Archive for June, 2011

Small banana farmer co-operatives attempting to access international markets are getting dangerously close to their breaking point. The viability – and future – of both these small farmer co-operatives and the independent fair trade importers who struggle to provide consumers with healthy, organic, fair trade bananas is gravely at stake. In fact, if trends continue on their current path, consumers will soon have few brand options available when buying bananas. Roughly eighty percent of bananas are currently sold by only five multi-national banana companies and consumer options will continue to decrease. Farmers will have no choice but to give up ownership and control in their own businesses and return to being mere “suppliers” who sell their products to these same companies for whatever prices the companies dictate.

Due to a variety of factors, not least being unexpected and severe weather patterns causing severe flooding and droughts throughout Latin America, the supply of organic, Fair Trade, export-quality bananas has dramatically diminished. Consequently, competition for the fruit is severe and several large multi-national fruit companies, such as Dole and Chiquita, are employing a range of strategies to secure supply. With time, money, and other resources on the side of these corporations, small banana farmer co-ops are falling further and further behind.

In northern Peru, where Oke USA/Equal Exchange buys its bananas from two small-scale farmer co-operatives, CEPIBO and APOQ, the stakes are particularly high. As discussed in an earlier post, The True Cost of Bananas, Dole is trying to break the co-operatives by offering farmer- members a price always just slightly higher than that which the co-ops can afford to pay. Our co-op partners tell us that week by week they are reducing costs in order to pay their farmer-members a few cents more per box of bananas: only to learn that Dole has come around the farms matching and raising whatever price the co-op is offering. Although many farmers understand this time-tested strategy that those with money can apply (pay high to break the competition and then when you control the market, pay whatever you like), the economic reality of small farmers often causes them to choose a penny wise and pound foolish strategy.

In the Peruvian newspaper, “La Hora”, an article last month discussed how small-scale producer organizations are protesting the “unfair competition campaign that has been undertaken by large companies that are trying to destabilize the organizations and regain exports that now belong to small-scale, organized producers.” According to Valentín Ruiz Delgado, representative of the Fair Trade Network of Organic Banana Producers of Peru, “we are not opposed to an increase in the price of bananas, but in this case it is an irresponsible strategy (an increase) designed to destabilize small-producer organizations that have recently been gaining headway in the international market,”

“These companies buy bananas at high prices and sell them at low prices, meaning that there is a clear intent to destabilize; they take advantage of the fact that we are relatively young organizations and new to the market, confronting very big companies who make use of their economic power to achieve their objective,” said Ruiz Delgado.

If you would like to know more about how these unfair practices are affecting everyone along the supply chain from the farmer, to you, the consumer, please read the Oke Usa team’s latest edition of Beyond the Peel.

Read Full Post »

Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak with people dressed as bananas from Equal Exchange, a worker-cooperative that distributes food by small farmers. Credit Jon Collins

By Hilary Johnson, Equal Exchange Sales Representative

Equal Exchange co-owners Scott and River got to ride bikes in banana suits Monday! The highlight of this sartorial adventure was the photograph with Minneapolis Mayor, R.T. Rybak. The event celebrated the expansion of Nice Ride MN, a nonprofit organizer of low-cost bicycle rentals in the Twin Cities. Participants, including Mayor Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, gathered at Seward Co-op, an Equal Exchange partner, customer and a co-founding member of the P6 Co-operative Trade Movement. They ate ice cream from Nice Ride’s bike-powered ice cream maker and took a leisurely ride across the Mississippi River to visit the new Nice Ride stations. Equal Exchange has been a proud sponsor of Nice Ride MN since its inception. Reducing carbon emissions by adopting cleaner transportation helps small farmers and consumers everywhere!

For the full article in the Southwest Minneapolis Patch and additional photos, click here.

Read Full Post »

By Esther West, Interfaith Program Representative

Ana Rodriguez discusses her cacao farm with Elva Maria Vasquez Severino. Both are involved in youth management and production leadership programs with CONACADO.

With a swift whip of her machete, Ana Rodriguez deftly broke open a cacao pod in her hand, revealing the inside. “Here,” she instructed me, “try some of the outside layer; it’s very sweet.” The coating covering the cacao beans that would later be fermented, dried, and processed by the small farmer co-operative CONACADO had a distinctive fruity, sweet flavor. Over the next few days, Ana, a 31 year-old small farmer and member of CONACADO, welcomed me into her lovely home, and shared her natural tour guide skills (which she uses in her side job as a tour guide) as she explained the process of farming cacao from start to finish.

Ana Rodriguez, cacao farmer and member of CONADADO, shows the inside of a fresh cacao pod, right, and a composting one that will later be organic compost, left.

The genuine enthusiasm and expertise co-op members had for everything cacao really made an impression on me during a week-long Interfaith Program delegation to CONACADO in the Dominican Republic this past May. This was evident, for example, when Jamie Gomez, a farmer and Nursery Project Manager of CONACADO, showed us around his beautiful, intricate plant nursery. Many others also generously took time out to educate our delegation and show us the inner workings of their co-operative and cacao. “Why all this enthusiasm,” you might ask. Well, let’s take a look…

CONACADO has been around since 1988, and has cooperatively developed many community resources for its over 10,300 members. CONACADO is made up of seven blocks, and these seven blocks are each made up of associations. Associations consist of the members, who are individual farmers and their families.  At the association level, farmers and their families decide for themselves what they want for their respective communities. The numerous community structures they develop build stability and they work together to address challenges within their co-operative. (more…)

Read Full Post »


By Santiago Paz Lopez, Co-Manager of Cepicafe

One day, Cepicafe’s history will be written and an important chapter will be the one written about its political positioning and how we broadened our objectives due to the realities we have had to face; and how, together with the producers, we have created new paths. At one point, we only looked at technical and productive aspects of farming, but now our perspective is complemented by also examining organizational and business aspects, and most recently, the political sphere. Fifteen years after our inception, we are proud to say that the small producers of Piura have made it to the Vice Presidency of Peru.

In 1991, having recently graduated from the National University of Piura, we wanted to improve the quality of life for producers and help them to earn a dignified wage. So we returned to the mountains of Piura in order to improve the productivity of coffee crops. The producers told us that production was not their main problem. “The problem is the market,” they told us. In order to create a relationship with the market, in 1995 we founded Cepicafe. We began to export fair trade in 1997. Today the Piurna Coffee Growers’ Association (CEPICAFE) is northern Peru’s most important producer organization.

We have understood the importance of the media and that is how, from the beginning, we came into contact with Marisol Espinoza, a journalist and writer for El Tiempo, Piura’s most prestigious newspaper. Through CEPICAFE, she started to learn about the producers and publish information. In looking for additional material for her work, she visited our operations and talked with people to understand their vision and their aspirations; this is how she earned the trust of the producers. Marisol’s roots are in the mountains of Piura; her mother is from Santo Domingo, Morropon. This made it easy for her to understand us—the fact that she knew the culture of the mountains allowed her to quickly develop a relationship with the producers. (more…)

Read Full Post »

This is Tom Hanlon Wilde’s 7th and final post from Cuzco, Peru

Maria and Emilio Huillca on way to vote in presidential election stop to say goodbye to EE group

“Oh Papi! Where’s Linda, did you bring her?” Emilio said as he greeted me with a big hug. We had dropped 300 meters down the side of the mountain to the home of Emilio and Maria Huillca. The couple had hosted Sparrow Linda Johnson for two nights in June 2001, and over the years both Emilio and Sparrow continually asked me for updates on the other.

The Huillca family has a 7 acre coffee farm just a half kilometer from the banks of the Vilcanota River in the Santa Ana district of Cuzco. When we toured the Huillca’s farm in 2001, Emilio and COCLA Organic Program Director Juan del Mar pointed out 38 different varieties of native trees on their land. We met Emilio and Maria’s son Carlos, who showed us around and pointed out the same towering tropical hardwoods we saw earlier. “That’s called montealgodon because the seed pods, when ripe, shoot out seeds in what looks like cotton. That’s the parahuilca, and there’s a motoy, you know, all the same like the chamba, cedro, matapalo, and ajuhauho. Yep, they’re all here.”

Marie, Tom and Javier at the massive tapahuillca tree

I showed the Huillca’s photos of Sparrow from last November, when she hosted a fair trade event at New Leaf Markets in Santa Cruz, which is the store she manages. And I went on to relate that she had been so sad to not make the trip but with a son starting college, it just wasn’t possible. “Well you give her a strong hug, give her two for one from Maria. And how great her son is doing so well,” Emilio said, and then turning to Eric Stromberg of the Davis Food Co-op, gave him a big hug and the two went on to talk about all that had passed since they had last seen each other ten years ago. “Now who are all our new friends?” Emilio asked, and I then introduced to the family Marie Wallace of Lifesource Natural Foods, Scott Owen of PCC Natural Markets, Kim Love and Francesca Siena of Mothers Markets, and Peter Mark Ingalls of Equal Exchange. (more…)

Read Full Post »

By Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Manager

I often think about how we are changing the world through trade – with relationships and the belief that everyone has rights, no matter where they are from. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the complex issues spanning the globe, from myriad protests to governmental conflicts to human right abuses. Look at a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo – a war-torn country in Central Africa with a devastated economy and massive sexual violence against women and girls of all ages. Did you know that the D.R. Congo has been called one of the worst places on earth to be a woman? According to a recent article in the New York Times, one woman is sexually assaulted every minute. That’s 1,440 women a day. (more…)

Read Full Post »

At just the moment when President Obama is pushing hard to advance the Colombia – U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the National Security Archive just came out with the following press release claiming that confidential internal memos from Chiquita Brands International “reveal that the banana giant benefited from its payments to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups…”

National Security Archive Update, April 7, 2011


Banana Giant’s Paramilitary Payoffs Detailed in Trove of Declassified Legal, Financial Documents

Evidence of Quid Pro Quo with Guerrilla, Paramilitary Groups Contradicts 2007 Plea Deal

Colombian Military Officials Encouraged, Facilitated Company’s Payments to Death Squads

More than 5,500 Pages of Chiquita Records Published Online by National Security Archive

Bogotá, Colombia, April 7, 2011 – Confidential internal memos from Chiquita Brands International reveal that the banana giant benefited from its payments to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups, contradicting the company’s 2007 plea agreement with U.S. prosecutors, which claimed that the company had never received “any actual security services or actual security equipment in exchange for the payments.” Chiquita had characterized the payments as “extortion.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »