Archive for January, 2010

By Danielle Lafond, Quality Control Technician

On the steep hillsides of Mineral Springs, a member the Sanjukta Vikas Cooperative prepares a meal over a fire. Vegetables and greens bubble away in a cast iron pot and tendrils of steam are sent skyward to mingle with the mist that hangs heavy in the air over Darjeeling. It looks delicious and smells tempting but my colleagues and I will never taste it. This meal is for the cows.

These cows are more than cows. By producing dung (for fertilizer), fermented urine (a natural pesticide), and milk (for, well, milk) the cows become partners in the endeavors of the people of Mineral Springs to live a biologically diverse, sustainable, and rewarding life. These cows deserve a nice hot meal.

As we walked through the family farms in Mineral Springs, we witnessed countless reiterations of the many types of partnerships necessary in making this cooperative so successful. Binita Rai, a mother of two, is a teacher at the school in the cooperative as well as a farmer herself. She also serves as a member of the Welfare Committee which plays a part in deciding where fair trade premiums will be allocated.

Mineral Springs has no processing factory. Tea that is plucked there is processed at another nearby garden whose manager regularly visits the community to engage the members in discussions on issues such as quality and logistics. The Sanjukta Vikas Cooperative also partners with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to educate its members on biodiversity, composting and other sustainable agricultural practices.

Closer to home, partnerships have the potential to create real movement around small farmer teas. Natural foods co-ops who are committed to educating consumers about small farmer issues concerning coffee and other crops have an opportunity to further connect consumers and producers within the realm of tea by partnering with Equal Exchange and promoting a small farmer model. By offering teas from the shining example of food sovereignty that is Sanjukta Vikas as well as from other, newer worker-owned tea gardens that are struggling to establish themselves, food co-ops give consumers the opportunity to partner with producers in the struggle for food security and ownership models.

These partnerships may seem like rhetorical, abstract lines that dimly connect one end of the world to the other, and I only have the following personal account to offer as argument: I have seen a tea farmer hold a box of finished product and watched the realization creep over his face that THIS is what you’re buying, what he’s selling, and what the face of his life is to you. He knows that you are connected directly to him. For me, it was a perfect example of the connections made from a hundred partnerships across a thousand miles all culminating in the hands of a farmer who laughed at the fact that we had put the tea in a bag (it’s all strainers and loose leaf in Darjeeling). That is very real – more real than I, in my four years of being a worker-owner at Equal Exchange, ever thought it was possible for anything to be.


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Small-scale coffee farmers in El Salvador were amongst the first co-operatives with whom Equal Exchange established direct, long-term partnerships in the early to mid-1990s. These partnerships came about as a natural extension of U.S. solidarity efforts during the Salvadoran civil war; activist groups launched a boycott of Folgers coffee as a way to bring pressure on the Salvadoran oligarchy responsible for much of the repression against Salvadoran farmers, students, labor activists and other civilians. The boycott succeeded in pressuring Proctor and Gamble, Folger’s parent company, to apply pressure on wealthy landowners to support the Peace Accords. It was only natural that Equal Exchange would follow-up on the coffee boycott by seeking to partner itself with agrarian reform co-operatives now owned and run by those same farmers who previously had merely picked the coffee on others’ plantations.

The following letter comes from a friend who has been living in El Salvador for over two decades. We share her sense of pride and excitement over the changes that have taken place in that country:

Today is the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords that ended the 12 year civil war here in El Salvador.  Today President Mauricio Funes gave a speech in front of some of the signers of the Peace Accords, including ex-president Alfredo Cristiani and General Mauricio Vargas.

In his speech Funes said that as head of state he had a debt to the victims of the civil war, a debt that he had the responsibility to recognize, and that agents of the state, mostly members of the armed forces and security forces had carried out great human rights violations, abuses of power and illegal use of violence in the form of massacres, executions, disappearances, torture, sexual abuse and that these were mostly carried out against civilians.

“In the name of the Salvadoran state I ask for forgiveness!”

…forgiveness from the children, the youth, men and women, religious people, peasants, workers, students, people in opposition, intellectuals and the victims who have not been able to stop grieving because they have never known what happened to their loved ones and have never be asked for forgiveness.

We must dignify the victims.

Never again repression to silence ideas. (more…)

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Dear Friends,

As most of you know by now Haiti was shaken by a massive earthquake yesterday just a few miles outside the capital, Port-au-Prince. It’s unclear at the moment how many have lost their lives, but quite possibly thousands have died with many more seriously affected. Several organizations with whom we work are fundraising to provide badly needed emergency relief to the Haitians. The following is a letter we received from our friends at Grassroots International. Please consider making a donation and keeping Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.

From Grassroots International:

Yesterday Haiti suffered a massive earthquake, which registered a 7.3 on the Richter scale, just outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Initial reports are beginning to pour in detailing the devastation to both people and property. Grassroots International has set up an “Earthquake Relief Fund for Haiti” to support our partners and meet the urgent needs of the population.

“We are in the process of reaching our partners on the ground,” said Grassroots International’s Executive Director Nikhil Aziz. “Clearly everyone is deeply affected, and the full extent of the loss may not be known for some time. As in the past, Grassroots and our network of supporters are poised to respond as quickly as we can to address the immediate and long-term needs of our partners.”

The most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has suffered tremendous challenges, including four successive hurricanes in 2008. Even so, grassroots leaders in the island nation have worked effectively to build their infrastructure and lead the way toward sustainable development-including access to land, water and food for all.

Grassroots International works with four main groups in Haiti including the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) and the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH).

Both PAPDA and POHDH have offices in Port-au-Prince and networks throughout the country.  Our partners on the ground in Haiti are in a key position to rebuild in the wake of these disasters. As Haitians, they are intimately connected to the individual needs of their local communities. 

Since 1983, Grassroots International has supported global movements for social change. Through grant-making, education and advocacy, we support the initiatives of peasants and family farmers, women and indigenous groups to protect human rights to land, water and food.

Grassroots also has a long history of providing emergency relief in times of critical hardship. The most pressing needs right now are water, food, and shelter, and the hope to rebuild. With your help, we hope to provide our partners and their communities with real and lasting solutions to this catastrophe. Your response now can help Hatians in this critical moment.


Nikhil Aziz
Executive Director.

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Amidst all the challenges facing us these days and our collective efforts to keep forging ahead, it’s also important to take time for community and celebration…

 Rob Everts and Virginia Berman of Equal Exchange join Willy Foote of Root Capital in serenading members of both organizations at their joint holiday party at the office of Equal Exchange in late December 2009. For many years, Root Capital has played a key role in pre-financing Fair Trade coffee contracts Equal Exchange has with its farmer co-operative partners.

Music of many traditions has long told stories of heartbreak and tragedy and perhaps less often of joy. “Mis Razones” describes the sheer joy of singing while “Pobre La Maria” recounts the all-too-familiar story of a poor young woman from the countryside seeking a better life in the city. This year, the Equal Exchange-Root Capital collaboration extended beyond mission and finance to celebration and music.

Click here for to hear the music!  Enjoy!

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