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Today is the last day of our Nicaragua delegation and I think the trip was very worthwhile and successful. All of the delegates have expressed how much they have enjoyed the trip, how much they have learned, and how profound their experiences have been. They are also extremely impressed with Just Coffee and the work that we are doing in collaboration with LaFEM. I feel proud to be part of further cultivating and strengthening this relationship and the ideals and values of Just Coffee.
This week our delegation has had the privilege to meet with members of three of the four coffee producing cooperatives that make up LaFEM: Cooperativa Tierra Nuestra in the village of El Jocote (where Jitzy, who is currently in Madison, is from), Cooperativa Mujeres del Norte in the village of Los Llanos in the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo, and Cooperativa Luz Entre Mujeres in the village of Guasuyuca in the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo. We also visited another community called Colorado which may become LaFEM’s fifth coffee producing cooperative in the next year or so, thus moving them up to the next level of cooperative legally in the eyes of the government here and affording them more rights. In each of the above mentioned cooperatives we had the opportunity to meet with associates of the cooperatives, share coffee and meals, and tour a number of their coffee parcels and processing facilities.
Our meetings consisted of everyone introducing themselves and explaining their relationship and responsibilities within the respective cooperatives, discussing their observations, experiences, and opinions of producing and processing organic and fair trade coffee, asking questions, and sharing dreams and plans for the future.
In each location we were escorted through all processes of cultivating and producing coffee from planting seeds and caring for seedlings, transplanting baby plants into the parcels, preparing the land for cultivation including terracing, caring for and pruning plants, harvesting, depulping, washing, ‘fermenting’, and drying coffee within the communities, preparing and use of compost and bio-fertilizers, transportation of coffee to the beneficio, as well as discussion about the requirements and philosophies of growing shade grown and organic coffee. Combine all of this with traveling in the back of trucks and by horseback through gorgeous mountainous terrain, sleeping overnight in the homes of campesinas, and sharing delicious home cooked meals of beans, rice, eggs, and tortillas, and I can assuredly say that we have had a most amazing adventure! We also toured the beneficio that further processes the beans that make up LaFEM’s coffee, seeing and learning about each step that makes up this step in the process.
We met with the Committee for Maximum Development within LaFEM at the main office, which has been expanded to include a spacious, newly built conference room, in Esteli where we cemented our understanding of how LaFEM and the coffee cooperatives that are part of LaFEM are organized and operate. We also learned about the other projects that LaFEM is involved with including education, vocational training in such areas as electrical work and carpentry, women’s sexual and reproductive health, and production of such products as hibiscus tea, wine, and marmalade.
One day we visited and partook in Esteli’s local organic produce market where we talked with LaFEM’s local consumers who purchased such goods produced by the cooperative as Las Diosas coffee, hibiscus tea, wine and marmalade, star fruit marmalade, and more. Aside from all of this coffee talk, we also participated in a women’s forum that was hosted by LaFEM with women from all over Nicaragua about the legalization of therapeutic abortions. And, in case all of that isn’t enough, we also participated in a community environmental sustainability training led by CEDECO, an organization in Costa Rica which LaFEM is closely aligned, toured a cigar making factory, toured local produce and artisan markets, and visited an organic farming cooperative specializing in medicinal plants.
Our meetings with LaFEM and the cooperatives that make up LaFEM were nothing less than educating, inspiring, and emotional. Meeting with the three coffee producing cooperatives and LaFEM made a few things clear:
1. Fair trade has been helpful to these individual small farmers as it has banded them into cooperatives which has given them more support and power as a group, especially in accessing international markets to sell their coffee in.
2. The social premiums that they receive due to their relationship with Just Coffee are much appreciated. Committees have been formed to plan the use of these additional moneys specifically for supporting the education of their children.
3. They like and appreciate how Just Coffee is marketing their coffee by including photos of the coffee farmers on our labels as well as the name of their coffee, ‘Las Diosas’ (The Goddesses), a map of where they are located, and information about the name and location of their cooperative in Nicaragua. They would like us to add to our labels that their coffee is organic. They feel that this is important not only because they have always grown organic coffee but also because it was a major challenge, both logistically and economically, for them to go through the three years of receiving less money for their coffee as they were considered to be ‘transitional’ before receiving their official technical ‘organic’ stamp.
4. A number of times throughout our delegation it was expressed to us how important our delegations are in advancing the principals of truly fair trade by cultivating a strong relationship between the producer and the consumer. They feel that the most important thing for us to do in the USA is to educate and help to create conscious consumers who refuse to participate in a global system that intentionally keeps some people comfortable and privileged while others remain in poverty...regardless of a stamp that says it is ‘fair’. LaFEM is pleased to meet, host, and learn from those that Just Coffee brings down to meet them and hopes that the dialogue that is stimulated will be taken back to further educate others about the realities and inequities of global trade. They also appreciate that Just Coffee has brought members from their cooperative up to Madison, Wisconsin to meet the consumers of their coffee, share their story, and learn from those they meet. Just Coffee brought LaFEM director, Juana Villareyna A., to Madison in 2007 to meet all those involved with Just Coffee from those that work at the JC to those that sell our coffee in their markets and coffee shops to those that purchase and consume our coffee. In 2008 Just Coffee has supported LaFEM coffee grower, Jitzy Marianela Ruíz to stay in Madison for six weeks learning English, receiving roasting training, and training as a barrista so that when she returns to Nicaragua she can better assist LaFEM to start their own coffee shop in Esteli where they will sell their coffee domestically.
5. LaFEM feels confident in the strength of their relationship with Just Coffee because they can see that even in the last year, many of the goals that were set between the two organizations have been met such as:
A. all of the coffee farmers within LaFEM receiving their official organic certification
B. LaFEM receiving their social premium from coffee roasted and sold by Just Coffee
C. Just Coffee bringing Jitzy to Madison for barrista (and more) training,
D. Just Coffee bringing delegations to LaFEM in Nicaragua.
6. Finally, LaFEM feels that their relationship to Just Coffee is especially important and relevant because it is a political relationship and not just a commercial market relationship. Like Just Coffee, LaFEM feels that coffee is a means to an end, and that end is a relationship of equality where no one is left living in poverty.
1. The annual costs of certification for ORGANIC and FAIR TRADE are excessive and absolutely impossible for farmers to achieve as small coffee producers without the assistance of international aid. Currently female farmers in LaFEM receive aid in the form of small donations from individuals living in a variety of countries in order to pay for their organic certification each year and they also receive aid in the form of donations and small loans from a Swiss NGO in order to pay their fair trade certification each year.
2. Even though LaFEM receives well above the fair trade minimum from Just Coffee for their coffee, they feel strongly that the fair trade minimum is NOT ENOUGH and stand in solidarity with other coffee farmers trying to work within the fair trade system. They feel that the fair trade minimum does not accurately reflect the challenges and difficulties of the long process of producing coffee from bean to cup and leaves coffee farmers in the developing world in poverty.
3. These women are very disappointed about the path that fair trade is taking as a marketing tool rather than an instrument for social and political change. They said that they were shocked when they heard a number of months ago that large companies and multi-nationals such as Wal-Mart were selling small amounts of ‘fair trade’ coffee. They are disappointed by the ignorance of consumers in the developed world and will continue to work towards equality by educating consumers to be more conscious of their choices and how they affect other people in their global community.