Archive for September, 2008

By now, many of us are well aware that Fair Trade products provide small-scale farmers with higher prices, access to credit, technical assistance, global markets, and solidarity networks. Most of us here at Equal Exchange enjoy a daily cup (or more) of fine coffee. And knowing how incredibly labor intensive coffee cultivation is, we deeply appreciate the farmers who climb those mountains, under the hot sun or in the torrential downpours, to pick the beans just at the right moment so that we in the North can have nothing less than the finest quality of coffee.

But most of us who work at Equal Exchange aren’t here simply for that artisanal coffee (tea or chocolate). We’re here because we think about farmer livelihoods and want to work in an industry that values the rights of small farmers to have the same dignified life and opportunities that many of us enjoy. In short, we think high quality coffee is not just desirable in its own right, but when it’s grown and sold through the Fair Trade system, it can also be a powerful tool for economic advancement. (more…)

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The following article, written by Patty Kupfer, was printed in the September/October 2008 issue of Sojourner’s Magazine. Patty used to work for Witness for Peace and co-organized some of Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Department’s delegation visits to Chiapas. During these trips, we visited our coffee farmer partners, CIRSA, an amazing organization of Tzotzil and Tzeltal -speaking indigenous farmers located in the highlands of Chiapas. Patty interviewed some members of the co-op for this article. You can also read more about CIRSA in the Viroqua Food Co-op’s May/June 2008 newsletter.


Ask the nearly 600 members of the CIRSA coffee cooperative in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, how things are going and they’ll tell you, “Little by little, we’re moving forward.” Considering that a couple of decades ago the parents of these indigenous farmers worked in slavery-like conditions on large coffee plantations in the region, and that their region has been ignored and marginalized throughout its history, their progress is tremendous.

The Indigenous Communities of the Simojovel de Allende Region (CIRSA in Spanish) shipped 235 tons of fair trade coffee last year to the United States and Europe. Through the fair trade certification system, the small farmers of CIRSA and similar cooperatives throughout Latin America are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee. This provides stability to small farmers, who live in some of the world’s poorest regions—and who are especially vulnerable to the volatile market that dictates world coffee prices. This is why, on our weekly trip to the grocery store, many of us fork over some extra change for fair trade coffee. (more…)

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