Have you ever wondered where cashew nuts come from?  What do they look like when growing on the tree and how are they processed?

Now you can stop wondering!  In this delightful, 3-minute video produced by Emily Buehler at the Weaver Street Market, in Carrboro, North Carolina from a powerpoint presentation we delivered to their staff in August, you can see each step in the process from tree to ready-to-eat nut.  The photos were taken at the Aprainores Cashew Co-op in San Vicente, El Salvador by Julia Hechtman.  (And a few by Mark DiMaggio and me).

We hope you enjoy it!  To learn more about cashew nuts, Aprainores, our Fair Foods Program, and the Grow Together Fund, click here.

Consumers buy fair trade products because they think they are supporting positive social change with their dollars. We firmly believe that this is the case with many Fair Trade products, at least those which are sourced from small farmer co-operatives. (Such as all Equal Exchange coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, avocados, olive oil, cashews, dried fruit, and other products.)

Sadly, this is no longer true across all products that carry one of the many fair trade labels appearing in the market. Especially in the case of those products, that are sourced from large plantations, such as bananas and tea, it is less clear what (if any) positive impact comes from the fair trade certification. In the case of tea, especially from India, several studies have come out recently which suggest that not only are working and living conditions on some of these plantations deplorable, but that they are actually worse than conditions on neighboring non-certified plantations.

In fact, it has been argued that by allowing these brands to market their tea as fair trade, and misleading consumers into thinking they are supporting positive social change, the certifiers are creating a greater disservice to tea plantation workers.

We ask companies marketing plantation-sourced tea to REFRAIN from using the fair trade label and we ask the certifiers to STOP certifiying plantation tea from India as fair trade.

We ask consumers to learn more about the conditions on plantations, fair trade or otherwise, and the practices of the companies that source from them.

Below is a paid ad that Equal Exchange has published in several newspapers last week asking Twinings Tea Company to do the right thing.

Buyer Beware!


By Daniel Fireside, Capital Coordinator

For hundreds of years, Coffee was grown “organically,” without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, and creating a rich and biodiverse ecosystem. A few decades ago, this changed. Synthetic inputs led to booming production, but the cost to the soil, water, and a warming planet have been paid most steeply by the farming communities. A growing number of small-scale farmers are trying to shift production back to its organic roots, but the expenses and barriers can be insurmountable for farmers on their own. In order to put coffee back on the path of sustainability, they need coffee drinkers and businesses in consuming countries not only to pay the costs of going organic but also to support the farmer’s most critical ally, the cooperative. This is the heart of Equal Exchange’s business model, although it’s one that has taken on a growing urgency as our natural environment faces increasing jeopardy.

Read more here.

Cooperation Among Cooperatives

A visit to Mexico brings together three parts of one complete cooperative supply chain—farmer co-op (CIRSA) to worker-owned co-op (Equal Exchange) to consumer co-op (Co-op Food Stores).


Learn More here.

We #SustainUSFWC because our Federation is helping build a #neweconomy.  Here’s some of the things the USFWC has done this year for co-ops. Help them grow by becoming a Sustaining Member today!


Peasant Assembly of the Coordination of Latin American Rural Organizations and La Vía Campesina in Central America (CLOC-LVC-CA)

The Peasant Movement Defines its Position on the Climate and Food Crisis in Central America

The member organizations of CLOC-Via Campesina Central America, from Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, are together in assembly in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, this August 31st and September 1st, 2014. After carrying out consideration and analysis of the grave situation in the Central American countryside and the peasant movement in the region, we reach out to the Central American public, the governments of the region and the international community with the following conclusions:

1. The effect of climate change and the lack of preventive measures by the neoliberal governments in the last 20 years have combined to aggravate the food and climate crises in the entire Central American region, to such a degree that today we face a near-total loss of the first harvest of the year due to a severe drought. More than three million peasant families currently face insolvency and a complete inability to attempt a second harvest—without seeds, credit, or water. The immediate effects of this crisis are malnutrition, accelerated migration, and massive increases of school dropouts, as well as food hoarding and speculation by the private sector. Meanwhile, the main response by government has been to increase the imports of basic grains—leading to historic profits by importers and the destruction of national farm economies—as well as the rushed approval of new seed laws that fling open the doors to genetically engineered crops, gravely threatening our native seeds. The absence of public sector strategies for building food sovereignty means, in effect, that Central American governments have abandoned the possibility of supporting peasant production, public credit, technical assistance and farm diversification.

In the case of coffee, the coffee rust epidemic has arrived in the context of governments that abandon small farmers to their fate, thus multiplying their suffering and leading to greater unemployment and malnutrition among rural workers.

2. La Via Campesina in Central America affirms that the climate crisis is not temporary but rather a structural symptom of capitalism that threatens our region with permanent negative impacts and greater food insecurity.

3. The food and climate crises have no solution as long as public policy continues to advance contaminated seeds, the invasion of our territories by megaprojects related to foreign mining and energy industries, the concession of our common goods to transnational capital, and the forced acceptance of monoculture plantations of non-food crops that displace our families from our traditional lands and territories.

4. We categorically condemn the repression and criminalization of peasant struggle, including the murders, violent evictions, and legal persecution of peasants. We express our solidarity with the peasants of Honduras and Guatemala, who have suffered the most intense repression of their struggles, including the murder of our
friend Margarita Murillo earlier this week.

5. We reiterate our calls on governments and international institutions, including the Central American Integration System (SICA), the FAO and the FIDA to convoke a Central American Summit to urgently address the food and climate crisis, with the
participation of peasant sectors, small producers, rural women and indigenous peoples.

6. It is absolutely necessary to advance our concept of integrated agrarian reform. Within this framework of legislative reforms, it is critical that new proposed laws be approved, such as the legislation related to rural development in Guatemala, as well as the law of Food Security and Sovereignty in El Salvador, and the law of Integrated Agrarian Reform in Honduras.

Land reform and agroecology for people’s food sovereignty!
Globalize struggle, globalize hope!
September 1st, 2104
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Read Part I here.

There would be no cashews from El Salvador that year.

It was disheartening. I travelled to El Salvador to see the damage and talk with the farmers. In a meeting on the island, the farmers couldn’t hide their discouragement. Alex, looking pretty weary himself, explained to them that it would be another year without profits. He reminded them that much of their hardship was due to the significant debt they were carrying; nevertheless, he tried to encourage them: in seven years, they had paid off more than two-thirds of the debt; a few more years and they would be in the clear.

Alex Flores and Phyllis Robinson meeting with the farmers on Montecristo

Alex Flores and Phyllis Robinson meeting with the farmers on Montecristo

Oscar, Antonio Lovo, and Reyes Cuperada

Oscar Vallardes, Antonio Lovo, and Reyes Cuperada

I was worried. Really? Was there nothing that could be done? They’ve worked so hard; their product is so good and certainly has a market.  Surely, between all of us working to support small farmers, democratic organizations, alternative food systems, and co-operative supply chains, we could figure this one out. Fair Trade is about relationships. These farmers had given up twelve years of their lives to fight for social justice; they couldn’t just fail because of a three-day wind. Could they?

Taking Action:  Co-ops Supporting Co-ops

Back at Equal Exchange I got the support to make something happen. Alex met with the co-op leadership and they put together a plan. The path forward became clear. The cashew trees had been planted in the 1970s; while still producing, they were aging. The farmers didn’t have the resources to plant new trees; they could barely find the time to keep up with the day to day farm renovations necessary to get their farms to full production. If they had more technical assistance and more staff, they could affiliate dozens of cashew farmers living in the area and have even more cashews to sell in the future. The loan needed to be paid off. The co-op needed a revolving loan fund to provide credit to the members.  In this way,  the farmers could make it to the harvest, without having to borrow money from the coyotes that then snatch up their cashews come March.

We were in agreement, Equal Exchange and Aprainores.  Earlier this year, we wired the first round of funding, with which they built a nursery, hired an extension worker to manage it, and installed an irrigation system. The farmers chose seeds from their best trees and planted them in the nursery. During our visit, we saw the 5,000 seedlings that they then grafted with shoots from their strongest cashew trees. With luck, the trees will begin producing in three to four years.



And so, on that insufferably hot March day, Oscar and Alex excitedly showed us around the farms. We saw where each farmer had cleared land in preparation for the new seedlings that they will plant. We spent the day visiting the farms and meeting with the farmers. They were still cautious, but I could sense excitement and optimism as well.

As we walked around the island, Oscar told us the story of how he had joined the guerilla movement at the age of nine. He had seen his entire family killed by army soldiers right before his eyes. Lifting his shirt and showing us where he had taken a bullet during the 1989 military offensive, Oscar told us he was feeling optimistic. The presidential elections had just occurred in El Salvador and Salvador Sanchez Ceren, one of the five military commanders of the FMLN had actually won! Oscar told us, “it’s been a long journey, and we never thought we’d see this day! Now, we’re ready for the next stage of our struggle for economic and political rights here in El Salvador. This time, it’s not happening with weapons but with cashew nuts.”

Juan Parada

Juan Parada


Addendum: Closing the Circle: Food co-ops join the initiative

Equal Exchange continues to build our Fair Foods program, searching for the right products and producer groups; working with our food co-op partners to build this new supply chain. Farmer co-ops; Equal Exchange; food co-ops: all three partners are necessary to do this work and to do it well. There are no formulas to follow when trying to create an alternative food system to the one we have now. We all know that the deck is stacked against small farmers, Alternative Trade Organizations, and progressive food stores. So we need to trust each other and support one another; after all, we are all innovating, taking risks, making mistakes, and learning as we go.

A new idea emerged: Since we are all in this together, why not invite our food co-op partners; and their consumers; to join us in this initiative? What better way to build support for small farmer co-ops, educate and engage consumers in the food system; and find ways to strengthen relationships throughout the supply chain? The idea: a pilot program to support small farmer co-ops initiated by Equal Exchange with participation from food co-ops that will involve financial, educational, and cross-cultural components.

We have only just begun this work and we are so excited and so proud of the enthusiasm and the commitment we have received already. Hats off to Berkshire Co-op Market, River Valley Market, Seward Community Co-op, Weaver’s Street Market, and Syracuse Real Food Co-op for being the first food co-ops to understand the value of this initiative and give us a resounding yes!

Phyllis Robinson with Matt Novick, Art Ames, and Daniel Esko (left to right) of Berkshire Co-op Market, the first co-op to join with us!

Phyllis Robinson with Matt Novick, Art Ames, and Daniel Esko (left to right) of Berkshire Co-op Market, the first co-op to join with us!

Photos courtesy of Equal Exchange. Photographers: Julia Hechtman, Mark DiMaggio, and Becca Koganer.


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