Posts Tagged ‘organic coffee’

It’s been several years now since I traveled to southern Ecuador to visit one of our farmer co-operative partners, the Federation of Ecological Coffee Producer Associations in the Southern Region (FAPECAFES), but it’s a visit I still remember well.  I’m sharing it here because I think that many of the issues are still very relevant today: particularly how small farmers are working together (with little support historically from the government) and are making tremendous advances to create and strengthen a high quality Fair Trade coffee co-operative business with international recognition; and because their story highlights the severe environmental degradation that they are confronting and attempting to reverse.

Loja Province

Loja Province

Despite the fact that 98% of the coffee in Ecuador is grown by small-scale farmers, only 5% have organized themselves into associations, or co-operatives.  FAPECAFES  is one of the only associations of small coffee farmers in Ecuador and the only Fair Trade coffee association in the entire country. (more…)

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The following post was sent to us by Todd Caspersen, Equal Exchange’s Director of Purchasing, on his recent trip to visit our farmer partners in Colombia.

Riosucio, Colombia

December 5th 2008

View of Supia, Caldas... one of the towns where our coffee producer partners grow our organic Colombian coffee

View of Supia, Caldas… one of the towns where our coffee producer partners grow our Organic Colombian coffee


How do you tell a story that started so long ago that it has a multitude of sub-plots, characters, successes and challenges? I could start at the beginng in 1996 when Equal Exchange first purchased coffee from the Indigenous Resguardos (Reserves) around Riosucio or I could start when I first visited Riosucio in 1999 or I suppose I could start when we imported our first 90 bags of organic coffee in 2003 but I think I will start with the rain or “invierno”, as they call it here.

The 2008 harvest began with the flowering of the coffee trees in February which would have provided a bountiful harvest eight months later but then the rain started and has not stopped since. Take a look at the internet and you will see stories of flooding, landslides and disasterously low harvest throughout Colombia. According to the meticulous records of Don Hernan Trujillo, Riosucio has only had 8 days of straight sun three times since February. This has resulted in extremely low harvests and lots of damage to the coffee farms. To put it simply: summer never came this year.


There is general agreement among the farmers here that the climate is changing and it is having serious impact on the livelihoods of our partners. I never curse the rain but I want to now after days of walking through a landscape seriously impacted by it. Every road I have traveled shows multiple small landslides impeding passage; all of the coffee farms are affected one way or another and everyone is wondering: why is it raining so much and when will it stop?

Very sad and sobering to witness, but despite that I have seen some great stuff and am really excited by the progress that has been made over the last several years here. Three years ago, the Lutheran World Relief/Equal Exchange Small Farmer Fund gave a $66,000 dollar grant to the Asprocafe Ingruma Coffee Co-operative to support productivity improvements in the organic project. This included; soil analysis, credit for women and young people to buy pigs or cows for manure to use as fertilizer, and exchange programs with organic farmers in Nicaragua, among other things.


Last year Equal Exchange and Asprocafe organized a quality competition with the 350 organic farmers in Asprocafe to motivate the organic farmers participating in the program.  This year we returned to do a second competition at the end of the productivity project. On Tuesday, I visited last year’s first place winner to learn what he had done with his prize money and to see the condition of his farm. Don Franciso Javier Rodriguez lives in La Torre of Supia at 1900 meters above sea level. He produces coffee on about 2 hectares. When he won last year, he called his wife on a cell phone (yes they are everywhere now) to let her know that he had won and she wouldn’t believe him until she spoke with someone else. When I arrived at the river way below his house to start the long climb up he was still surprised that I had showed up, exclaiming that he never believed I would come or that any “gringo” would come to visit him. It was a long climb up through a saturated landscape through lots of mud. When we finally arrived at his tidy blue house on a flat spot just below cloud level, we were greeted by his wife, daughter and a hearty second breakfast.




After our meal, they showed me what they had bought with the prize money ($750 USD). Right after collecting his prize money he gave half of it back to Asprocafe to buy the materials for a biodigester that would produce methane gas for the kitchen, replacing the wood stove his wife had labored over all of her life.  The other half he used to make a payment on a loan he had recieved to buy a cow, which has produced three calves since he first bought it.



The cool thing here is that the prize money provided the materials for the biodigester which includes large sheets of plastic to make a long balloon and some pvc piping to conduct urine from the stables to the balloon and to then bring gas to the kitchen as well as to conduct the effluent to a cement tank. The effluent is then used as fertilizer; in this case on sugar cane. It’s not just the prize money that made this possible; it’s also the loans from the cooperatives to build the simple stable and pig stye as well as the credit to buy the pig and cow, most of which was fruit of the LWR/EE productivity project. It is a wonderful example of a multi-prong approach where Equal Exchange works with its U.S.-based partners and its farmer partners to create an integrated project that benefits everyone.




I am of Norwegian stock out of Minnesota and not given to great displays of emotion, but it was really heart warming and quite emotional to hear how the gas stove had changed the family´s life: Dona Rodriquez remembers the exact day the system started to produce gas, December 31st 2007. They no longer had to travel far up the mountain to gather wood, she no longer had to cook in a kitchen filled with smoke from burning wet wood that hurt her eyes and causes lung problems, Wow! Imagine going from having to start a fire every morning to just turning on your stove and have a strong bright flame. Another benefit is they are no longer gathering wood from the remaining forests. The cow they bought has produced more cows, milk and fertilizer. All in all a great example what we can do together.

Back in town, Beth Ann and the cupping team from the coop- Angelica, Yaneth, Edwin and Magda- have been busy cupping 150 samples for this year’s competition and despite the rain the farmers have turned in some very high quality coffee. It’s exciting to see this group of young people be so confident in their work as cuppers and perhaps more importantly, to see that they are still involved in agriculture. Tomorrow is the final round of cupping where we will select the top ten coffees and on Sunday the big event, where as many as 250 farmers will trek through the mud on their way to town to give presentations about their villages and associations, will receive presentations from the agricultural extention workers and what they are really waiting for is to see who won the competition. Stay tuned for an update on the results and hopefully some pictures but for now I am off to a place called Sirpirria to visit some more farms and later I will meet with the technical team from the cooperative to plan the next steps and talk about our plan to build a small scale organic fertilizer production facility. I wish I could share everything I have seen and know about this amazing place and its people but alas it would cover many pages. Pray or meditate for Sun in Colombia.



To learn more about the organic project that Todd refers to in his post, click here.  To read an earlier trip report I wrote after my first visit to Asprocafe, click here.

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… continued from the previous post.



In 1994 the organization was legally registered as a civil society association under the name “Ecological Farmers of the Sierra Madre of Chiapas” (CESMACH).  Then, in 1996, they obtained their first certification of organic processes and products from the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) and, in that same year, they were able to begin selling organic coffee to the United States. Eventually, in the year 2000, Cesmach was accepted as a Fair Trade member, having complied with the criteria established for small coffee-producing cooperatives by Max Havelaar. Currently, Cesmach is organically certified in accordance with the National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and following the guidelines established by the European Union.  It also has Fair Trade certification with FLO International.

1999 was an important year for Cesmach because the organization carried out both internal and external development via a process of priority analysis which helped the group identify strategies that would allow for the cooperative to continue on and to grow in the region, by paying closer attention to urgent needs and by searching for alliances and allies that share the organization’s objectives and needs. Cesmach analyzed basic elements such as access to financing, integrated product quality improvement, increase in the number of producer members in order to create an economic, social and environmental impact, internal capitalization, acquisition of infrastructure and equipment, etc.

Cesmach’s offices and coffee storage warehouse.


The cooperative today

Today Cesmach is well-established as a true cooperative that is active and that serves as a tool for its associated small-coffee producers. It is primarily dedicated to searching for solutions and to making proposals in response to the complex set of problems faced by the small coffee producers and their communities. The following chart provides some information on the evolution of this organized group:






Number of members




Hectares of organic coffee




Exports (in 69-kilo sacks)




Number of communities




Municipalities involved




Product certifications





Fair Trade


Fair Trade


In 2006, CESMACH went through a second internal analysis and strategic planning process, designed to update the co-operatives’ objectives and goals in the framework of a new market reality and changes in the organization to include greater participation from the producer-members, the communities, former leadership from committee members, and the employees.  

Sustainable coffee farm

Currently Cesmach is organized into operational departments (production, commercialization, administration and accounting, commercialization and community development). The important activities of this social business are grouped into programs that are described below.

Collecting pergamino coffee in the farmers’ warehouse.


Sustainable coffee program

The goal of this program is to systematize and carry out production activities, to oversee investment, and to improve the processing and marketing of the organization’s coffee while maintaining ecological standards and a highly-responsible social ethic. A component that was incorporated in 2005 was conservation of the biodiversity, going beyond the farms and looking at that which has the greatest impact on conservation: El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve’s flora and fauna. The result is a coffee that has a tremendous impact on its communities of origin with regards to social, economic, and natural resources.

A visit from Equal Exchange, one of our primary allies in promoting sustainable coffee.


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Get up early in the morning before the family awakens. Collect the firewood. Light the stove. Grind the corn that you prepared the night before and start making the pile of tortillas that will accompany your family’s meals throughout the day. The fire is burning, the beans are cooking… and the smoke is filling the kitchen, as well as your lungs…



Most of us don’t think too much before we light up our stoves in preparation for cooking a meal. Yet, unfortunately, this daily activity which nourishes our bodies and brings families and communities together, can also severely impact the health of rural women in the Global South. The quantity of smoke they’re breathing and the amount of time they spend in their kitchens adds up over the course of a lifetime. In fact, respiratory illnesses are one of the most common maladies that afflict the rural poor in Central America.

It’s not just the health of women that suffers through this manner of cooking, however. As you can see from the photos above, it also takes a lot of firewood to keep temperatures hot. The constant gathering of ever more firewood is not only an exhaustive chore, but is also one of the primary causes of deforestation in the countryside. Ultimately deforestation causes a host of other environmental problems, such as soil erosion, decreased rainfall and water yields, as well as loss of wildlife habitat. We now know that the rapid rate at which we’re destroying our forests is contributing to global climate change and more severe and more frequent natural disasters.

But in Boaco, Nicaragua, the Tierra Nueva Union of Co-operatives is changing all this. “We have to reduce our firewood consumption. The biggest drain on the forest is the need for firewood, so we’re going to help our members acquire new fuel-efficient stoves that will eliminate the need to cut down so much wood,” explains Pedro Rojas, president of Tierra Nueva. (more…)

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By now, many of us are well aware that Fair Trade products provide small-scale farmers with higher prices, access to credit, technical assistance, global markets, and solidarity networks. Most of us here at Equal Exchange enjoy a daily cup (or more) of fine coffee. And knowing how incredibly labor intensive coffee cultivation is, we deeply appreciate the farmers who climb those mountains, under the hot sun or in the torrential downpours, to pick the beans just at the right moment so that we in the North can have nothing less than the finest quality of coffee.

But most of us who work at Equal Exchange aren’t here simply for that artisanal coffee (tea or chocolate). We’re here because we think about farmer livelihoods and want to work in an industry that values the rights of small farmers to have the same dignified life and opportunities that many of us enjoy. In short, we think high quality coffee is not just desirable in its own right, but when it’s grown and sold through the Fair Trade system, it can also be a powerful tool for economic advancement. (more…)

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