Archive for April, 2014



Do you support small farmers?  Do you drink coffee; not just any coffee, but delicious, well-balanced, highly crafted blends of organic coffee?  Then you will want to look for these Equal Exchange SPP-certified blends at your local food co-operative or natural food store.  Click here to learn more about the Small Producer Symbol (SPP), what it stands for, why it was created, and how you can join with us to support small farmers throughout the world.




Join Equal Exchange and small farmer organizations in the Authentic Fair Trade Revolution!

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How much do you  know about what’s really behind the different food labels we use when choosing which products to buy?

Confused about the difference between “organic” and “all “natural”?  “Free range”, “cage free”, “natural”, and “organic”?

What about free trade vs fair trade?

How do the top three Fair Trade certification systems, Fairtrade International, Fair for Life, and Fair Trade USA rank in terms of their labeling criteria, level of producer involvement, social justice standards, and overall integrity?

Click here to listen to Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports and Kerstin Lindgren, Campaign Coordinator for the Fair World Project  discuss what’s behind the different labels on Your Call Radio.



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banana team logo

For all of you who couldn’t make the first Fair Trade Banana Conference held by Equal Exchange last month here in Boston, I encourage you to read this blog post by Aliza Wasserman.  Aliza has done a great job summarizing some of the main concerns facing small banana producers, alternative traders, and committed stores and consumers, that were discussed during our two day conference.  You can also read more about the conference and ideas for follow-up here.

From Aliza’s Civil Eats blog: “Americans might be used to buying Fair Trade chocolate and coffee, but bananas are an entirely different story. The Fair Trade banana industry began in Europe nearly two decades ago and while it currently represents 30 percent of the banana market in the United Kingdom and 50 percent of the market in Switzerland, less than one percent of the bananas sold in the U.S. are Fair Trade certified.”  Read more here.

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On our way back from a meeting with one of the women's groups organized through FTAK, somewhere between the towns of Kudiyanmala and Vellad.

A brief stop on our way back from a meeting with one of the women’s groups organized through FTAK, somewhere between the towns of Kudiyanmala and Vellad.

Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala, (FTAK) a 4500-member co-operative of small farmers in southern India, has created an exciting initiative to articulate and put into practice what most fair trade farmer co-operatives understand empirically.  Fair Trade is important but it’s simply not enough.  It’s a starting point; a means to an end; certainly not the end itself.  Like kicking off the day with a well-balanced breakfast, selling cash crops on fair trade terms is a  foundation from which so much else becomes more possible.  But, like the role that a healthy breakfast plays in someone’s day, it is what comes afterwards that brings true community empowerment, development, and social change.

Meeting with a women's group in the community of Talakala.

Meeting with the Thalakallu women’s group in the community of Asankavala.

FTAK is not the only Fair Trade co-operative that has initiated specific programs to protect the biodiversity of their regions; ensure that their members have access to diverse sources of locally-produced, nutritious food; and recognize and actively promote the role of women in all areas of family, co-operative, and community life. Many fair trade co-ops carry out programs in some of these areas.  However, by consciously articulating their Fair Trade + 3 Initiative in their mission statement, FTAK sends a strong message to their members and the world about their values and priorities. By elevating these issues to the same level as their fair trade program, the forward-thinking Kerala farmers demonstrate that women, the environment, and food security are three interwoven strands, interdependent and of equal importance. Fair Trade is a tool, but a successful co-operative needs many tools in its toolbox.

In December 2013, four of us from Equal Exchange traveled to Kerala where we had an opportunity to spend five days with the farmers of FTAK.  We spent many hours traveling through the coconut-tree studded tropical landscape of northern Kerala; meeting with farmer groups, women’s groups, FTAK staff and board; touring small farms lush with fruit trees, wild and cultivated plants, and gardens;  visiting cashew and coconut processing plants; and participating in dinners, festivals, and even a party down by the riverside.  Throughout all this, we learned about FTAK’s organization and structure, the production and processing of their coffee, cashews, coconuts, and spices which they sell into the local and international market.  We shared our views on Fair Trade and learned more about their ideas and initiatives on gender equality, biodiversity, and food security.


Unfortunately, our trip didn’t overlap with the Seed Exchange, one of the most important events that FTAK organizes as part of their Fair Trade +3 initiative.  Farmers from all over Kerala save their best seeds throughout the year in anticipation of this agricultural fair.  Each January, they then come together to trade seeds, learn new farming techniques, and buy and sell livestock and domesticated animals.

We were pleased, however, with the opportunity to participate in another exciting FTAK activity, the Green Leaf Festival, held at the Ujjaini Auditorium in the community of Kelakam.  As its name indicates, the festival is both a celebration of the biodiversity of the region, and a food security initiative designed to bring people together to learn how to identify, prepare and cook with the organic plants that grow wildly on their farms.  Walking into this beautiful community center, with its clean white walls, open windows, high ceilings, and full-out party decorations, we could feel the excitement, anticipation, and significance of the event. We were immediately greeted by a few of the women whom we had met the day before in Asankavala.  Dressed in the most elegant saris, they welcomed us shyly, but with warm smiles that immediately made us feel comfortable.

Individually, the FTAK farmers don’t own much land, but what they lack in acreage, they certainly make up for in biodiversity. We had seen this when we visited farms where the owners grow herbs and spices, vegetables, coffee, tea, cacao, henna, cashew, coconut, and other fruit trees.  In fact, an average FTAK farmer could have as many as 85 different crops and plants on his or her farm.  In addition to those plants they intentionally cultivate for personal consumption and income generation, there are many plants that grow wild on the farms.  Some of the knowledge about these plants and how they can be cooked or otherwise used has been lost over time.

Thus, the purpose of the festival:  over a hundred women (and a few dozen men) were invited to participate.  They were asked to bring with them a variety of “leafy greens” from their farms that they might not be familiar with, and in small groups, they would practice cooking with them.  They were also invited to bring food from their farms to prepare for lunch.  The day would end with a huge banquet of food entirely coming from and prepared by the FTAK members.

Posters lined the wall, showing the variety of wild plants, and their various properties and uses.

Posters lined the wall, showing the variety of wild plants, and their various properties and uses.

In the main auditorium, the event officially began with a formal opening, brief introductions, and some presentations about the Fair Trade +3 initiatives, the importance of food security and resource conservation, and the role of women in all of these activities.

Standing, on the right, Tomy Mathew, founder of FTAK.

Standing, on the right, Tomy Mathew, founder of FTAK.

In the meantime, in another room, the real work was happening!  All day long, small groups of men and women were washing, chopping, and cooking a variety of food – and many leafy greens!  In small groups, they exchanged ideas about the greens and learned to cook them with the idea that they would go back to their communities and train their neighbors.  In other groups, women were preparing the food that would eventually become the banquet we would all enjoy before the end of day:  everything we ate that day was grown and prepared by the participants themselves.


Finally, the formal activities were finished and the eating began!  In a flash, the men set up two long rows of tables and chairs.  Boom, boom, boom, they lay down paper table cloths, and a large banana leaf to serve as a plate.  We all sat down and the men came down the row one at a time, each scooping a portion of some spicy, mouth-watering, vegetarian dish, spiced just right (all spices also coming from their farms).  In no time at all, we had finished our meals, and in a flash, the entire paper cloth, banana leafs and food was lifted from the tables, and the tables reset until everyone had eaten their meal.


Efficient, economical, and environmental.  Zero waste.  And delicious to boot!

We had many fascinating days in Kerala and we learned enough to fill an entire notebook on that trip.  Coconut processing, cashew processing, visions for the future, challenges, and successes.  At another point, we’ll share some of those stories as well.

For now, I’d just like to end with some photos of the women we met at the meeting who later were part of the Green Leaf Festival, greeting us like long-lost friends when we saw them in the community hall.

Janaki Kalla

Janaki Kalla

Lissy Joy

Lissy Joy

Rosamma John

Rosamma John

And finally, while I’m on the topic of festivities, here is a one and a half minute video you might enjoy of our bonfire party down by the river.  Those FTAK farmers are not just hard working and visionary, but they are full of life, incredibly fun, and such gracious hosts!  Thanks to FTAK and to all those of you who buy our cashews and help support this entrepreneurial and innovative small farmer co-op!!!

Thanks also to my colleagues and traveling companions, Wells Neal, Deepak Khandelwal, and Rink Dickinson! Photos taken by Wells, Deepak, and Phyllis. Riverside video put together by Deepak Khandelwal.

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Mark your calendar and spread the word! The television premiere of SHIFT CHANGE is Sunday, April 6 at 5pm PST onKCTS-9 (Seattle’s PBS affiliate).

Because KCTS-9 also broadcasts via KYVE-47 and various cable and satellite channels, SHIFT CHANGE will be seen throughout the Northwest and in many parts of Canada.

Please spread the word by sharing the SHIFT CHANGE broadcast information with your friends and social networks. This summer, SHIFT CHANGE will air nationally on PBS. Your efforts to spread the word about the April 6 broadcast will help ensure great viewership and build momentum for the national screening!


SHIFT CHANGE will air on KCTS-9, KYVE-47, and various cable and satellite channels. Check your local listings.

KCTS-9 is seen throughout Western Washington (including Olympia and Tacoma) and throughout southwestern British Columbia, as well as across Canada.

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Thank you for attending the Equal Exchange Banana Conference!
Participants came willing to ask the difficult questions and contend with imperfect solutions. And while we only scratched the surface, it’s clear that we have the building blocks of a real movement for change.



We know that many people who wanted to attend couldn’t make it,and those that did attend may forget all too quickly what lessons we learned–That’s okay!

Here are some highlights, reflections and materials to keep the conversation going.

Here are some reflections from the weekend…

“The conference was exactly the kind of urgent work we should be doing:  engaging directly with our stakeholders to honestly and creatively challenge the thoroughly unjust status quo.  No commodity better illustrates what is so wrong with our entire global food system.  If we don’t challenge this travesty, who will?”
Rob Everts, Co-Executive Director of Equal Exchange and panel moderator at the conference
“[The Conference] has given me new insights into the realities of organic and Fairtrade in the US. There is a real need for truly sustainable products that are brought to consumers through credible value chains. Fair trade and organic must not degenerate into clever marketing spin but continue to have tangible value and benefits for people in the field, and the field itself.”
Hans-Willem van der Waal, European fairtrade importer and panelist at the conference
“It is great to be part of a network that is striving to revolutionize the trade system. A network that spans generations and isn’t motivated by just profit, sales, or success in business, but by the ethics we were told we’d outgrow once we ‘got a little older…’Co-ops and values-driven retailers create change. Our dedication to educating consumers reflects our responsibility for starting and continuing the important conversations about the truth of our food system. With the challenges facing not just the phrase ‘fair trade’ but the ideal of supporting small producers across the globe, we must continue to build excitement among those core consumers who will continue to demand changes from the mainstream. We set the bar for ethical consumption and in doing so, we must be brave and take risks, because that is what our customers, and the small farmers we all rely on, expect of us.”
Abby Rae LaCombe, P6 Coordinator at Eastside Food Co-op and attendee of the conference
“In 1998 I stopped buying bananas. As a Registered Dietitian, I struggled between omitting a healthy food that is easy to pack and eaten by people of every age, and honoring the farmers and farm workers who bear the violence, disease and hardship of raising and exporting fruit to the U.S. Thank you to Equal Exchange for organizing the film screening and conference and their willingness to host honest and transparent dialogue around this topic.”
Helen Costello, Consumer/Food Systems Advocateand attendee of the conference
“I came back as excited and energized about the future of bananas, fair trade, and the banana business as I hope [other attendees] did. The passion and excitement [of Equal Exchange], colleagues, friends, and fellow presenters/panelists exhibited really inspired me. I really believe, more than ever, that the banana industry can and will change for the better.”
Dan Koeppel, author and panelist at the conference
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Would you like to get in touch with other attendees?
Would you like to see some of the workshop presentations?

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What’s next?
  • Write an article for your store newsletter; an op-ed for your town or school paper; or a blog post describing what you learned (and share it with us!)
  • Are you doing something creative in your job or community to continue the conversation and raise awareness? Let us know! We’ll share it with everyone and see how we can get involved.
  • Stay tuned for more strategies and ways to educate and debate the future of authentic fairtrade- we’ve got more in the works!
  • Have photos from the event? Or lingering questions? Send them along to emma@okeusa.com


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By Tom Hanlon-Wilde, Equal Exchange Sales Manager

It should have been as rough as a rodeo. The annual meeting of the farmer owners of Co-operative Nor Andino in northern Peru followed a year of dramatic changes and daunting challenges. The organizational structure changed one year ago from a non-profit village co-op-controlled structure to an individual farmer-controlled for-profit co-operative. The $5 million coffee processing plant faced a $300,000 tax bill. The coffee rust fungus has been spreading from farm to farm, causing production declines of as much as 80%. The sugar processing plant is bursting at the seams; with volume so great that raw sugar is being stored in offices and conference rooms at night and on the street during the day. Architectural designs were finished and financing was being lined up for the completion of a cocoa liquor processing plant; the first one to be built in Peru ever and an expensive and technically difficult project.

With so many high-level challenges and strategic decisions to be taken on by the co-op members, I was expecting a meeting of fireworks. And I was ready to throw gas on the fire with provocative questions: Aren’t the coffee farmer members jealous of all the new investments that benefit cocoa farmer members? Why should the cocoa farmer members deliver their high quality cocoa to a co-op that is so focused on coffee? Are not coffee farmers who invest lots of time and money to prevent coffee rust on their farms enraged when their neighbors let the rust flourish and infect their farms?

The General Assembly meeting held on March 28 and 29 at the Co-op Nor Andino processing plant in Piura testified to a membership and management team more than ready and able for all these challenges. The 82 delegates who represent the 3,166 member owners of Nor Andino participated vigorously in discussing the issues, and then smoothly voted on the topics to make lasting decisions. “We have to take good information back to our members” and “things need to benefit members individually while building our co-op” were frequent openings to statements by members on the issues discussed.

The Publico magazine feature on Juan de la Crúz, a cacao farmer member of Co-op Nor Andino,  came out the same week he was voted onto the Board of Directors.

The Publico magazine feature on Juan de la Crúz, a cacao farmer member of Co-op Nor Andino, came out the same week he was voted onto the Board of Directors.


The change in the organization’s structure was analyzed carefully by member owners and staff.  Between 1995 and 2012, the organization was a non-profit owned by village level associations and co-operatives of farmers.  But to progress in line with members’ needs, the group changed to a direct one farmer, one ownership share co-operative.  The new structure allows Coop Nor Andino to use earnings to invest in growth and gives more direct control to the farmers.  

In addition to electing the Board of Directors and voting on other financial issues, the membership voted to proportion the use of fair trade premiums among six program areas – agricultural extension services and organic fertilizer supplies being two that will account for half of $220,000 in funds.  A separate rich debate and vote centered around the use of profits from the 2013 coffee crop.  At an amount of ten cents per pound for the two million pounds, the farmers could choose to keep the funds in internal farmer accounts to capitalize the co-operative or disburse the funds to members to raise household incomes.  After a fine example of real participatory democracy, the members chose to keep the premium on the first 700 pounds inside as working capital.  Farmers who delivered more than 700 pounds during the 2013 campaign could withdraw their remaining balance in cash. Members brushed off my provocative questions.  “Diversification is good,” explained Oreste Marcham,  “we diversify our own farms, cacao, banana, and citrus.  So for the Co-op, we have coffee, we have sugar, we have cacao; in case one goes down the others keep things good.”    Many of the delegates are both community leaders and the region’s best farmers and explained that with plenty of nutrition and moderate pruning, the coffee varieties can fight off the coffee rust and provide good yields.  Juan Castillo of Sapse explained it this way, “The rust exists naturally everywhere, so it’s not so much about what your neighbor is doing, but rather if your coffee trees are well nourished and taken care of, then the rust is no problem.  Just like a person – eat right and take care of yourself.”

The two day General Assembly ended with the laying of the cornerstone of the new cocoa paste (alternatively called cocoa liqueur) processing facility.  Equal Exchange consumers can take great pride in their role in building the fair trade market for the farmer owners of Co-op Nor Andino.  Equal Exchange purchased 34% of the coffee shipped by Nor Andino in 2013, but because of the high price paid, Equal Exchange accounted for 46% of the value of all coffee sold.  On top of the prices, Equal Exchange paid over $100,000 in fair trade premiums as defined by the Small Producer Symbol (SPP) certification program.  In addition to that support, a grant program administered by Equal Exchange also fully funds two of the nine full-time agricultural extension workers on staff.  In total, the event was no rough rodeo, but more a round-up of thoughtful and hard-working farmers ready to lead their communities into a better tomorrow.


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