Posts Tagged ‘small farmer co-operatives’

It’s mid-March which means Equal Exchange Banana Month is in full swing! This March also marks our 10th year in the banana trade. To celebrate, we are promoting a new web documentary called Beyond the Seal.

This is the second of a three-part series that digs deep into Beyond the Seal (missed Part 1? Click here).

A recap: Beyond the Seal is the story of a group of small farmers – and the activists and visionaries behind them – striving to change the banana industry as we know it. Through a model of business called Fair Trade, these producers are building a more just supply chain, one that prioritizes their health, their families and their community.

Beyond the Seal is a web documentary divided into 5 chapters.

THIS WEEK: Watch Chapter 2

In Chapter 2, meet Anibal Cabrera, a small-scale banana producer and member of the AsoGuabo Cooperative in Ecuador. Take a peek into Anibal’s life and learn how the Fair Trade model strengthens and empowers AsoGuabo.

GO further, get together with your staff and answer the following questions:

  1. How does the Fair Trade model support small producers?
  2. Under Fair Trade, producers receive a dollar per 40 lb. box of bananas as social premium. Do you see any difference between the premium and development aid or charity?
Watch now at beyondtheseal.com

Banana Month Buzz

Look who’s watching! A very special tweet from Marion Nestle, NYU Professor and renowned author of Food Politics:
Shout out to Honest Weight  for celebratingBanana Month with this incredible display! That’s 32 cases of bananas.
Check out this eye-catching display atLebanon Co-op in NH!

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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. (more…)

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In July, the Twin Cities Daily Planet published an article by Doug McGill about the exciting work our Minnesota office is doing to educate consumers about our small farmer co-operative partners. They’re also strengthening existing relationships and building new ones among local food co-operatives, consumers and the Oromian community in the Twin Cities area.

I asked Joe Riemann (pictured above with Scott Patterson) to write a bit about their endeavors and how it all got started:

“I came to Equal Exchange after working on Domestic Fair Trade issues with the Wedge Cooperative, Local Fair Trade Network. My experiences led me all over the Midwest, visiting small farmers and farmworkers and sharing their stories. Those relationships represented a cornerstone of fair trade that I really wanted to replicate in my new position with Equal Exchange. Of course, the majority of farmers we partner with live considerably further than a day’s drive away, and I felt dumbfounded by the lack of knowledge I had about any of the producers we purchase from.

I quickly started to ask questions of my coworkers and learned about the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, a more well-known coop thanks to the critically acclaimed documentary “Black Gold”. The part that isn’t well known is that Oromia, the coffee growing region and namesake of the co-op, is homeland to the Oromo people – the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. But it got really interesting once I discovered that Minnesota is home to one of the largest populations of Oromos living in diaspora. (more…)

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Big Tree Almonds, located in the Central San Joaquin Valley, is the only organic almond co-operative in the state of California—the only state in the U.S. where the nuts are grown. The co-operative is Equal Exchange’s first trading partner for organic almonds.

From the Equal Exchange website: The farmers who would one day form Big Tree Organic Farms Co-op were pioneers in organic almond farming in California. They had been working since the 1980s to convert their farms to more ecologically sound practices. But in 1997, they found themselves with a bumper crop and no processors in the area who would handle organic almonds.

What could they do? Like family farmers elsewhere, they decided to organize themselves. In 1998 they established their co-op, and in 2003 they opened their own processing facility so that they could shell, store and market their almonds.

Today, Big Tree is a co-operative of 28 members whose farms range between 11 and 150 acres. Seasonal workers in the shelling plant receive above minimum wage and most return to work in the facility year after year. All of Big Tree’s almonds, including Nonpareil, Carmel and Mission varieties, are grown organically. And as consumer awareness of the health benefits of almonds continues to grow, the members of Big Tree are growing their co-operative.

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“When I am there [on the farm] I like to feel the fresh air, and when we are harvesting and cutting open the cacao, it’s a very beautiful thing … When I am in the cacao trees I feel very happy. With all it has given us, it’s a very beautiful thing.”

-Abel Quezada de la Cruz

Abel Quezada de la Cruz, 12, lives in Yamasá, Dominican Republic. His parents grow cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate products) and are members of CONACADO co-op, one of Equal Exchange’s farmer partners. Abel likes to spend time on the farm with his family, where he can walk among the trees and help harvest the cacao pods. For him, cacao farming is “a very beautiful thing,” but for many children in cacao-producing areas, it’s quite a different experience. (more…)

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The following article, written by Patty Kupfer, was printed in the September/October 2008 issue of Sojourner’s Magazine. Patty used to work for Witness for Peace and co-organized some of Equal Exchange’s Interfaith Department’s delegation visits to Chiapas. During these trips, we visited our coffee farmer partners, CIRSA, an amazing organization of Tzotzil and Tzeltal -speaking indigenous farmers located in the highlands of Chiapas. Patty interviewed some members of the co-op for this article. You can also read more about CIRSA in the Viroqua Food Co-op’s May/June 2008 newsletter.


Ask the nearly 600 members of the CIRSA coffee cooperative in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, how things are going and they’ll tell you, “Little by little, we’re moving forward.” Considering that a couple of decades ago the parents of these indigenous farmers worked in slavery-like conditions on large coffee plantations in the region, and that their region has been ignored and marginalized throughout its history, their progress is tremendous.

The Indigenous Communities of the Simojovel de Allende Region (CIRSA in Spanish) shipped 235 tons of fair trade coffee last year to the United States and Europe. Through the fair trade certification system, the small farmers of CIRSA and similar cooperatives throughout Latin America are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee. This provides stability to small farmers, who live in some of the world’s poorest regions—and who are especially vulnerable to the volatile market that dictates world coffee prices. This is why, on our weekly trip to the grocery store, many of us fork over some extra change for fair trade coffee. (more…)

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The following post is offered by Nicholas Reid, Sales Representative of the Natural Foods Department at Equal Exchange. His original comments were published in response to a post on GreenLAGirl’s blog about the Business Week article, “Is Fair Trade Becoming ‘Fair Trade Lite’?”.

At Equal Exchange we feel strongly that small-scale sustainable farming is the most effective way to feed the planet, care for the environment, and sustain healthy and vibrant communities and businesses. We believe that small farmer co-operatives provide a model for participatory decision-making, local control, and economic development that is desperately needed to fix a broken food system and an ailing planet.

In this blog, we have tried to make our case by highlighting inspiring stories from our farmer co-op partners and referencing articles written about the importance of agroecology, organic farming, and consumer and farmer movements that are trying to make changes to agricultural and trade policies that serve no one but large scale agribusiness. We have deliberately tried not to focus too much on the debate around plantations, or the competition between different coffee roasters. Nevertheless, I wanted to share Nick’s observations as I thought he did a great job of highlighting some of the history of plantations and the reasons why we choose to focus our work, and continue to build strong relationships, with small farmer organizations in the Fair Trade system.

Fair Trade as a Tool For Transformation: Can plantations play that role?

by Nicholas Reid

For years now, folks have been questioning whether the Fair Trade certifiers should have allowed plantations into a system which was founded by and for small farmer co-operatives. One of the arguments put forth to justify the entry of plantations into the system is that there are many products (such as bananas and tea) which are primarily produced by plantations and therefore are not possible to source from small farmer co-operatives. This is a false premise. The majority of bananas and tea ARE produced by small farmers. More importantly, by allowing plantations into the Fair Trade system, the certifiers are ensuring that products produced by small farmer co-operatives will never thrive in the Fair Trade system.

I would buy the argument that the majority of the world’s tea, bananas and cocoa for export are grown by plantations and large-scale agriculture. But seriously, Fair Trade exists to support small farmers because plantations dominate banana and tea production for export. It aims to create the systems that would allow small farmers to benefit from exporting those products. (more…)

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On World Fair Trade Day, we posted a few links to an article and a blog post written by Karisa Centenni (see: World Fair Trade Day) about the Equal Exchange Food Co-op trip to Chiapas, Mexico this past January.  Since that time, we have received copies of two other articles written by participants of that trip, Colin Meginnis, Grocery Buyer for the Wheatsfield Co-operative in Ames, Iowa and Ian Ryan, Bulk Buyer of the East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh. Each one provides an interesting and personal account of their days visiting the Cesmach Co-operative, a coffee co-op whose members live and farm sustainably in the buffer zone of a U.N. designated Biosphere, El Triunfo. To read about the history of CESMACH, as told by the farmers who founded the co-operative, see the blog entry: A David and Goliath story of small farmer perseverance, co-operative spirit and pride, and willingness to take risks.

In their articles, Colin and Ian also provide their impressions of Fair Trade, free trade, and the environmental initiatives of our farmer partners as they try to grow their co-operative, provide a dignified life for their families, and protect the delicate eco-system of the Biosphere. You can read their accounts and other related stories, at:





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Karisa Centanni, education coordinator at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, a member owned and operated natural foods grocery store on Central Avenue in Albany travelled with Equal Exchange to visit CESMACH, one of our co-operative partners in Chiapas, Mexico.

For World Fair Trade Day on May 10th, Karisa wrote about her impressions of CESMACH, and offered some reflections on the connections between the Buy Local and Fair Trade movements, which were published in the Greenfield Daily Gazette’s Community Blog: Greenpoint

Ruth Ann Smalley, of the Honest Weight Food Co-op interviewed Karisa, and then did further research about the relationship between coffee and the environment.  To read this interesting article, entitled, “The Birds and the Beans: Preserving diversity and promoting small farmers through cooperative coffee,”  please go to Coop Scoop.

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Can we even say that anymore?

In honor of Earth Day, I’ve decided to work from home and avoid using my car. Here in Boston, it’s a beautiful, sunny day – not too much of a hardship to be sitting at my laptop on my back porch, cup of coffee in hand.

But seriously, like so many of us, I have been thinking a lot about my own energy use patterns and behaviors, and what changes I can make.

As an organization, we at Equal Exchange have also been thinking about our roles, contributions and responsibilities to the planet, our farmer partners, and our network of allies, partners, and friends. What kind of change can be achieved through consumer dollars and individual actions, and what kind of change can only occur when people are organized and use their collective power to enact or modify policies and laws?


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