Posts Tagged ‘small farmers’

I’m dashing off to the Farm Aid Concert in Mansfield, where Equal Exchange is the official coffee sponsor, so I’ll have to be brief. But I wanted to thank everyone who responded to Nick’s posting, “Co-operatives: The Democracies of our Economy“, with all of those thoughtful comments. I just wanted to add one more voice to the point raised by Keith. Yesterday I attended a meeting of the National Family Farm Coalition. A number of small farmer organizations, progressive NGOs and researchers advocating for more fair trade and agriculture policies have come together to work on the current food crisis. October 16th is National Food Day and they have been preparing a Call to Action to launch on this day. (stay tuned for more on that). The meeting was held here in Boston to piggyback on the fact that many of the Coalition’s members and allies will be attending the Farm Aid concert today.

Among those present at yesterday’s meeting was a group of small farmers who belong to the Federation of Southern Co-operatives, one of Equal Exchange’s partners in our Domestic Fair Trade program. Several of them got up and expressed outrage at the $500 billion* bailout of financial institutions being proposed this weekend by the Bush administration. Where are the subsidies or any support for small farmers who are responsible for growing the food we eat?

We talked about the recent Farm Bill and how most of the subsidies and other support went to agri-business. I couldn’t help thinking about the wave of recent articles criticizing the Fair Trade system for offering a minimum price to small farmers as an affront to the “free market”. As John Lewis, a dedicated life-long civil rights activist who was present at the meeting stated: “Small farmers are always last. And they should be first to receive some of this support. But, instead the corporations are getting it, most of whom don’t even need it.”

* by now everyone knows the bailout went up to $700 billion….

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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 Via Campesina, the largest organization of small farmers in the world, has long advocated for changes in our agriculture and trade policies. For the past decade, they have been promoting the principles of Food Sovereignty as a way forward to protect rural communities, our food system, and the planet. As a movement that originated with small farmers in the South, there is much to learn from their concerns and their proposals. In a future blog article, I’ll talk more about the overlap between the Food Sovereignty and Fair Trade movements.

For now however, I’d like to just introduce you to some of the concepts being discussed in the Food Sovereignty movement…

A few months ago, I came across a very well-written and powerful article published by Food First, entitled, “Small farms as a planetary ecological asset: Five key reasons why we should support the revitalization of small farms in the Global South”, by Miguel A. Altieri, President of the Sociedad Cientifica LatinoAmericana de Agroecologia and Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley. If you had any doubts about why small farmers are essential to our planet and our food system, and why we believe it is critical to support them, this article should answer any lingering questions.

I encourage you all to follow the link to his full article. Initially, I thought I might just try to summarize Altieri’s main points for those of you who might not have time to read the full article. To be perfectly honest, however, Altieri is so articulate and his points so well-made, I found it impossible to condense. So instead, and I hope he will forgive me, I’ve simply extracted many of his arguments verbatim.

Altieri identifies “…five reasons why it’s in the interest of Northern consumers to support the cause and struggle of small farmers in the South.” The following are excerpts taken directly from his article:

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The TRADE Act, currently before Congress, is an attempt to rethink U.S. trade policies. The following is a press release from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University about the impact trade policies have had on small-scale farmers:

Agricultural trade liberalization has largely failed to bring lasting benefit to rural areas in Latin America, where small-holder agriculture remains a key economic activity says a new report published by WOLA and GDAE.

Trade liberalization has provided a few countries in Latin America with unprecedented export opportunities, say authors Mamerto Pérez, Sergio Schlesinger and Timothy A. Wise in their report The Promise and Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalization: Lessons from the Americas,but it has not generated broad-based development and has caused long-term harm to small producers and consumers.

“This report comes at an important time,” says Vicki Gass, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Rights and Development. “Unregulated trade liberalization in Latin America’s rural sector is clearly a contributing factor to the current food crisis hitting Latin America. Policy makers in the region, and the U.S., have to re-think the whole package of policies they have adopted in recent years. The new administration and Congress will have the opportunity to reconsider U.S. support for trade liberalization policies and move toward financially supporting small producers who supply local and regional markets.”

Among the report’s main policy suggestions: (more…)

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In her blog, GreenLaGirl, Siel wrote about the issues presented in the Business Week article, “Is Fair Trade Becoming ‘Fair Trade Lite’?” and asked those of us at Equal Exchange why we were so opposed to the idea that plantations and multi-nationals should be operating within the Fair Trade system. Siel wondered if EE is simply nostalgic for the good ole days of co-ops, or if being a co-op means we only want to work with co-ops. Similarly, Jaqui de Carlo asks in her blog, Fair Trade Beginners, can’t fair traders be more inclusive – why can’t Chiquita sell fair trade bananas as well as Oke USA?

Both Rodney and Nicholas have written responses to Siel’s blog, so I won’t go through and repeat their arguments about why it is not just ideology, nostalgia or a desire to be exclusive, that keep us following our own path regardless of the direction being pushed by the Fair Trade certifiers. Please read their comments for some great reasons that should help clarify our position.

Personally, I think it comes down to the question of what the goal of one’s work is and how to best achieve it. Paul Rice, Executive Director of Transfair, was quoted in Business Week as stating that the goal of Fair Trade is to help poor people. While there’s nothing wrong with helping poor people – I prefer to work along side others who want to change the conditions that actually create poverty and injustice. Not just to help – but to change the system. To me, Fair Trade is more than a higher price, as important as that higher price is to the farmer who receives it. It’s more than a supply-side strategy in which the more people buying and selling Fair Trade, the better. It cannot be reduced to a seal; rather it is a holistic approach to economic development and political empowerment and self-determination.

How ironic. During the same week that Business Week came out with their article entitled, “Is Fair Trade Becoming ‘Fair Trade Lite’?” by Pallavi Gogoi, Alternet printed, “Why Fair Trade May be Our Only Hope,” by George Monbiot (originally published in the Guardian). If you want to understand why we should be supporting small scale agriculture, please read this latter article. Monbiot clearly explains why small-scale sustainable farming is the only solution to our multiple problems of environmental protection, feeding the poor, and providing for dignified livelihoods for farmers.

Here are some excerpts:

“…Though the rich world’s governments won’t hear it, the issue of whether or not the world will be fed is partly a function of ownership. This reflects an unexpected discovery. It was first made in 1962 by the Nobel economist Amartya Sen, and has since been confirmed by dozens of further studies. There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.” (more…)

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On June 4, Representative Michael Michaud and Senator Sherrod Brown introduced the TRADE Act to Congress. As the press release from the National Family Farm Coalition expressed (see our earlier blog post), this is an exciting opportunity for Congress to finally reform existing trade bills and ensure that future trade agreements are designed to actually benefit small farmers, workers, local economies and the environment.The bills have been officially introduced into both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Debate most likely won’t begin until early next year, but this is an important time to begin gathering support for the bills’ provisions.

Please consider calling or writing your Congressional representatives to urge them to co-sponsor the bills – a strong show of support will strengthen the chances of passage and ensure solutions to skyrocketing food prices, loss of family farms, disintegration of communities and massive waves of immigration.

To read the proposed legislation (or summaries and key provisions of the bills), a list of those organizations supporting the TRADE Act, and a series of press releases from a wide variety of labor, farm, and worker rights organizations expressing enthusiasm for these bills, please go to citizenstrade.org.

There you will find everything you need to email or call Congress, such as talking points and a quick link to your Senator or Representative’s office.

Keep up to date on actions you can take to ensure our free trade agreements are FAIR at Equal Exchange’s action alerts web page.

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Angela Vendetti and Don Wilfredo Herrera Mendoza in Nicaragua.“Leading a business with your ideals? You must be crazy.”

That’s what Angela Vendetti and her business partner, Jill Fink, heard when they started dreaming about opening Mugshots Café in Philadelphia. “When we were writing our business plan and trying to get Mugshots open, people told us we were crazy for putting our ideals before business sense,” Vendetti explained to John Steele in the Philadelphia Weekly‘s recent article on Mugshots.

Angela has heard this before. She heard it firsthand when we took her and six other Equal Exchange enthusiasts on a trip to Nicaragua to visit our coffee co-operative partner CECOCAFEN in 2005. Pedro Haslam, the former General Manager who has since been elected to the Nicaraguan Senate (but remains President of the Board of CECOCAFEN) let her know she was not alone. “We are a business with a social mission,” he told us in a meeting in Matagalpa. “Unlike traditional businesses we are not motivated by profit for profit sake, but our goal is to provide the highest quality coffee and the highest quality of relationships with our importer partners so as to provide the highest quality of life for our co-op members. People told us we were crazy when we started, but we’re very proud of our accomplishments.” (more…)

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