Archive for April, 2008

Can we even say that anymore?

In honor of Earth Day, I’ve decided to work from home and avoid using my car. Here in Boston, it’s a beautiful, sunny day – not too much of a hardship to be sitting at my laptop on my back porch, cup of coffee in hand.

But seriously, like so many of us, I have been thinking a lot about my own energy use patterns and behaviors, and what changes I can make.

As an organization, we at Equal Exchange have also been thinking about our roles, contributions and responsibilities to the planet, our farmer partners, and our network of allies, partners, and friends. What kind of change can be achieved through consumer dollars and individual actions, and what kind of change can only occur when people are organized and use their collective power to enact or modify policies and laws?


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“We’re better than fair trade.” “We’re beyond fair trade.” “Ours is direct trade.”

If you’re a coffee buyer trying to choose your brand, chances are you’re familiar with these refrains. How, then, do we sort through all the seals, messages, and marketing promotions to make the right purchase? Clearly, we select our coffee by its quality, the flavor profile and roast, as well as how much comes out of our pocket. But for just a moment, if we set aside our personal taste preferences and economic realities, what do we look for next?

Is it the price which the company pays the farmer that counts? Or how many times the buyer visits the farmer and the relationship that is formed? Perhaps it is the size of the donation for a school or health clinic given to a farming community or a scholarship for a farmer’s child? (more…)

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Farmers mobilize around the world and propose solutions to the food price crisis


Small farmer organizations and their allies are today celebrating the International Day of Peasants’ Struggle commemorating the massacre of 19 landless workers, women and men struggling for land in Brazil 12 years ago. Today dozens of groups, communities and organizations in more than 25 countries around the world are organizing more than 50 actions such as farmer’s markets, conferences, direct actions, cultural activities and demonstrations to defend their right to food and their right to feed their communities.

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As a result of a reader’s comment to the previous story, I’ve decided to write a new entry which attempts to further highlight what is so important about small farmer co-operatives and what the differences are between companies who see farmers as partners and those who see them as suppliers.

The questions he asks give me another chance to talk about a group of farmers that has really inspired me and helped renew my conviction that the path we are on – weaving together good business strategies that support urgently needed social change – is absolutely the right one.

To me, the power of this story is in how clearly it illustrates the clash between two world views: the organizational development strategy of a coffee producing co-operative of small-scale farmers and the buying strategy of a large, multi-national coffee company. At Equal Exchange, we believe that these world views don’t have to clash. In fact, we built our organization on the belief that the success of our farmer partners – and our U.S. partners – is also our success. (more…)

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What on earth is this Big Change that Equal Exchange keeps alluding to when we talk about small farmers? Why does Equal Exchange buy our products only from small farmer co-operatives? Why do we feel so strongly about supporting the farmers’ efforts to promote change in their lives, co-operatives and communities?

The following is a story about how a group of farmers from Jaltenango, Chiapas took an interest in growing organic coffee, overcame many obstacles, formed a co-operative, and then overcame many more obstacles. They found an important buyer to purchase their coffee and took a huge risk by terminating their contract when the buyer began to overstep its bounds and impose practices the co-operative felt undermined their development efforts in the zone. (more…)

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