On May 1st Equal Exchange turned 29!

We celebrate our anniversary by holding an annual meeting where we discuss the state of our business and our co-operative, among other items.   And of course, as important as that meeting is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the festivities that we engage in later that evening. : )

This year, I was in Panama, attending the Fourth Annual Gathering of the Small Producer Symbol (SPP) and couldn’t make it back in time for the activities.

The members of the SPP wanted to wish Equal Exchange greetings on this important day and sent the following video.  For technical reasons, ha!, it is only being posted today.

Ethiquable, an Alternative Trade Organization in France (that is also a co-operative) was one of the earliest supporters of the Small Producers Symbol (SPP).  Like Equal Exchange, Ethiquable recognizes the tremendous importance of this new Fair Trade system that is so-much-more than a certification system.  The first of its kind, the SPP was created, and is entirely owned, by small-scale producers. Their goal is to build bridges with alternative trade organizations, engaged, committed “consumers”, civic organizations, and other allies to create an authentic trade movement that promotes democratically-run organizations, sustainable agriculture, and high quality, healthy food.

Join with us as we say, “Felicitaciones!”

Rosa and the spp symbol

The following is a rough translation of their announcement:

Association of the Small Producers’ Symbol – France

Declaration of Principles

By creating SPP France, we – Southern producers & French actors: civil society, citizens, consumers, engaged businesses – are driven by one conviction: the strength of the fair trade proposal is based on organized peasant agriculture. This agriculture is the engine of sustainable and inclusive development; we need to support it because it is the only way to guarantee a future for everyone, healthy, high quality, and environmentally sustainable food.

However, we note that after several decades of existence and profound changes – especially in the 2000s, fair trade is no longer solely focused on this same vision.

In reality, there is now multiple visions and the Fair Trade movement displays a variety of practices that we believe dilute the strength of the original design and especially its ability to offer an alternative – of deep impact – to conventional trade.

Industry players no longer put all the focus on the goals of changing power relations within the agricultural sector or on the intrinsic link between fair trade and organized farming. By not putting more priority support on small-scale agriculture that it was proposed to support from its creation, fair trade is in danger of being emptied of its substance. Because it met commercial initiatives at variable requirements – for different certification standards and the concept of fair trade is about to approach a kind of lowest common denominator reducing the guarantee level as much for producers as for consumers.

Without denying the relevance of other forms of “sustainable trade” which is now growing, we affirm that fair trade should remain the initiative that builds on the highest level of standards. Our reading of the issues of fair trade leads us to reaffirm the fundamental values ​​and revive the pioneering spirit of the movement. By providing a clear guarantee respecting the original principles of fair trade, the Small Farmers Symbol (SPP) meets this challenge.

SPP is in fact the first guarantee system of fair trade internationally with the requirement that it belong to organized producers. The SPP was established as an initiative, not of Northern actors but of the CLAC, the Federation of Latin American producers of fair trade. The Small Farmer Symbol brings together producer organizations, which beyond a commercial aspect, share a common vision of development of rural areas, defense of a diversified and responsible agricultural production of small-scale farming families and the environment, and a willingness to defend the interests of small producers against other players (state, communities, businesses …).

Together they offer a rigorous and independent guarantee of fair trade system designed as a support tool for development, as a lever for change of peasant communities.

The SPP therefore has chosen a fair trade model centered on small producers, their families and their organizations.   It also wants to give new meaning to the concept of a guaranteed minimum price, with higher levels than current standards. It also revives the principles of independence and empowerment of producer organizations. It aims to provide direct market access for cooperatives by facilitating their ability to directly export in partnership with committed companies.

The SPP also intends to expand local markets in producing countries, facilitating its use by cooperatives on their own finished end products.

Why create an association SPP France?

  • To enforce and promote a specific way of doing fair trade based exclusively on small farmer agriculture and a label belonging to producer organizations,
  • To promote collective (producer organizations, companies, civil society, …) lines of small farmer products that meet fair trade criteria defined by SPP and meeting with French law on fair trade,
  • To facilitate the access of small producers organizations to markets.

What are its main tasks?

  • Promote the SPP with international solidarity actors, consumer associations, organizations of fair trade, to interested companies and public actors
  • Facilitate relations between engaged and committed producer organizations and French buyers
  • Represent the SPP within the Platform for Fair Trade (CCTB) and with public institutions in charge of the certification of certified commerce systems
  • Defend the interests of the SPP and to facilitate its recognition in France

Co-founders of the SPP Association – France

Written by Leif Rawson-Ahern, Equal Exchange Tea Team

EE&Potong group photo

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Northern India, a small group of tea farmers are quietly reinventing the tea industry and reviving the land. The Potong Tea Garden is a collectively run organization of tea farmers; something nearly unheard of in the tea industry which has been dominated by large plantations since the British colonized India in the 1850’s. In fact, many of the tea bushes at Potong were planted shortly thereafter in the 1860’s and are still referred to as the “President Lincoln bushes.” Now, more than a century and a half later, these “President Lincoln bushes” are approaching the end of their productivity and Potong farmers are in the process of replacing these colonial era tea bushes and reviving fallow land.

In 2011, Equal Exchange partnered with some of our food co-op partners for National Co-op Month to raise funds in support of Potong’s ongoing replanting efforts. Through this collaboration, we were able to raise $45,000 and Potong has used the funds to plant 49,000 new tea bushes covering nearly 15 hectares of land. It hasn’t been an easy process. Potong experienced 30 percent less rainfall in 2014 compared to previous years and climate change has drastically affected growing conditions; leading to losses of nearly 5 metric tons in the 2014 harvests. Despite these environmental challenges, Potong’s vision for the tea garden is well underway.

Potong farmers

So, what does it really take to revitalize a 150 year old tea plantation and mitigate these dramatic climate effects? For starters, you need healthy soil. Potong farmers have been painstakingly rehabilitating the soil by reintroducing micro-nutrients through vermicomposting and “Cow Pat Pit” composting. They’ve been planting native and some non-native plants, including leguminous plants, grasses, and other green crops to bind the soil, reduce erosion, maintain moisture, and manage pests. They’ve planted shaded trees to protect against extreme sun and planted banana trees as part of their efforts to revive natural water sources in the area. All of these conservation efforts have been accomplished through organic, biodynamic, and permaculture methods.

Potong’s commitment to biodiversity, organic farming, and stewardship of the land is at the heart of their approach to growing tea. In a recent progress report they noted that as a result of these efforts, they’ve witnessed an increase in the population of birds and other wild life in the area. “It gives profound pleasure and satisfaction to observe nature in its revival…the population of deer, rabbits, wild boar, pangolin, and porcupine are on the rise which has started attracting leopards.” In a world where agriculture and wildlife are increasingly at odds, it is inspiring to see such respect and care for the land and the local ecosystem.   Equal Exchange is proud to partner with Potong Tea Garden in their efforts to produce sustainable, high quality tea, and to make the tea garden their own.

Try Potong’s delicious tea in our English Breakfast, Black Tea, Green Tea, and Jasmine Green Tea. Read more about the Potong Tea Garden here.

EE sign at Potong

If you drink tea, particularly tea sourced from India, we invite you to listen to this 6-minute BBC report on the working conditions and treatment of workers on tea plantations in India.  (Story begins at minute 6:17)

If you buy tea, please consider looking specifically for tea grown by small-scale farmers, rather than tea coming out of plantations, EVEN IF the tea is fair trade certified.

Only a handful of companies are trying to address the inequities of tea farmers by sourcing their tea from groups trying to build alternatives to the decaying tea plantation model, notorious for its human rights abuses and deplorable living and working conditions.

To buy Equal Exchange small farmer tea, please click here.

To learn more about conditions on tea plantations, Equal Exchange’s alternative model, and the work we are trying to do, please click here.

As always, thanks so much for your concern and your support.


producer-trip-India_2009_Jodi-Anderson-331_720x480_72_RGB (1)
Binita Rae, Mineral Springs Cooperative, Darjeeling, India


The current daily minimum wage for tea workers in West Bengal, India is 95 Rupees per day, that’s approximately $1.54 USD. The tea industry is one of the largest private-sector employers in India, with more than a million permanent workers employed on plantations. Tea plantations are notorious for low wages, disempowerment of workers, and an inability to provide basic human needs. In response to these conditions, the Indian government, tea worker trade unions, and private sector tea companies are all weighing in on the wage debate which has been underway for nearly a year with little progress. Tea workers are taking power into their own hands, organizing strikes and a march to take place later this month. If all goes well, workers are hoping for a new minimum daily wage between $2.41-2.50 USD, plus benefits. It remains to be seen how these negotiations will unfold but the hope of an extra dollar a day could have a huge impact on the livelihood of tea workers and their families.

At Equal Exchange, we strive to do something different. Rather than reinforce a system that prioritizes profits for a single plantation owner over the wellbeing of workers, we’ve created a tea line in partnership with small farmer groups who own their land or business and thus have greater control and ownership over their livelihood. Through our tea line, we hope to prove that an alternative model is possible and that tea workers and farmers can have a more just and equitable future.

Read more here about the current wage debate in West Bengal on World Tea News.

Click here to read Equal Exchange’s challenge to the tea industry to improve conditions on plantations in India.

Click here to read more about Equal Exchange tea on our blog.


This is the final post in a three-part series. If you missed the first parts, you can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

For the past few days, we’ve been sharing how Equal Exchange‘s work as a fair trade avocado importer reflects our vision for transforming the way Mexican produce is grown and exported to the United States.

Today, we want to outline what we think needs to happen to make this transformative model a truly sustainable model for each stakeholder in our supply chain.

When we think about a thriving fair trade avocado program, we think about the local produce programs that so many co-ops, natural food stores, and distributors have committed to. Local programs embody many of the values we highlighted in Part II

Let’s imagine a store that sells local, heirloom tomatoes, for example: 
    • That store is likely supporting a farmer who is operating on a smaller scale than large agribusinesses growing tomatoes in Mexico.
    • The store probably has a relationship with that farmer, and is able to ask them direct questions about their product.
    • The store doesn’t price the local, heirloom tomato like a conventional tomato from Mexico. The price most likely reflects the social and environmental costs associated with producing that tomato, and consumers are educated to understand why the tomato costs what it does.
    • The store probably highlights the tomato grower in print materials to help make deeper connections between their shoppers and the tomato grower. If consumers have questions about the farmer’s practices, the store is able to help answer them.

We’re asking you to join us in building something similar with PRAGOR’s avocados.

We’re asking you to:

      • Commit to sourcing and purchasing only fair trade, organic avocados from small-scale farmers when they are in season.
      • Think of a fair trade, organic avocado as a fundamentally different product than a conventional avocado, and have your prices reflect that.
      • Educate consumers and peers about how these avocados are different and why there’s a need for them.
      • Ask questions about suppliers, producers, and their supply chains. Push for all supply chains to be more transparent. Choose to support supply chains that have integrity.

We know these aren’t easy asks, and we don’t expect this to happen overnight. In the produce industry, importers, distributors, and stores are constantly responding to consumer demands. But if we really want to build a successful model for small-farmer, fair trade avocados, we have to flip that dynamic. And we have to take risks. As stakeholders engaging with this alternative supply chain, we must actively work together to generate consumer demand. It’s the only way to turn our vision for a more just and sustainable food system into a reality.

This is the second post in a three-part series. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.

On Friday, we introduced you to Equal Exchange’s vision for transforming the way Mexican produce is grown and exported to the United States. Today, we’re going to dive deeper into our ideas for a more just and sustainable food system by talking about our experience importing avocados from Mexico.

In September of 2013, we imported our first container of fair trade organic avocados from PRAGOR, a producer coop in Michoacan, Mexico. We had visited them that summer and saw the challenges they were facing as small-scale producers, despite the increase in demand for avocados from Mexico. The stories they shared demonstrated the need for a trade model that is drastically different from the way conventional Mexican avocados are grown and exported.

Building that trade model has been challenging. That is because when we transform something, we start from scratch, moving beyond what has worked in the past. We take a lot of risks in reconstructing the system, and it takes time to get it right.

But it’s also exciting to be building this model from scratch. Because every time we import a fair trade avocado from PRAGOR, we are living out our vision for what we think our food system should look like. At Equal Exchange, we believe that a truly transformative trade model includes:

1. Farmers owning their own land.

PRAGOR is a cooperative of 20 producer members who each own an average of 10 acres of land, all 100% organic. Many of the members transitioned to organic 10 or more years ago, a revolutionary move at the time. At Equal Exchange, we have seen that when farmers own their own land, they are more likely to take measures to ensure the environmental sustainability of the land. Owning land is inherently more empowering than working as a laborer on a plantation, and provides producers with greater economic security and opportunity.

2. Small-scale farmers having access to the global marketplace. 

Giant avocado agribusinesses have a heavy presence in the region where PRAGOR members farm. PRAGOR talks about how, for many avocado farmers, their only option is to sell their avocados to big companies. These companies pay low, and the price fluctuates greatly throughout the season. Producers do not have enough information or power to negotiate an appropriate price, and the multinationals take full advantage of this. By organizing into a cooperative, PRAGOR has built power for these 20 producers. They now have the infrastructure to export their avocados on their own, instead of being at the mercy of middlemen or corporate buyers. As a result, more money goes back to each farmer.

3. Having the real cost of food reflected in consumer prices. 

To keep farmers farming, we must recognize the need to pay higher prices for our food. In the United States, consumers expect cheap produce year-round. But poverty level wages in Mexico are the cost of this relentless emphasis on bargains. It is critical that we start factoring the true costs of social and environmental sustainability into the price of our food. Fair trade minimums are one way to guarantee that farmers receive an adequate price for their product.

4. Connecting consumers with producers around transparent supply chains. 

The LA Times piece illustrated the lack of transparency in global supply chains. There were numerous quotes from large corporations that demonstrated a mentality of passing the buck on being accountable for their supply chains. At Equal Exchange, our mission has always been to connect farmers and consumers through our supply chain. And while our supply chains are often small and imperfect, we are committed to their integrity. We have open and transparent conversations about our supply chains, and we often bring multiple stakeholders from our supply chains together to talk about our work.


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