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.
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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As the (former) Producer Relations Coordinator at Equal Exchange, people are always asking me why we choose to focus our relationships and purchasing strategies on small farmer co-operatives. Most people familiar with Fair Trade understand the critical importance that higher prices, advance credit and direct relationships have on growers. Through decades of organizing, educating, and advocating, the Fair Trade movement has succeeded in raising the bar for much of the “ethical trade” industry, at least in coffee. Today, many coffee companies source direct, provide credit, and offer higher than market prices –and we’re excited about that.
Yet, there’s another equally – some would say even more important – reason we work with farmer co-operatives. Sometimes I get tired of making this point, but I think it’s actually a hard one for many of us in the U.S. to fully grasp. In our culture, “individualism” is steeped into our subconscious from an early age. From the days of the Wild West, heroic individualism is applauded. It’s the American Dream that anyone who works hard enough can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Anyone can become a millionaire – or the country’s President. At least that’s what we’re told to believe. (more…)
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