4rafaelhuerto2-18Do you regularly purchase avocados at your local grocery store?  If so, have you noticed that it was not possible to purchase avocados from Mexico during the first two weeks of October?  Are you curious what’s behind this disruption in supply?

In the following article, Nicole Vitello, CEO of Oke USA/Equal Exchange Bananas gives us a behind-the-scenes look at what’s been happening in Mexico and the impact it has on those of us here who purchase Mexican avocados.  She also explains why the model of trade that Oke USA/Equal Exchange believes in and adheres to provides an alternative, more equitable model that benefits both growers in the Global South and consumers here in the U.S.

Why did the supply of Mexican avocados to the U.S. suddenly stop?

The Mexican avocado growing season ends in May.  Shortly after the harvest was completed, avocado growers occupied the offices of APEAM (Association of Producers and Exporter of Avocados from Mexico) in a massive protest.  APEAM offices are located in Michoacan, the primary avocado export province of Mexico. What was the issue?

According to APEAM spokesperson, Ramon Paz Vega, the “primary issue revolved around internal differences on sales negotiations between growers and packers. The other issues pertain to payment in U.S. dollars vs. Mexican pesos, and who should be responsible for phytosanitary sampling fruit costs required by the USDA. Negotiations on these two topics continue,” he told The Produce News via email on Oct. 17th.

Twenty thousand growers produce avocados in Mexico.  In the conventional agricultural system, growers do not generally harvest or pack their own product. The farmers sell their avocados in the field each week to a consolidator who owns a packing house and exports the fruit to the US, Canada, Europe, China, and Japan. The total number of packing houses in Mexico is only 325.

Field prices are set each week in pesos and exporters do business in dollars. Growers were mainly protesting low field prices vs. export prices, as well as the the peso to dollar equivalencies which were not working in their favor. They were asking for field prices to be paid in dollars and for more transparency around the market vs field prices.  Growers occupying APEAM offices back in May meant that no field prices could be set, no harvest crews could be organized and all negotiations between growers and packers were frozen.  Eventually, an agreement was finally reached.

To be clear, APEAM represents growers and packers but is an association, not a governmental organization, so they have limited power.  As Vega states, “It is important to note that none of these topics fall within APEAM’s purview as APEAM has no role in the private negotiations between growers and packers. However, APEAM has been using its influence to promote dialogue and agreement between the parties.”

Despite the agreement, at the end of September, growers decided to strike again in the belief that their agreement with packers was not being respected. This strike resulted in a total shut down of Mexican avocado supply to the US market during the first two weeks of October, a time when few other sources for avocados were available. This shut-down got the attention of more powerful forces than APEAM; mainly SAGARPA (Mexico’s USDA) and the Mexican Government. The strike was resolved by October 14 and harvesting and packing resumed on October 17.

While this strike was a loss for the reliability of an avocado supply chain from Mexico, it is a win for growers who were able to shine a light on the actual power dynamics and inequalities of the internal Mexican avocado market.

How is Equal Exchange an alternative?


As an Alternative Trade Organization, our business model is based on the approach that growers and importers should be able to connect directly with each other under mutually understood and agreed upon guidelines. This has many advantages:

  1. Better pricing due to elimination of middlemen. More money stays with the farmers.
  2. Growers have better access to information about the US market including pricing and distribution.
  3. Importers gain a greater understanding of costs associated with avocado growing, harvesting and packing and how the Mexican market works.
  4. Growers and importers can better understand each other in order to work towards pricing based on true costs not on the sometimes fickle variances of the market.

According to Vega: “Some of the more radical protesters wanted a set price for the entire season and for all types of fruit. Of course, this is not allowed and the governmental mediators and APEAM made this clear to the protesters.”

This vision is only radical because it is an alternative to free market capitalism which promotes wild variances in pricing allowing certain agents in the supply chain to profit. Set pricing would allow prices to be based on actual costs and natural supply and demand (for example, Mexico is expecting 40% less supply this year based on weather and growing conditions, so price would be set higher than last year). Price instability is hard on all actors in the supply chain as you are never sure what you will be paid in a certain week and whether that price will give you the margin that you need to survive.

Oke USA/Equal Exchange sets weekly pricing with our Mexican avocado co-op partner, Pragor; however it is dependent on the conventional field price set by packers since that is the de facto market price. Who sets this “conventional field price” and on what is it actually based? That is the transparency that growers are demanding.


Our partner, Pragor’s costs are higher because they are bearing all the costs of growing, production, harvest, transport, and packing. There are few economies of scale but growers are part of a co-operative in which they can negotiate pricing directly with us. We pick up the product in Mexico in order to save them the export costs. We are transparent in our pricing to distributors and promote the sharing of information between all parties. We try to smooth out major changes in pricing from week to week by adjusting our margin and negotiating directly with Pragor.

The current situation sheds light on how important direct relationships are to transparency, mutual understanding and an ability for farmers and importers to negotiate as equals, not as part of a power structure where the cards are often stacked against farmers due to lack of access to information. Equal Exchange’s mission has always been to give farmers and consumers a seat at the table together with all the other actors in the agricultural supply chain.



To learn more about Pragor and our relationship with them, click here.

nestle-tampaco-foil-factory-fireOn September 10th a fatal fire at the Tampaco Foil Packaging Factory in Bangladesh left 41 dead, 10 missing,  and 35 critically injured.  Over one month later, the families of the victims have received not one penny of compensation from the loss of their loved ones, nor one additional paycheck from the deceased workers’ salaries.  The factory made the packaging for the products of various multi-national companies including Nestle.  To date, not only have the affected workers’ families remained uncompensated, but Nestle has made no commitment to ensure that the factories involved in their supply chains improve their working conditions and safety practices.


Please read more about this tragic incident from our friends at Fair World Project and then please consider signing the petition to hold Nestle accountable.  Next time you buy some chocolate for yourself or your friends and loved ones, please consider the source, their supply chain practices, and their ethics.  People’s lives depend upon your actions.

With many thanks,





By Ravdeep Jaidka, Oke USA

River Market 4This year marks Equal Exchange’s tenth year in the banana trade and fourth year in the avocado trade. We’ve been commemorating these milestones by hosting celebrations across the country: Boston, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis. As we take our message across state lines, it’s great to have some press doing the same. These two articles in Lucky Peach and The Guardian underscore the role small farmers play in building a sustainable, robust, and adaptive global food system. Read on to learn more about the small farmers that bring you Equal Exchange bananas and avocados!

Lucky Peach: The Case For a Better Banana

The GuardianCan Hipsters Handle the Unpalatable Truth About Avocado Toast?





Dear Friend,

Equal Exchange needs you.

As Equal Exchange turns 30 this year, and we reflect on the journey we have traveled, we are both immensely proud and infinitely concerned. We have accomplished more than we ever dreamed possible back in 1986. We have sparked enormous reform in the U.S. specialty coffee industry. And we have built a supply chain from scratch that, against all odds, gives small farmer co-ops a fighting chance and a seat at the table.

We are one of the largest and most successful worker co-ops in the country. We are one of the largest Alternative Trade Organizations (ATOs) in the world. But despite this success we know the path forward is more perilous than it has ever been.

The Fair Trade idea may have won success in the last 10 years, but that success has been very limited. And in the process of gaining recognition and support, control has been wrested from small farmers and turned into a marketing attribute at the service of northern companies; it has been commodified and stripped of all real meaning. While some northern ATOs are still here and hundreds of farmer groups in the Global South hang on, “Fair Trade” as envisioned 30 years ago is no longer recognizable.

We now know that we cannot possibly succeed in our goal to transform the food system without the active, deep, and committed participation of citizen-consumers like you. An authentic Fair Trade system requires democratic organizing of producers in the South, worker democracy for businesses in the North, and active citizen involvement in the North.

In the wider food system, corporations control everything from seeds to supply and prices, while relentlessly chipping away at the regulations that inform and protect consumers. They fight feverishly to prevent us from knowing if GMOs are present in our food. They continue to promote production methods that hasten the warming of the planet—a present day threat to millions of small farmers and others around the world. And, corporations count on consumers remaining unorganized to maintain the status quo.

For these reasons, we are taking a powerful, new step in building a democratic brand that connects small farmers in the South to citizen-consumers in the North. We believe that in order to be successful in realizing the original Fair Trade vision, we need to deepen involvement and participation in our model. In doing this we go back to the best that Alternative Trade has always been about: innovation, global solidarity, social imagining and learning, and economic justice. This will be a long, slow process and a great challenge. We need your buying support, your investing support, and your political support.

Please join us in building this dream. We invite you to help us shape a new initiative that we are launching this year: the Equal Exchange Action Forum.

Our vision is of a vibrant community of citizen-consumers, working together to deepen our collective understanding of these issues and taking actions where strategic. We imagine a focus on learning and sharing in the first year as together we give this initiative more form. Within the context of Equal Exchange’s mission, we will share the challenges and successes we experience in building supply chains for small farmers. Over time, we will take actions that challenge the corporate control of food, increase the market viability of small farmers and their co-operatives, and reshape our food system in ways that benefit all of us.

What are some issues we will engage in?

  • Lessons from our first 30 years:
    • The origins of authentic Fair Trade
    • Coffee co-operatives: the potential and the challenges of democracy
    • The Fair Trade system gone awry
  • From tea to nuts: the successes and setbacks in building small farmer supply chains
  • Climate change: can citizen-consumers help farmers survive this man-made assault on their livelihoods?
  • The corporatization of the food system:
    • Who owns the organic industry?
    • Can consumers retake control of our food?
    • How can we support independent businesses trying to survive the crush of corporate food consolidation?

What are the different forums for involvement? Early thoughts include:

  • Dedicated online space for members of the Action Forum
  • Webinars, podcasts and blogs
  • Seminars and other in-person educational events
  • Cookouts and social events
  • Direct actions including letter-writing and protest actions within the context of food politics, agriculture and trade, climate justice, and economic, social and political rights

How do I join?

Great question! We are looking for committed individuals who may be engaged with Equal Exchange around these issues at any number of levels. We have created a simple application with three different paths to join the Equal Exchange Action Forum. It only takes one, but you may qualify via one, two or even all three:

  • Supporter/Activist
  • Drinker/Eater of Equal Exchange products
  • Investor

Interested?  Apply here.

We are very excited to hear from you and to launch this new initiative with your support. Together, with our collective ideas, commitment and passion, let’s build a more just food system that works for small farmers, for consumers and for generations to come.

In solidarity,


Rink Dickinson & Rob Everts
Equal Exchange



The following post was written by Daniel Fireside, Equal Exchange Capital Coordinator

What do interest rates have to do with the price of coffee? Why do we care and who decides these things anyway?

As many of you know, coffee is a commodity and as such, is traded on the stock market.  The Fair Trade system broke from the New York “C” market and set up its own, higher prices. Direct relationships allow producers to negotiate contract prices with their buyers.

When Equal Exchange bought our headquarters and roasting facility about a dozen years ago, we took out a mortgage with one of those big banks you’ve likely heard of, and they set our interest rate based on something called the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR.

At the ten year mark, however, we had a chance to refinance the loan and shop for a new lender. We found a social lender very much aligned with our cooperative and Fair Trade values, the nonprofit RSF Social Finance.  Several years ago, RSF broke with lending orthodoxy and decided that it wouldn’t use the LIBOR to set their interest rates. This was a prescient move, as there was a global scandal brewing which involved financial traders from major banks colluding to manipulate the interest rates for their own profits.

RSF began a more holistic process to determine interest rates that considers the needs and resources of all of its stakeholders. Rather than just plug in another abstract formula, RSF staff get input from actual stakeholders by holding meetings between groups of borrowers and lenders and then sets their interest rate accordingly.

Last year, Equal Exchange was asked to host one of those meetings at our headquarters. We gave a tour of our roasters, packing lines, offices, and warehouse with its thousands of pounds of Fair Trade organic coffee to a group of about two dozen mission-driven business leaders, individual and institutional lenders, and a few RSF staff that came out from the West Coast to facilitate. We all had a chance to make a case for what the interest payments meant to us.  Each person present was asked to consider what it would mean for everyone if their base rate went up or down. Even the RSF considered how they could lower their fees without impacting their ability to carry out their work. The feedback was taken back to RSF headquarters and provided to the loan committee.

John Bloom, VP of Organizational Culture at RSF, wrote a fascinating article that goes deeper into why the lender goes to these extraordinary lengths to set something so mundane, yet so important, as an interest rate.

For Equal Exchange, this is an important part of our approach to finance and everything we do here– one that involves transparency and consideration for the well-being of every stakeholder on all sides of an economic transaction.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post here.

“I Support Fair Trade,” says the banner.  World Fair Trade Day isn’t just celebrated here in the North.  All over the world, small farmer organizations also celebrate World Fair Trade Day at fairs, festivals, and other events.  Last Friday, Brenda Ceren, of Aprainores and Eduardo Murcia, Treasurer of Aprainores’ Board of Directors joined small farmer coffee farmers at a Fair in San Salvador, sponsored by Fairtrade International and the Latin American Coordinating Body of Fair Trade Producers.  Brenda and Eduardo brought samples of their organic cashews, dried mangos, pineapples, papaya and bananas for the public to enjoy.

Brenda Ceren, Aprainores Administrator & Eduardo Murcia, Aprainores Board Treasurer at the World Fair Trade Day Fair in El Salvador


wftd el salvador2

spp logo

Call for Solidarity with the small farmers’ organization, NORANDINO

(Piura, Peru)

Last March 23, NORANDINO was decertified abruptly by the fair trade certification body FLO-Cert.

NORANDINO is member of FUNDEPPO, Foundation of Organized Small Producers; the organization behind the SPP (Small Producers’ Symbol).

NORANDINO, formerly known as CEPICAFÉ, is an organization with a history of twenty years as a pioneering and exemplary organization of small fair trade producers in the area of Piura, Peru.

NORANDINO, with a membership of about seven thousand small farmers’ families, has increased strong and steadily its participation in fair trade markets in Europe, North America and Peru, with the wide range of products, mainly coffee, granulated brown sugar and cocoa.

NORANDINO has gained wide recognition in the fair trade markets as a solvent, transparent and dutiful organization. NORANDINO has achieved to maintain long-term relationships with many fair trade companies and different international cooperation and technical assistance agencies, with the goal to consolidate processes of business and social development of the organization and its members.

At the SPP we are concerned about the current situation of NORANDINO and about the impact for thousands of families of small producers. Considering the trajectory, prestige and scope of the work of NORANDINO, FUNDEPPO expresses its solidarity with NORANDINO.

We ask the various bodies involved in the decertification mentioned, to review the decision of decertification.
We make a strong call to all actors in the fair trade movement and market not to drop NORANDINO, manifest their solidarity with this organization in the current situation and find the necessary solutions to continue trading and maintain their cooperative relationships without interruption.

On behalf of the FUNDEPPO Board