Archive for November, 2012

Co-op Inspiration

The following post was written by Andrew Driscoll, Equal Exchange Natural Foods Sales Representative

As the first International Year of the Co-op comes to a close, co-operators everywhere are now gearing up for the decade of the Co-op. Ready for many, many more years of transformation, impact, creativity, and of course, co-operation, our friend Rebekah Hanlon of the Valley Green Feast Co-op has created this beautiful digital photo book to share and remind us all of how far we have come and how versatile our model is. Most important of all is that “we do these things together”.

“I started this photo project after becoming inspired by the book that is being written about my co-op network, the Valley Alliance of Worker Co-operatives. I am hoping to have a showing of all the pictures I took at some point and to raise money for co-op education. You can try to tell someone about the impact that co-ops have all day long but the truth is that everyone learns differently. And as a visual person I wanted to communicate the power of co-operatives in a way that really brings the love to life.” – Rebekah

Some of our fellow worker-owners here at Equal Exchange are already clamoring for a calendar version of this! What do you all think?

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This is the second post from Tom Hanlon-Wilde sent to us from Quito, Ecuador where he is attending the Second Annual Meeting of the Small Farmer Symbol.

Small-scale Farmers Besieged by High Temperatures and Less Precipitation as Consumers Fail to Avoid Climate-Changing Habits

Our bike-riding and bottle-recycling efforts are not nearly offsetting our jet-setting vacations and highway commuting, and the farmers in tropical and sub-tropical regions are paying the price. At the Fifth General Assembly of the Coordinating Body for Latin American and Caribbean Small-Scale Producers, three dozen leaders of co-operatives from throughout the hemisphere met in Quito, Ecuador, to review the coming climate changes and the changes farmers will have to take to ameliorate the destructive effects of the actions of their customers.

Martha Yvette Aguilar reviewed the most current comparative scientific studies, concluding that the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are on pace to reach 440-570 ppm by 2020, the result of which will be an increase of 3.5 degree centigrade in the growing regions of the member co-operatives by 2050. Already, in the past 100 years, the average temperature in the coffee growing regions of southern Mexico and Guatemala and the Dominican Republic is up by 2 degrees C and in Nicaragua and El Salvador by 1 degree. The farmers of CONACADO in the Dominican Republic are seeing increases in defoliation and aborted flowering of their cacao trees due to the higher temperatures and more frequent droughts. The coffee farmer partners in Las Yungas of Bolivia will likely face the opposite threat – too much rain which promotes coffee rust and molds and leads to erosion. The effects will be varied within countries:  farmers in coastal Peru (CEPICAFE) will likely see increased precipitation while farmers in Cusco and Puno will see droughts and resultant forest fires. The disappearance of glaciers from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia will drastically change the availability of water for household and agricultural use and is projected to directly cause deaths to remote populations.

Ricardo Bustos of CRIC and Yvette Aguilar discuss carbon credit opportunities for coffee farmers

Ricardo Bustos of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, Colombia, explained that 830 member farmers can utilize a different variety of coffee to maintain yields in the face of the rust and wilting of coffee due to climate change, but that the higher intensity crop is a disruption to the cultural practices that indigenous communities have developed in the growing of traditional foods, forcing members to chose between maintaining yields for their income and maintaining culture for their communities. Carlos Ruiz Silva of APBOSMAM, a co-operative of 290 farmers in northern Peru, noted that their members are seeing more rapid maturing of bananas and shorter growing times for rice, which cause crop losses and require changes in farming techniques. Fewer cool nights (which is needed for the coffee plants) and more frequent high-intensity rains (which increase erosion and cause landslides and floods) have been observed. The threat of landslides due to high-intensity rains will require re-location and diversification of growing areas. The decline in yields of food crops for home (a 2 degree C increase in temperatures causes a 15% decline in corn yields in equatorial growing regions) will increase dependence on off-farm income and a change in the types of crops grown for home use. Growers are beginning to alter the spacing of coffee or cocoa trees and changing the spacing and types of trees inter-cropped with coffee or cocoa to deal with changes in temperature and precipitation.

Tom Hanlon-Wilde with Carlos Ruiz Silva, Vice President of ABOSMAM

Evidence of climate change was right outside our window – the glacier on Cotopaxi Mountain is 40% smaller than it was in the mid-1970s. Hope for meaningful action by consumers filled the room, but more evident was the steely resolve to take matters into their own hands and ready member-farmers for the coming climate changes.

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This blog post was sent to us by Tom Hanlon-Wilde who is currently in Ecuador about to attend the Second Annual Meeting of the Small Producers Symbol. Tom is an Equal Exchange Sales Manager in Portland, Oregon.

Invitation to the Second Annual Small Producers Symbol Meeting in Quito, Ecuador

Imagine you wanted to change the world and you succeeded, only to have someone steal your ID and your clothes and pretend to be you. Would you try to discredit the impostor? Or would you go to your true friends and show them the true you?

This is the scenario leaders of small scale farmers’ co-operatives faced in 2011 when large plantations  were given fair trade certification against the wishes of the farmers who had painstakingly built the movement. The identify theft suffered by farmers in the Global South spurred their co-operatives to rise up and take action.

I’m here in Quito, Ecuador, to witness those farmers reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

In Quito, a star-studded cast of authentic fair trade leaders, including Merling Preza Ramos of PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, Sergio Neira of CEPICAFE, and Raul del Aguila of COCLA, in Peru, and Nelson Guerra Chinchilla of COPRACAEL in Honduras, have convened the 2nd International Meeting of the Small Farmers Symbol (SPP). At this meeting, the farmer co-operatives involved in the Small Farmers Symbol will formalize the operation of their new certification system. The system is impressive, with the new General Standards incorporating four dozen criteria for small farmer member organizations, including maximum individual farm sizes and a maximum percentage of farm work performed by hired farm workers. In addition, buyers who use the SPP must meet nearly three dozen criteria, including a minimum of 5% annual volume growth in program purchases. At this meeting in Quito, farmer representatives will also approve the newly updated Cost Regulations, and Rules on the Use of the SPP Graphic.

More importantly, the event in Quito will be an giant step in advancing the original vision of fair trade. As Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange Co-President and Co-founder, pointed out at the Interfaith Task Force meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 22, 2011, “We need to be clear: the idea for controlled mainstreaming of fair trade came from the south, most specifically from one coop (UCIRI) in southern Oaxaca, Mexico. The idea was not to give control of the fair trade system to European non- profits, or bureaucrats, or multi-national companies or to plantations . . . .” It was just that loss of control that brought the farmers together to form the Small Farmer Symbol.

In a 2011 interview with Catholic Relief Services, Merling Preza explained that the US-based certifier Fair Trade USA (a.k.a. TransFair USA) reached an agreement with smallholder farmer representatives in 2003 that its coffee certification program remain exclusively for small scale farmers. She further noted that Transfair confirmed that commitment in a letter to producers three years later, and that as of June 2011, Merling was still receiving personal assurances that there were no plans to open the market to estates. When that agreement was abandoned, the farmers readied themselves to launch the Small Farmer Symbol.

Christopher M. Bacon foresaw the troubles in the fair trade system in his study for the Journal of Peasant Studies #37 when he wrote of the Transfair USA system, “Voices without votes, North-South inequalities, and dwindling prices paid to its stated protagonists indicate the need for governance reform, cost of living price adjustments, and additional investment in the innovative alternative trade and hybrid models. “

Over the past two decades the farmers and leaders used tender care and fierce determination to grow both their coffee trees and co-operatives. Today in Quito, I expect this gathering to burst forth into life an innovative alternative trade model that gives farmers a voice and a vote.


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The following post was written by Fair World Project (FWP) and was first posted on their blog.  Due to the importance to all of us concerned about Far Trade chocolate, certifications, and most importantly farmer impact and consumer education, we are reposting it in its entirety below.  If you have comments, please share on FWP’s blog.  Thank you!

There has been a lot of talk about food labels in the media lately, especially if you have been following Proposition 37 in California.

Transparency in labeling is important and the labeling landscape can be confusing.

The FWP team recently took a shopping trip to see how fair trade chocolate bars are labeled. Chocolate is on our mind because last month Hershey announced that they will source 100% “certified” cocoa by 2020, without specifying what kind of certification. Later in the month was, of course, Halloween, a holiday where, by some estimates, 90 million pounds of chocolate, most of it not fair trade, is purchased.

As we push for companies like Hershey’s to clean up their supply chains, ensuring that children are not forced to work and farmers and workers are paid fairly, and ask consumers to make more of their purchases products that are fairly traded, we also see a role for making sure those fair trade labels mean something.  So what we found on our recent shopping trip was somewhat alarming.

Here are two privately labeled chocolate bars, one from Trader Joe’s and one from Whole Foods, both claiming to be fair trade, a Fair for Life logo prominently displayed on the front.

But looking a little closer, on the Whole Foods bar, it is only the cocoa butter that is certified fair trade.  In the case of Trader Joe’s, the ingredients that are fair trade are not even identified in the ingredient list, though the description on the front panel indicates it is likely only the cocoa as well.

This is a good start, but how do we know that the sugar and vanilla farmers were not exploited to bring us these “fair trade” chocolate bars? Is it still okay to prominently display the Fair for Life logo on the front of the bar, advertising this as a fair trade product? According to the official policies of IMO, holder of the Fair for Life standard, itself, the answer is no. If a product is not at least 80% fair trade by weight (in some cases 50%), it should not display the label on the front panel. We recently sent a letter to IMO asking about this discrepancy, as well as the fact that neither of these bars indicates who manufactured the bars. A key benefit of the Fair for Life program is that, unlike other fair trade labeling programs, Fair for Life requires all handlers through the brand holder to be audited and registered. Therefore, without noting the audited company responsible for making the bar, it might appear that Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s themselves have been fully audited, which they have not.

In contrast, here are a few examples of companies that have the labeling right.


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by Rob Everts, Co-President, Equal Exchange

Exactly one year ago three of us from Equal Exchange made our first visit to the West Bank to meet with farmers during the olive oil harvest.  While meeting the farmers, their families and cooperative leaders, as well as PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee) officials, we learned the profoundly integral role olive trees have played in the lives, culture and livelihoods of Palestinians for centuries.  We also learned about the profound challenges growers face in making the economics of olive cultivation viable.

Sania Shqeer, member and board member of the Al Zawyeh olive oil co-op

Many farmers are separated from their groves by either the separation wall or large Israeli settlements or are attacked by settlers as they try to harvest their crops.  In addition, severe limitations are placed on their ability to collect rainwater for irrigation.  These obstacles make care and attention to the trees very difficult if not impossible.

It is in this environment that the farmer co-ops of PARC started harvesting their olives in mid-October.  In order to support farmers, PARC started a campaign to recruit volunteers called “Ehna Ma’kom” or “We’re With You”. As part of this campaign, they have recruited volunteers from Palestine, Europe, North America and other countries to assist them in picking the olives. The presence of the international volunteers also helps to prevent attacks by Israeli settlers while farmers pick their olives especially in the areas next to the separation wall.

We remain hopeful that over time that these obstacles will be surmounted and that the olive industry will once again thrive as a viable source of income for Palestinian farmers.  Meanwhile, the Equal Exchange delegation was extremely impressed with the olive pressing, storage and bottling infrastructure that PARC has been pivotal in developing.

And it shows in the superb quality of the finished product!

Below, we share photos of the volunteer brigades sent to us by our PARC partners.

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Equal Exchange banana summit getting underway. The event was hosted at East Side Food Cooperative

On Tuesday October 23rd 2012, 25 people representing 13 co-ops, 2 distributors and one importer (Equal Exchange) came together in the Twin Cities for a small farmer banana summit. The group discussed the challenges and successes in the small farmer supply chain in order to deepen support for and expand reach of Equal Exchange bananas in the Upper Midwest. Rick Christianson of Coop Partners Warehouse, (CPW) one of the first supporters of the Equal Exchange banana program in the Twin Cities, gave this speech as part of the summit. His words encompass a lot why we do this work at Equal Exchange.

Rick Christianson, of Coop Partners Warehouse, addressing the banana summit attendees

I’d like thank Equal Exchange for holding this event. And East Side Co-op for hosting us here today. I’d also like to express my appreciation to J&J for putting us in their gas chambers—er banana rooms this morning, and for partnering with Co-op Partners in this banana program for all these years.

When the idea of a Banana Summit was first mentioned to me, it brought up images of a mountain top covered in banana peels. So everyone please watch your step.

When I started working in the organic produce game organic bananas were no where to be found. There were only rumors of them on the west coast. The conventional banana business was an ugly and bloody political nightmare–about as opposite of Fair Trade as you can imagine. But we in the young co-op community had no idea how to utilize what little buying power we had to try and make a difference. So we scrambled around trying to find something more palatable to our fledgling little world of impoverished idealists.

In the early 80’s we finally managed to figure out how to get organic bananas to the Twin Cities, but it was a logistical nightmare. The bananas were grown in Mexico, and trucked up to Los Angeles. They were gassed there, 2000 miles away. The pallets were then wrapped in paper and put on cold, 36 degree produce trucks for the 2-3 day journey to Minnesota. Every load was a gamble against time and temperature. My memory may be exaggerating things, but it seemed that about a quarter of the time the bananas would arrive chilled–a lovely stage 2 gray-green. About a quarter of the time, they would come in sweating and cooking—exotic leopard skin bananas with black and yellow the only colors in sight. And even when the bananas survived the trip OK, everyone that dealt with them had to keep a lookout for the black widow spiders that seemed to love hiding the wooden crates that the fruit was packed in.

Banana summit attendees listen and debate about the future of small farmer bananas.

For the most part, we lived with that system for over twelve years. So after experiencing those early years, what we have now seems like banana heaven to me.

We really are incredibly fortunate to have an organization like Equal Exchange doing the great job that they do to get us a quality product that has been well cared for all along the line, that has the force of social justice behind it, and that is in keeping with the values that the co-operative community has worked so hard to establish.

The day to day tasks of our work often can serve to cloud our vision of the larger picture. But the relationships that have been forged between farms, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers in this area is an accomplishment that we all should be proud of. You may or may not realize it, but especially in produce, the co-operative culture of the Upper Midwest has created a growing alternative food distribution system that is very much the envy of many in the sustainable agriculture world. It is a model that continues to thrive despite strong competition from establishments with far more economic clout than we have.

Jessica, of Equal Exchange bananas, breaking down the economics of the Equal Exchange banana supply chain

As one who has been in this game since the Pleistocene, I have been privileged to see and be a part of a the ever expanding organic and co-operative movements. But while the business end of the organic world has thrived, it often seems that some of the heart was lost in the process.

As a buyer at CPW, I try very hard to keep heart in its rightful, prominent place in the equation. With regional farmers, we have developed a delivery system that goes well beyond the usual buy-sell dynamic between farm and wholesaler. For product from other growing regions, wherever we can, we focus on farms that build both their soil and their communities…that care about their workers and treat them well. Farms that maintain their integrity on all levels of their operation.

Through the years, I have been privileged to befriend and develop relationships with an ever growing number of wonderful, dedicated, innovative, brilliant, but down to earth people on farms all around the country.

When it comes to product imported across the water, the barriers to keeping strong connections to people and the land are enormous, and it is wonderful when we have the opportunity to partner with others in order to help keep our reality in line with our vision.

So personally, and in a business sense, I hope that all of us can realize how valuable it is to have Equal Exchange there for us to establish and maintain the connection between the real people at both ends of this trade line. Bananas are a big part of all our businesses. And thanks to the efforts of the growers in Peru and Ecuador, and the work of Equal Exchange, and J&J, we have a product on our shelves that is not only a big seller, but it has its heart intact.

The co-op community of the Upper Midwest really is a shining star of a model that shows that it is possible to thrive in business while maintaining integrity and caring about social justice. Having truly Fair Trade Bananas is key to our continued success on many levels. I’d like to thank Equal Exchange for making this a reality and working so hard to maintain it.

J&J Ripening tour; Banana Summit Attendee’s debating the future of bananas; Abbey Rae (East Side Food Coop) and Erik Larson (St. Peter’s Food Coop) listening intently.

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The following article ran in the October 30th issue of Freshfruitportal.com

From what began as a tool for Peruvian growers to gain organic certification and negotiating power with the Dole Food Company, the Piura Center for Small Organic Banana Grower Associations (CEPIBO) has forged ahead with direct fixed contract exports to Europe and North America. The group is now the largest of its kind with 843 containers sent overseas last year. At http://www.freshfruitportal.com we catch up with its general manager Jose Lecarnaque Castro, who finds little rest in his push to get smallholder farmers educated in specialized training.

Photo: Oke Usa

Click here to read the original article.

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