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Read Part 1 here.

A Brief History of Aprainores (continued)

The situation was bleak, but the Fair Traders stood by Aprainores. A plan was put in place. Alex Flores, who had been working at the co-op for the previous year, was asked to take over its management. He had studied agronomy and business management in the U.S. and they believed that he possessed the necessary skills to turn things around. More importantly, Alex had grown to know the farmers and he cared deeply for them and their organization. Alex made a commitment to the farmers to help them succeed and promised the buyers that he would pay back the debt.

Alex Flores, General Manager, at a farmer meeting

Alex Flores, General Manager, at a farmer meeting

It was a remarkable turnaround.  By 2012, Aprainores had consolidated their co-op. They now had 55 members, Fair Trade and organic certifications, and a processing plant that employed 30 women from neighboring communities; the only source of employment in the area. They had two long-term Fair Trade buyers and each year, Alex has paid off some of their debt, along with the interest. The farmers supplement their income by fishing, growing corn, beans, and other subsistence crops. They still find work as day laborers on neighboring plantations. No one is quite making a living, but they have survived.

Equal Exchange launches Fair Food: 2012

In 2012, Equal Exchange reaffirmed our commitment to small farmers and Authentic Fair Trade. Having built a successful model in coffee, we decided it was time to replicate our work, applying what we had done and what we had learned to a new product category. Throughout the world, nut and dried fruit co-operatives have formed to provide economic livelihoods for small farmers. In food co-ops, ethical consumers buy these products without information or knowledge about the products or the producers. Sadly, much of these nuts and dried fruits are bought off the commodity market: sales of these products do nothing to support alternative trade organizations with social missions, nor do the profits don’t even benefit small farmers or their associations.

Our conclusion: it is time to make the connection between small nut and dried fruit producers and consumers in the North by building and strengthening these co-operative supply chains. When we tried our first sample of cashews from Aprainores, we knew we were on our way! Aprainores had already committed their harvest, but we managed to buy every last pound they could sell us. Within three weeks, the cashews had sold out. Our instincts were right on!

We signed a contract to purchase twice that amount the following harvest and began working with another remarkable co-op, the Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala (FTAK) in India so we could have a year-round supply to keep the bins stocked. But as luck would have it, in March 2013, smack in the middle of the harvest, Alex called to tell us they had been hit by an unusual weather phenomenon; for three days, hurricane-like winds swept through eastern El Salvador. Occurring just at the time the cashew trees were in blossom, the winds knocked the budding flowers and incipient fruit off the trees. The processing plant was also damaged. Aprainores had lost 70% of their harvest.

There would be no cashews from El Salvador that year.  Read the end of this story here.

 

“During the war, my comandante told me that we were fighting for a house, a piece of land, and a business. Today, I have a house; some land; we co-own our business; and, my comandante … is President [of El Salvador]!” Oscar Valladares, former President, APRAINORES

 

Oscar Valladares

Oscar Valladares

It was a hot, muggy afternoon this March and my colleague, Mark DiMaggio and I were touring the cashew farms on the Island of Montecristo. March is one of the hottest months of the year in El Salvador. The end of the dry season is approaching; the air is thick with humidity and it feels like any moment the skies could burst. But the cooling rains never really come; not until April or May. On this particular day, the temperature had reached 106 degrees.

Despite the weather, our spirits were high. After a long run of bad luck, it seemed like things might finally be turning around for the 55 members who comprise the small farmer cashew co-operative, Aprainores. The harvest was looking good; the weather was co-operating; the processing plant was up and running; and Equal Exchange had just agreed to fund a five-year project to help the members renovate their farms, plant new cashew trees, and strengthen the productive and organizational capacity of the co-op.

We had driven down the coastal highway from San Salvador earlier that morning with Alex Flores, Aprainores’ general manager. At the office, we picked up Oscar and hurried down the long, dusty road, past the herds of slow-moving cattle, and the kids on bikes in their blue and white school uniforms. When we arrived at the banks of the Lempa River, Oscar jumped out and arranged for a motorized launch to take us out to the island. We had to go quickly: Montecristo is nestled between the Lempa and the Pacific Ocean and river crossings must be timed with the tides.

The boat ride was particularly spectacular on that day. The skies were clear and the San Vicente volcano, Chichontepeque, could be seen rising magnificently in front of us. As we approached Montecristo, we spotted egrets, blue herons, and other birds searching along the sand bars for food. Montecristo has been designated a national reserve, and its estuaries and mangrove swamps shelter numerous species of birds, as well as turtles, iguanas, armadillos, and other wildlife.

birds

volcano

heron

mangroves

A Brief History of Aprainores

Prior to 1992, Montecristo, the neighboring island of Tasajera, and what is now two repatriated communities on the “mainland,” were all part of a 175-acre cashew plantation belonging to one German landowner. The plantation was just one of many large landholdings along the southern coast of El Salvador and the landless class that worked on these cotton, sugarcane, and coffee plantations, worked under difficult conditions and received little pay. When efforts to organize for change were repeatedly met with repression, the country exploded in a twelve-year civil war.

The Bajo Lempa, as the area is called, was a highly conflictive zone during the war and the population suffered greatly. Montecristo, with its thick mangrove jungles, provided excellent cover and both sides used the island for temporary shelter and from which to launch military offensives. The village was burnt to the ground; the local population forced to flee; and the plantation abandoned.

The war, which claimed roughly 75,000 lives, officially ended in 1992. As part of the Peace Accords, a Land Transfer Program was established. through which the government bought large tracts of land and transferred small parcels to eligible ex-soldiers, FMLN insurgents, and civilians displaced by the war. The cashew plantation was parceled out and the land apportioned to groups of ex-FMLN combatants.

With the war behind them, the recently established residents now faced new challenges: how to earn a living for themselves and their families. In 1995, they formed a dairy, cashew, and sugarcane co-operative, but without market access or technical assistance, the co-op eventually failed. They decided to refocus their efforts on the cashews, which were beginning to gain attention among some Fair Trade organizations in the North. In 1999, financial assistance was acquired to build a processing plant. Three years later ten farmers formed a new co-op, Aprainores, specializing in organic cashews for export.

Things were looking up. Aprainores’ cashews; sweet, creamy, and delicious; were in demand. Fair Trade co-operative organizations established relationships with Aprainores and the members were learning to build a business. But in 2005, the co-op and its Fair Trade buyers received a serious blow. The general manager had skipped town. It took a long time to get over the shock and unravel what had happened. When, they finally did and accounts were settled, they discovered that he had left them in serious trouble: they were $350,000 in debt.

Read Part 2 here.

Photos courtesy of Equal Exchange.  Photographer:  Julia Hechtman. Photo of Mangroves: Mark DiMaggio

The following post was written by Carly Kadlec, Green Coffee Purchaser

The Cooperation in Productivity event was the first time Equal Exchange has organized a peer-led, on-farm learning experience between farmer organizations. It was incredibly exciting, not just because it was the first event of its kind for us, but because of all the farmer-driven content.

by Carly Kadlec, Green Bean Purchaser

Cooperation in Quality.  Marcala, Honduras

In Part 1, I explained the groundwork philosophy that the members of COMSA (Honduras) shared with the members of Las Colinas (El Salvador). Now let’s get a little nerdy and dig into the more practical, technical side of what COMSA shared and how it has contributed to their success.  Read more here.

Many thanks to Chuck Bordman for this creative 48-second video about the corporatization of Fair Trade and the work of committed brands to support small farmers and Authentic Fair Trade in this context.

 

 

To read the full comic book, “The History of Authentic Fair Trade, click here.

To learn more about Fair Trade vs. Free Trade, click here.

To learn more about Chuck Bordman and his work, click here.

By Carly Kadlec, Green Bean Purchaser

COOPERATION IN PRODUCTIVITY  Marcala, Honduras Don Mario Pérez likes to learn, and he likes to challenge the people around him to learn. While visiting his home and coffee farm during an organic workshop in early June, Don Mario and his wife, Joselinda Manueles, explained their philosophy to me. See more here.

By Damian Carrington in the March 14, 2014 issue of the Guardian
Reposted/printed from The Progreso Network
Rising heat, extreme weather and pests mean the highland bean is running out of cool mountainsides on which it flourishes

Global warming is leading to bad, expensive coffee. The perfect storm of raising heat, extreme whether and ferocious pests mean the highland bean is running out of cool mountain                                       sides on which it flourishes.

 

Rich western urbanites expecting to dodge the impacts of climate change should prepare for a jolt: global warming is leading to bad, expensive coffee. Almost 2bn cups of coffee perk up its drinkers every day, but a perfect storm of rising heat, extreme weather and ferocious pests mean the highland bean is running out of cool mountainsides on which it flourishes. Read more here.
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