The story of the CESMACH (Campesinos Ecológicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas) coffee co-operative in Mexico is a powerful example of what a group of far-sighted and tenacious farmers, with a commitment to protect the unique cloud forest in which they live, can accomplish when they set their minds to the task. Since 1995, when the co-operative was legally founded, the 270 coffee producers that live and farm within the buffer zone of the El Triunfo Biosphere, have dedicated themselves to organic farming as a way of protecting the Biosphere’s fragile resources and to create a more sustainable life for themselves and their families. Please read their story as they told it to us.
The CESMACH farmers are located in the Sierra Madre mountains in the southwestern part of the Mexican state of Chiapas. They farm within the buffer zone of El Triunfo, a U.N.- designated biosphere, rich in flora and fauna, containing many endangered and protected species. Within the nucleus of the biosphere, agricultural activities are not permitted as the area contains many endangered and protected species. Organic farming is allowed in the buffer zone, which separates the biosphere from the surrounding region, as long as it is done in accordance with a strict set of standards designed to protect the fragile environment of the rain and cloud forest.
Equal Exchange has been working with the CESMACH co-operative since 2005 when we offered to buy 10 containers of their coffee – 60% of their total production. Since that year, our relationship has been steadily growing. In 2008, we brought our first group of visitors, representatives of food co-ops across the United States, to visit the farmers. It was during this visit, that the founders of CESMACH told us the enthralling story of how they transformed themselves from individual farmers to a strong and visionary co-operative business selling high quality, organic coffee. “It’s been a very long road to get here, and when we started it was just a dream,” Victorico Velasquez Morales, a founding member and former CESMACH president told our group.
CESMACH has had tremendous success selling its members’ coffee into the specialty coffee market, thereby keeping the communities unified and raising their members’ standard of living. Still, the farmers live in highly marginalized communities and they face many critical social and economic challenges. Coffee is the only source of income for most farmers in this region and they are economically dependent on their individual plots which average only five acres.
Consequently, the CESMACH farmers have decided not only to become the supplier of the highest quality, organic coffee in the region, but to create and implement a variety of social development and environmental projects which will benefit its members and the fragile Biosphere in which they live. Three years ago, the co-operative leadership began actively working with the women members and the wives of members to implement small individual patio gardens and collective chicken farms in order to both diversify their families’ diets and to generate additional income.
As part of our new campaign in support of small farmers, the food system and our planet, Equal Exchange is proud to be supporting our partners at the CESMACH co-operative to launch an exciting new Food Security, Environmental Protection and Women’s Capacity Building Project. The project includes the establishment of:
- 167 organic gardens using agro-ecological techniques;
- 279 mixed fruit-tree gardens (2000 plants of different species);
- 40 rustic family plant nurseries to encourage the recovery of native crops found in the Biosphere, including tomato trees and pacaya so that they will be conserved for future generations and made available for family use;
- 30 collective chicken coops; and
- 10 workshops to train participants in the management and productive aspects of the project.
Throughout the year, the women will also receive trainings and technical assistance in project management and leadership development with a focus on their roles in the co-operative as well as in the management of this project.
If you would like to support the women of CESMACH and the CESMACH co-operative in general, please buy our 12 oz. packages of Organic Love Buzz. Equal Exchange will donate 20 cents/package into our Small Farmers Green Planet Fund to support this project and others like it. (see side panel) You can also make a tax-deductible contribution by clicking here, or by sending a check to Equal Exchange, 50 United Drive, West Bridgewater, MA 02379. Please make the check out to Grassroots International and be sure to write SFGP Fund on the memo line. 100% of the donations will go directly to our farmer partners to support their efforts to protect their local eco-systems and provide food security for their families.
Visit our blog for periodic updates on these projects and other issues that affect small farmers, the food system and the planet.