The following post was written by Tom Hanlon Wilde, West Coast Sales Manager, en route to Peru and is the second part in the series.
We’re waiting to board the LAN Peru flight from Los Angeles to Cuzco and I’ll confess I have butterflies in my stomach for all that we could learn on this reunion tour. Five of our retail partners and two of us from Equal Exchange are leaving to spend a week with the farmer owners of COCLA. Kim and Francesca from Marlene’s Market & Deli, Scott from PCC Natural Markets, Marnie from LifeSource Natural Foods, and Eric from Davis Food Co-op are joining Peter Mark and I to live and work with the farmer members of the Aguilayoc Co-op of COCLA in Cuzco.
For Eric and me, this a reunion trip to a village we visited and worked exactly 10 years ago. There is a lot to discover.
Does Enrique Mellado (pictured in white shirt) still harvest 2800 pounds of coffee on his 5 acre farm, or has he increased yields and landholdings and diversified crops in the last decade?
Is Frederio Victoria, one of the 12 farmers who founded the co-op in 1978 and, before that, worked as a sharecropper on the same land since the 1950s, still alive? (Don Frederico is in the blue shirt in this photo from June 2001.)
Do Emilio and Julia Huillca still have 38 species of shade trees on their 8-acre farm?
Has Juana Pezo Suero passed ownership of her land to one of her children? Did her son Miguel, who will now be 27 years old, succeed in studying to be a professor as he was planning to do in 2001? Will Juana’s granddaughter Isacoset, who was an adorable 2-year old when I last visited, be an insufferable teenager now?
This week, our coffee farmer partners in Peru face two very important decisions, one of which will affect their personal income and their co-operative’s financial health, and the second of which will affect their country’s future.
Each of the farmer owners of COCLA are members of a village-level co-operative. This co-op, often called the primary co-op, provides members an advance payment when members deliver coffee to the warehouse. For instance, after Enrique picks the days’ harvest, he can take that to the warehouse of the Aguilayoc co-op and receive an advance in cash. Later in the year, after the coffee is sold, Enrique will receive a final payment based on the average price for which the co-op has sold the coffee to Equal Exchange or another importer. Typically, the primary co-operative would offer about 70% of the going world price upon delivery, and another final payment at the year’s end.
This year, the high and wildly fluctuating world prices of coffee make determining the amount of the advance very tricky. If the co-op offers a generous advance to the farmer, but then must sell the coffee based on a falling world price, the farmer ends up owing the co-op. (Imagine buying canned beans at your local co-op store and then, three months later, have the co-op tell you that they undercharged you for the beans and you owe an extra 25 cents per can!) Alternatively, if the co-op offers too stingy of an advance, members might only bring some of their crop and sell the other part to the corporate coffee buyers roaming the countryside. So for the primary co-operative, this is an important time when they must decide what level of advance payment to offer members.
Our farmer partners also will make a choice of national importance this week. On June 5th, Peruvian voters will go to the polls to vote in the run-off election between two presidential candidates. Keiko Fujimori is the more centrist and technocratic candidate and is attractive to voters tired of the persistent corruption within the Peruvian political system. That her father had to resign the presidency due to corruption is not lost on the voters of Peru, but more speaks to how endemic the problem is and that government services improved during the first Fujimori presidency. The second candidate is Ollanta Humala, a populist military leader from Peru’s highlands. Formerly an army officer involved in what may have been a failed coup attempt, he has distanced himself from leftist leaders such as Hugo Chaves and Evo Morales to attract more centrist voters without losing all of his fiery rhetoric on the need for dramatic political and economic change.
Peruvian voters have become savvy over the last few elections, and they have generally swept in a large number of new politicians with each election. However, they have typically rewarded the candidate who lost in the previous election and has, since losing, maintained consistency in his or her message and has become more serious in his or her approach to politics. In the humble opionion of this blogger, that will bring a June 5th election victory to Humala, with our farmer partners at COCLA and CECOVASA being among the voters most heavily voting in his favor.
As these important events in coffee growing country unfold, keep in mind that your coffee choices are fueling family farmers in the ability to deal with these events. The same democratic decision-making that farmers make in their co-ops to determine pricing and to make sound, transparent financial decisions ripple out to local, state, and federal governments. Democracy takes practice, and coffee growers in Peru can practice democracy everyday because YOU vote with your dollars to buy from them.
Tomorrow we’ll have coffee at COCLA’s coffee shop in the city of Cuzco, then take the drive through the harrowing Malaga Pass to Quillabamba, where the adventure begins. Stay tuned!