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.

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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.

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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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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The sixth part in Tom Hanlon Wilde’s series from Cuzco, Peru

Help Wanted Sign, Pezo Suero family

Q: What has been the extremely significant change in the last ten years for the farmers in Aguilayoc? A: The role of off-farm income.

All too often, small scale farmers in coffee areas had no other ways to generate meaningful income: outside jobs were nonexistent, while the prices of other crops were abysmally low. With coffee as the only source of monetary income, and that income fluctuating wildly, farmers needed to grow virtually all their own food. That reality, combined with growing populations and no realistic income opportunities for the extended family, often caused acute poverty.

In contrast, off-farm income has increased dramatically for the farmers of Santa Ana district in which the Aguilayoc Co-op is located. During our visit, farmers mentioned two main sources of off-farm income — professional jobs their children have and local government public works projects — and both of these are a result of the groundwork laid by the fair trade partnerships over the past 20 years. (more…)

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“We were willing to continue selling our bananas to Dole. We just also wanted to develop our own markets and sell to them directly. We wanted to have a choice and be independent and we wanted to be treated fairly. Dole wouldn’t do it. They said we had to sell them all our bananas or they would stop buying from us altogether.”

Jorge Nunjar Domador, President, APOQ Co-op, Querrecotillo, Peru

Yesterday I went shopping at my local food co-op, the Harvest Co-op Market. Usually they carry Equal Exchange organic, Fair Trade bananas and I cheerfully buy them for my morning cereal. But yesterday they were out of stock. So, I had a choice: Dole or nothing. Sometimes in this situation, I have bought the Dole organic. But this time, I just couldn’t do it. Not after my latest trip to Piura, in northern Peru, where I accompanied the Oke USA/Equal Exchange banana team–Nicole, Bradley and Jessica–to visit our newest small banana farmer partners, CEPIBO and APOQ.

Bananas are the most frequently bought grocery item in the United States, and they have a huge impact on a grocery store’s volume sales and profits. Apparently, shoppers have the price etched in their minds and retailers believe that this one item can influence where someone shops. Consequently, many stores are loathe to raise the price of a pound of organic, Fair Trade bananas above $.99/pound.

This price ceiling poses a challenge to suppliers of Fair Trade organic bananas. Small farmer organizations and independent exporters and distributors wishing to support alternative banana supply chains cannot easily compete with Dole, Chiquita and the three other companies that have dominated the global banana export market for over a half century.  These companies make huge profits and they have the ability to pay high and offer low for temporary periods as a deliberate strategy to squeeze out their smaller competitors.  Our banana team lives this reality on a daily basis, but it was the stories we heard from our farmer partners on this trip to Peru that crystallized  my desire to help transform this industry. (more…)

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The following is the 5th part in Tom Hanlon Wilde’s series of posts from Cuzco, Peru:

Francesca and Yolanda sharing photosTu cafe es muy bonito (your coffee trees look beautiful),” said Francesca Siena of Mother’s Markets to Yolanda Tapia Carasco of the Aguilayoc Coop as the two stood arm in arm on Yolanda’s patio. Francesca and the rest of our group had returned from lunch after hours of harvesting from trees loaded with coffee cherries. Yolanda and Francesca got along like a house-on-fire, running to check out coffee trees, feeding the chickens together, trading tips on recipes using the vegetables and herbs growing in Yolanda’s garden, and cooperating to roast coffee on Yolanda’s open fire stove. Within an hour of meeting each other, the two were so close one would have thought they were sisters who hadn’t seen each other in a long time.

Yolanda and her husband Elias Medina Canchaare 2nd generation members of the Co-op, and together they farm 6 acres of land overlooking the Vilcanota River in the Santa Ana district of Cusco. The coffee trees, almost all the arabica tipica variety, were so fruitful that our 7 person group and the 8 local folks who worked alongside us filled up sack after sack of coffee from trees in an area no bigger than a basketball court. “These tipica trees are incredible productive, what in God’s name did you fertilize with?!” I said to Elias because while the tipicia productes the most complex and flavorful coffee, as an older variety it has less compact fruit clusters and is less disease resistant than more advanced hybrids. Elias responded, “Ah, you noticied. I got this area well with the organic compost, the guano de isla (seagull manure) and phosphorous rock. Now there’s so much coffee. You guys can stay all week and harvest if you want, I need the help!”

The change in this area has been dramatic, and everyone who has supported the Co-op by buying coffee from Equal Exchange or COCLA’s other US roaster customers deserves to be rightly proud. A decade ago, farmer leaders explained to be that the Co-op was finally having some success forcing predatory private buyers from underpaying or cheating small-scale family farmers.

Now, the Co-op’s ability to export strong quantities including lots of coffee to fair trade buyers like Equal Exchange is forcing those private buyers to overpay growers to just get some coffee. Ten years ago, farmers told stories about agents of private companies using force to be the only buyer for an area and then to use a fraudulent scale or lots of free alcohol to underpay growers. “We’re selective to get high quality to the Co-op because we know we have a good price. Now the private buyers are coming by and pay high for whatever we pick,” commented Porfirio Valenzuela.

Additionally, productivity is high and farmers are expanding landholdings. “Of the 320 members of Aguilayoc, I would say 120 have expanded their lands in the last few years. They’ll pass their farm her to someone [bequeath to a relative or sell to another family] and then they’ll homestead further inland,” explained Aguilayoc Co-op staff agronomist Ada Morveli, continuing “They’ll settle 50 acres or so there and grow coffee on 2-4 acres, keeping the rest as forest.”

Those big changes in farming — having a strong co-op to force private buyers to raise purchase prices and increased landholdings — pale in comparison to the biggest change in the region. And what is that, you ask? Stay tuned!

Marie Wallace harvesting

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