positive impact that is only inadequately described in financial terms. Producing for the final market has given them an important understanding of the full coffee marketing chain and hence allowed them to learn a great deal about a number of markets and build capacity of the organization to independently develop and control their own marketing.

Solidarity work and education

Working with the Fair Trade market has also positively impacted the social development of the cooperatives through their ability to carry out solidarity work and education. Most of the member cooperatives conduct educational programs concerning the benefits of cooperativism, and proactively attempt, through education, to instill a sense of solidarity in their members. They also consistently and financially support the Frente Solidario, a San José-based solidarity and activist body of Latin American coffee producers.

In 1996 the nine cooperatives in the consortium established a foundation known as Fundación Hijos del Campo, which operates three programs; secondary and university scholarships and an extension program. In the first two years of inception, the secondary school scholarships were awarded to 71 schools at an average donation of $360 per school, directly benefiting 5061 students. From 1997-1999 the university scholarships directly benefited 574 students, 54% of whom are women. COOCAFÉ also promotes an educational extension fund aimed at bridging the enormous gap between the quality and accessibility of urban versus rural education. Funds from the Fair Trade market are used to administer the three programs.


Over the ten years of operation, more than $3,500,000 has been invested in environmental protection and development programs. A recent report by a independent environmental auditing association traced the source of these funds to the Funcadión Café Forestal, which is entirely funded by sales from COOCAFÉ's Café Forestal brand of roasted coffee to the fair trade markets ($1 per kg sold) as well as COOCAFÉ's Social Capital Fund. Projects include: environmental education and research, converting the entire beneficio (mill) to 'Clean Technology,' the development of hydroelectricity programs, developing coffee dryers using renewable resources, conversion to intercropping programs with shade trees, reforestation, and conversion to organic coffee production.

Thanks to Loraine Ronchi for the above information. For more information or to contact Coocafe directly, email Director Carlos Vargas at coocafe@sol.racsa.co.cr.

You can purchase Coocafé's coffee through Equal Exchange and Café Campesino.


Fair Trade Farmers in Colombia

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Like oil in the Middle East, coffee has been the fuel for much of Colombia's economic and political development.

In fact, Colombia is the only country in the world with a National Coffee Federation that pays a subsidy when international prices are low and provides social services and infrastructure improvements in coffee-growing regions. To fund this work, it taxes exports heavily when international prices are high. The Federation's export agency, EXPOCAFE, exports about half of the country's coffee.

Coffee has been a vital source of rural development income in this nation, the second largest coffee producer in the world, home to about 560,000 coffee farms. Railroads and roads were built to move coffee from the cool slopes of Antioquia and its southern neighbors to the Pacific coast, where ports were built to ship it out. Coffee proceeds financed the development of such other exports, as well as rural clinics and schools. Colombia's coffee belt became one of the richest and most stable regions of the country.

Small farmers have always been the dominant mode of production, in contrast to other Latin American countries where large plantations controlled the growing of such commodities as coffee, sugar, and bananas. Today, 96 percent of the country's coffee farmers tend plots smaller than seven acres.

The bonanza years of the 60s and 70s, when cleverly marketed Colombian coffee was traded on the commodities market for near $3 a pound, have ended in crisis. Colombian coffee now sells for about 62 cents a pound on the New York Board of Trade, generating a mere 10 percent of the country's legal export income. It used to account for more than half. Assn of Organic Coffee Farmers of Colombia

Colombians, like coffee farmers around the world, have organized themselves into cooperatives to help gain more of the export income from their crop. One coffee cooperative, Asociacion de Caficultores Organicos de Colombia (ACOC), has an integrated agricultural approach to growing coffee. Members of this organization compost all the organic waste from processing their coffee in large beds of earthworms. The earthworms turn coffee pulp, and all other organic matter, including animal manure, into rich humus, which the farmers add back to the soil surrounding the root zone of their coffee trees.

Coop founder Luis Enrique Aranzazu is certain that his trees are healthier and more productive since he began applying compost as fertilizer. Another coop founder concurs. "I believe my Colombia variety trees, which are now organic, are definitely returning to the yield they had when they were chemically dependent."

ACOC boasts a very modest roasting facility which permits ACOC to roast, grind, and package its own brand of coffee, "Madremonte," the only roasted, organic coffee available in Colombia. Furthermore, the project lends ACOC a great deal of autonomy--the coop members control the product from field to store shelf.

ACOC is not alone in its pioneering quest. The group receives technical assistance from The Peasant Institue (Instituto Mayor Campesino--IMCA) in Buga, an organic farm research center run by Jesuit priest. The Institute is committed to improving campesinos' lives by offering economic programs utilizing cheap, local resources in a sustainable fashion. New coop members must begin the transition to organic production methods. They receive training--also known as "earthworm indoctrination"--from the founding members of the coop and IMCA's technical staff. IMCA is currently networking with similar organizations in Central and South America, exploring ways to set up a local solution to third party certification, owned and controlled by Latin Americans.

Regional Indigenous Council of Caldas

Another coffee cooperative is CRIDEC, the Regional Indigenous Council of Caldas, formed in 1984. It serves nearly 80,000 people on four reservations and provides technical support for farming, education, and promotion of indigenous culture.

In recent years, CRIDEC has started exporting coffee to the fair trade market in Europe and America. Since 1992, CRIDEC has earned over $800,000 in fair trade coffee exports. A committee consisting of a representative from each reservation ensures that the funds are used democratically, for the good of the community. These funds have enabled CRIDEC to build homes for 75 families, three reservation headquarters and two drying sites, to hire consultants, to start a revolving loan fund for agricultural supplies, and to work on a number of special projects.

Plan Colombia

In 2000 the US Congress voted to send $1.3 billion in US aid to Colombia, allegedly to help fight the war on drugs. However, most of the money will go to the military, which is well known for massive human rights violations in the country with the highest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere. Human rights advocates say the aid will only exacerbate violence and displacement in the region.

Low world coffee prices are also having their effect. As farming coffee becomes increasing less viable as a source of income, more and more coffee farmers are turning to growing coca or opium poppies. Part of the mostly military aid package pays coca farmers to uproot their crops in favor of legal ones, an "alternative development" strategy. But here in rugged southeastern Antioquia and across its river border in Caldas province, the switch is working in reverse.

According to the Washington Post, in the town of Pensilvania, in eastern Caldas, Mayor Jose Oscar Gonzales said coffee has been uprooted in favor of coca in the nearby towns of El Verdal, Playa Rica, Pueblo Nuevo and La Ceba. In all, he said, about 440 acres of coca have replaced coffee. The plots are tiny, only enough to cover only a fraction of an acre.

But Gonzales predicted that the 100 or so farmers who have made the change to coca, which can be harvested three times a year to coffee's one, are just the vanguard. "This isn't pressure from the guerrillas," he said. "This is poverty. Look, coca brings in 10 times the amount as coffee right now. This is the heart of the crisis."

Americans concerned about the impact of drugs in the US can help Colombians gain security for their families through purchasing Fair Trade coffee from Colombia.

Resources on coffee in Colombia

  • Equal Exchange ; ph: 781.830.0303
    www.equalexchange.coop   email: info@equalexchange.coopm
  • Coffee and Conflict in Colombia, 1886-1910. By Bergquist, Charles W. Durham: Duke University Press, 1986.
  • Harvesting Coffee, Bargaining Wages; Rural Markets in Colombia, 1975-90. By Ortiz, Sutti. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.
  • Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America. By Roseberry, William, Lowell Gudmundson, and Mario Samper Kutschbach, eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

For information about Plan Colombia and the struggle for democracy and human rights, see: our Colombia page



Fair Trade Farmers in Guatemala


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The coffee sector in Guatemala is a reflection of the dichotomy that characterizes the whole country: a large number of smallholders (campesinos) that produce small quantities of coffee, and a small number of large and very large plantations (fincas) that produce the largest share of coffee in Guatemala. Smallholders operate individually, or are organized in co-operatives or associations, and sell their coffee through these organizations or to intermediaries. Large coffee plantations either sell to exporting firms, intermediaries, or directly to foreign buyers.

Guatemala's current development model grew out of a CIA-backed military coup in 1954. The CIA engineered the coup to protect the interests of the United Fruit Company from a land reform process which threatened to redistribute 210,000 acres of idle United Fruit land. The coup overthrew the "ten years of spring" led by two moderate presidents who reformed some of Guatemala's basic social inequalities. Under Presidents Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz, Guatemala had experienced its first chance at real democracy: the government gave 100,000 landless families plots of unused land, instituted the country's first social security system, legalized unions -- allowing one-third of the workers to become formally organized -- and dramatically expanded public education and literacy. The series of military dictatorships which followed reversed these reforms. Today, Guatemala has the most unequal land tenure in all of Latin America, with less than 2 percent of the landowners controlling 65 percent of the farmland. At the other end of the scale, approximately 27 percent of the total population is landless and forced to work as part-time wage laborers. As more land has become concentrated in fewer hands in the last 30 years, the average size of small farms has declined from 1.71 to 0.79 hectares.

The small farmers who do exist in Guatemala try to eke out a living amongst national policies hostile to their economic interests. That makes the need for Fair Trade ever more pressing in Guatemala. There are approximately seven Fair Trade coffee cooperatives in Guatemala, including Manos Campesinas and the V'al Voq Quyol Chajul cooperative.

Global Exchange visited Manos Campesinas in January 2001. Their director, Jerónimo Bollen, shared information with us about the need they have to expand the market. jbollen@intelnet.net.gt Thanks also to Joel Perkes for providing additional information. jperkes@hotmail.com

Manos Campesinas started in 1997 as an association of six producer cooperatives in the Quetzaltenango region of Guatemala. The six cooperatives are comprised of 620 farmer members. With the average family consisting of 5 or 6 members the association provides income for approximately 3,720 people. The majority of members have less than one hectare of coffee planted.

The main goal of Manos Campesinas is to promote and market the coffee of the six producer cooperative associates. In addition, Manos Campesinas also gives technical support to the producers, mostly on improvement and diversification of their production, improvement of their administration, and promotion of the participation of women.

Manos Campesinas exported their first container (38,000 pounds) of coffee in 1998. In 2000, they exported 6 containers, and hope to export between 8 and 10 in 2001. They sell about 40% of their production to the Fair Trade market. The other 60% stays in the national market, where at least selling collectively as a cooperative they get a better market than what the intermediaries would pay individual farmers. A 7th group of farmers joined the cooperative in 2000. They estimate that they have to export about 20 containers to be in a point of equilibrium where their income covers their expenses, which they hope to achieve by 2003 or 2004. Currently Manos Campesinos is dependent on international donations. They get no help from the government or banks because they don't have title to the land.

They estimate their costs to be about $.45 per pound. If they sell to other exporters in the national market, the price is about $.35-.40 per pound; if they export directly to the international market the prices is $.60-.70. The current 8-year low in international coffee prices is a major problem and worry for the entire cooperative. How do the producers deal with low prices? Generally through lowering their investment in the farms and suffering severe poverty.

Each farm produces fruits and vegetables grown for personal consumption. They still have to buy some food items, although they do produce a lot of their own food. Some of the farmers mentioned that they want to grow more food for domestic consumption next year because they can often grow 2 or 3 crops in a year, instead of only 1 when they grow coffee. They want to be able to eat better.

All 6 farms use traditional natural farming and shade-grown methods. However, only three out of the six cooperatives are currently able to export their coffee in the organic market. That's because the other three cooperatives grow coffee at lower altitudes and therefore have a harder time finding buyers. Therefore they're not getting Fair Trade prices and haven't been able to afford organic certification. Organic certification costs about $2000 initially and then another $2000 every 3 years.

The 3 communities that export are doing very well. They have schools, health care, technically assistance and support. The 3 others are in transition to organic and are improving. The best thing going for them at the moment is that each family is equal in the association so that what money they do earn each year from the harvest is equally and fairly distributed.

In response to the world market price dipping below $.60 per pound in February of 2001, Jerónimo Bollen, Director of Manos Campesinas, told us that "with world market prices as low as they are right now, we see that a lot of farmers cannot maintain their families and their land anymore. Several producers of our organisation had to decide to go and look for work in the capital, leaving their families behind. To avoid this kind of family and community desintegration, we need Fair Trade now more than ever."

One cooperative Fair Traders such as Equal Exchange works with is V'al Voq Quyol Chajul Cooperative in the Guatemalan highlands. Guatemala's military-led war waged against the peasant farmers in the 1980s ravaged this indigenous Ixil Mayan community. The cooperative of 2,500 members -- 90% of whom live in areas not accessible by car -- are building back their strength and working to maintain the unique Ixil culture while building up its villages economically. Examples of this are their coffee exports to the fair trade market in Europe and the U.S., as well as a women-run store in the capital city selling handmade, indigenous crafts and clothing. With the money from fair trade premiums, Chajul has created its own bank and health clinic. The cooperative's Center for Development provides organic agriculture and leadership training working to make farming a desirable choice for the children of today's coffee farmers.

Cooperativa La Voz Que Clama En El Desierto

In 1977, there were several groups operating in San Juan La Laguna, helping men and women by providing them with small credits for agriculture and handicraft operations. In time, these groups no longer had the capacity to cover the needs of their members and it was decided to form a cooperative with the members of these groups. The first meeting was held under the shade of a cottonwood tree, "La Ceiba" (the national tree of Guatemala) in the courtyard of the old municipal building.

At this meeting, it was explained that the principal objective was to "procure the economic and social improvement of members and develop agricultural activities, especially coffee, onions and other regional crops". At this first meeting, many people were motivated to join the cooperative, which then started with 35 members of both sexes. There was discussion of the name to be given to the cooperative, but there were already too many organizations with the name St. John the Baptist, Patron Saint of the town. The members of the cooperative wanted a name which would honor their Patron Saint and so decided to call it "La Voz que Clama en el Desierto" or "A Voice Crying in the Wilderness" because John the Baptist preached in the desert.

"A Voice Crying in the Wilderness" Cooperative has its headquarters on the banks of beautiful Lake Atitlán, in the district of San Juan La Laguna, Department of Sololá, at an altitude of 1,585 meters above sea level (5,000 feet). It has 96 members, 86 of them active producers of certified organic coffee and members of OCIA International Company. The cooperative has its own wet mill with modern technology for processing and paved yards for drying parchment coffee. It delivers its products to international roasting firms, both American and European.

The harvest of the 86 members is processed in a wet mill built with the support of the USAID/ANACAFE project. It features ecological characteristics that give the coffee a better appearance and minimize the pollution. The 1,500 60-kilo bags produced by the cooperative are the Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) type, which is in great demand internationally because of its organic features.

The members and townspeople of San Juan La Laguna belong to the Tzutuhil ethnic group, who inherited their culture and hard-working nature. There are still vestiges of the civilization at the bottom of Lake Atitlán. They preserve their traditions and it is a region rich in the production of handmade textiles and other handicrafts, which are exported worldwide.

Organic cultivation, suitable climatic conditions and the special characteristics of Atitlán coffee have helped to create a good image internationally. The cooperative has sold to companies who recognize the attributes of the cultivation and preparation of this coffee.

The cooperative's social and economic projection and the quality of the coffee have drawn many visitors from the coffee sector and tourists who visit the lake.

"A Voice Crying in the Wilderness" is a cooperative organization that is promoting the development of its community.

Thanks to Peace Coffee for this information.

Resources on Fair Trade in Guatemala:


Fair Trade Farmers in El Salvador


Fair Trade
Farmers in
El Salvador

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Coffee is El Salvador's primary export product. Over half of the population makes its living growing, harvesting or processing it. However, since coffee was introduced to the country in the mid-nineteenth century, its cultivation and sale has been controlled by a very small number of wealthy landowners. This small oligarchy amassed immense fortunes while thousands of landless people lived on the edge of survival. In 1980, rural discontent with this situation forced the government to enact an agrarian reform to distribute land.

Farmers living in rural areas of El Salvador still do not face an easy life: over 60% of rural Salvadorans live in poverty. Small-scale coffee farmers, faced with poverty and low coffee prices, organized cooperatives to share resources and earn a better future for their families.

FESACORA, the Salvadoran Federation of Agrarian Reform Cooperatives, was founded in 1982 and currently consists of 13,598 individual members grouped in 118 democratically managed cooperatives in El Salvador. They are supported by Oxfam America and first marketed their coffee under Fair Trade terms in the US through Fair Trade pioneer Equal Exchange.

The powerful earthquake that struck on January 13, 2001 has added disaster to the incredible challenges faced by people of El Salvador. To date, the earthquake has claimed over 600 lives and injured over 2,600. There are nearly 46,000 displaced people as a consequence of the destruction.

The earthquake has also affected coffee farmer coops. Among 36 member cooperatives, FESACORA reported 34 deaths, and APECAFE lost two members. All of these co-ops have suffered damage to homes and buildings and the Federation has begun to address the immediate needs of food, shelter and medicines in these communities. Most of all, their future ability to grow coffee and hence feed their families is in danger.

By selling their coffee to the fair trade market, FESACORA helps these co-ops rebuild their communities after fifteen years of civil war. One of these cooperative is located in Las Lajas, in the Municipality of Coatepeque. Coffee farmer Francisco Aviles Orellana, one of the members of the Las Lajas Cooperative, says:

"Before being a member of the cooperative I was a poor landless day-laborer who worked for the landowners, a Swedish family. With the agrarian reform of 1980, my family and I benefitted with the acquisition of land and then created the cooperative of which we are members...

"[T]he benefits have been many, but the most important benefits are having access to education for my children, and access to health services at the community clinic that the cooperative helped to finance. Before we didn't have water in our homes, but the cooperative dug a well and now we have our own water which is paid for by the cooperative. The cooperative has helped all of the community a lot. The clinic serves everyone, the school accepts children from beyond our community and the water arrives to the houses of people that aren't members of the cooperative, so I think that the cooperative has definitely helped the whole community."

Resources on Coffee in El Salvador:

  • Oxfam America ; ph: 617.728.2437
    www.oxfamamerica.org   email: lbrody@oxfamamerica.org
  • Equal Exchange ; ph: 781.830.0303
    www.equalexchange.coop   email: reverts@equalexchange.com
  • Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador
    www.cispes.org   email: cispesnatl@people-link.com
  • Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America. Roseberry, William, Lowell Gudmundson, Mario Samper Kutschbach, eds. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
  • Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America. Paige, Jeffrey M. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
  • Bitter Grounds. 1998. A novel about three generations of women from different classes through the history of the coffee industry. Benitez, Sandra.


Fair Trade Farmers in Honduras


La Central de Cooperativas Cafetaleras de Honduras (La Central) formed in 1997 with the objectives of direct coffee exportation and rural development. It is a national network of 61 coffee producing cooperative and pre-cooperative groups throughout ten departments of Honduras, representing over 6000 small-to-medium-scale coffee producers and their families. In addition, a technical team coordinates commercial activity, administration, rural development projects, training, and communications between cooperatives. La Central is a decentralized and democratic organization that actively encourages grassroots participation in its decision-making processes. Furthermore, elected representatives who are accountable to their cooperatives represent La Central in national and international political institutions.

For La Central's members, coffee cultivation is more than solely growing a top-quality product--it is a way of life that unites families towards cooperative goals and community solidarity. La Central aims to improve trade relations with international coffee importers, which benefits both coffee trader and farmer alike.

Organic coffee production is one of the cornerstones of La Central principles. The vast majority of its members are small-scale producers who farm the traditional way, using mixed shade cover augmented by natural fertilizers to cultivate their crop. These techniques provide an ecosystem rich in wildlife and do not contaminate waterways or cause soil erosion. In addition, La Central is continually extending its methods of organic production. Last year, several cooperatives started to use coffee threshing machinery designed to conserve the use of water. Furthermore, La Central is fighting for the establishment for a regionally accepted organic certification that will encourage small farmers to follow organic production techniques.

La Central's mission is to create a Honduran society free of abject poverty and social injustices. To accomplish this goal, it is essential to operate in areas beyond coffee production. Therefore, La Central has worked in partnership with other cooperative, peasant, indigenous, and other social movements as well as international development agencies in an array of community-based projects directed towards poverty reduction and regional infrastructure development. These projects have established and improved housing, roads, sanitation, schools, and medical centers. For example, a joint La Central and Centro Cooperativo Sueco project built houses in San Juancito after the Hurricane Mitch disaster.

La Central also provides financial services to those normally excluded from society. Lack of access to credit perpetuates the misery of subsistence living for many Honduran coffee farmers. La Central launched its Local Alternative Finance (LAF) initiative in 1999 to provide financial services that assist small farmers. Through this program, members can receive credit at favorable rates to facilitate greater and higher quality production levels.

Finally, La Central realizes that its greatest responsibility is to its members' education and training so that they can prosper. It regularly organizes workshops to suit local needs whereby members can learn how to manage their cooperatives better, understand how the world commodity exchanges function, and share techniques regarding best practices in coffee production. It also publishes day-by-day and bi-monthly reports on the coffee market as well as transmitting a daily radio program, "La Hora del Café," in order to provide its members comprehensive educational and informational services.


Fair Trade Farmers in Peru


One strong fair trade cooperative in Peru is CEPICAFE, started in 1995, an association of small-scale coffee farmers in Northern Peru. It is made up of 25 grassroots organizations. All of its coffee, which is grown in the shade of fruit trees, is grown by family units.

CEPICAFE acts as a price regulator and prevents intermediaries and private companies from colluding to pay farmers artificially low prices. This benefits co-op members as well as raising incomes throughout the entire coffee growing region. For instance, in 1998 the 1,000 members of CEPICAFE sold half of their production to fair trade organizations. Lacking additional fair trade markets for their remaining coffee, they had to sell to Peruvian exports. Coffee sold to the fair trade organizations averaged $1.37 per pound. The other coffee averaged 99 cents per pound. Farmers received nearly 40 percent more because of fair trade. Frederico Rivera Morena of CEPICAFE explained that with the 38 cent per pound difference, "With the money that arrived, I have bought clothing for my children, made home improvements, and renovated my farm."

CEPICAFE has been working on behalf of its members by providing the families in its coffee-growing region with a forum where they can make themselves heard by the Peruvian government. It aims to become a union organization in which the members are permanently involved in democratic decision-making processes. CEPICAFE provides its members with access to credit, and also offers permanent training in organic cultivation techniques and aspects of quality control by its advisory organization called PIDECAFE, a non-governmental organization that specializes in coffee.

Farmers also come together not only to improve their livelihood but also to steward the land they live on. Juan Ticliahuanca Ticliahuanca of CEPICAFE explains the first steps the community took as an organized cooperative by saying, "We started with 20,000 seedlings in 1997, including 3,000 fruit trees and native trees." These trees not only provide shade for the coffee, but also prevent soil erosion, nourish the earth, and provide a habitat for wildlife. Growing the seedlings is another way the community comes together. There is a lot more effort being put into cooperation between men and women members. In the days when we all work together in planting a nursery, there is a lot of collaboration and participation and we do good work," is how CEPICAFE grower Teofilo Santos Huaman explains it.

Another strong fair trade cooperatives in Peru is the Agrarian Cooperative Central of Cuzco (COCLA). COCLA also lends money to its members. Whereas a small farmer in Peru has no access to credit (and thus may be forced into debt to local moneylenders), COCLA's members have access to credit at 12-13%. Farmers use this money to increase plantings of shade trees and coffee trees, invest in tarps and equipment that improve quality, and pay for transporting their coffee to the coop's warehouse. Ninety eight percent of all loans are paid on time, testifying to their efficacy and their member's gratitude.

In Aquilayoc, members of COCLA were organized enough that they went to the electric company after the devastating flood in Huadquina and said, "If you give us the poles, we will put them in the ground." COCLA members determined their own future through the strength of their cooperative and its development vision. They did not have to rely on charitable donations.

The strength of these fair trade cooperatives in Peru can be seen in COCLA member-owner Marcelino Cuentas Baca's, statement "We've had great success in the past months in keeping prices (in the region) up, getting materials for wells and depulping stations, making loans in January and February, providing emergency transportation, paying year-end dividends, etc.--and so there are lots of producers in the region requesting to become members (of our cooperative)."


Fair Trade Farmers in Tanzania

The Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union is Africa's oldest coffee cooperative. KNCU was founded in 1924 as a marketing organization for the indigenous farmers of the Chagga tribe living on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. Along with all of Tanzania's coffee cooperatives, KNCU was abolished by the government in 1976, but then reinstated in 1984. At this stage, law required that all coffee farmers belong to a cooperative in onrder to sell their crops. In 1991, Tanzania introduced a new Cooperative Act under which the co-ops became voluntary membership organizations. Today, KNCU has about 135,000 members from 90 local co-ops. Their smooth, mild beans are considered to be among the finest in Africa.

Tanzanian KNCU coffee is available from Equal Exchange.


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