Article: Talking Fair Trade at the Carter Center

Written by Cafe Campesino on May 1, 2004 in Article, NEWSLETTER |
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Café Campesino was well represented during an exciting and inspiring post-SCAA forum sponsored by Cooperative Coffees, Equal Exchange and the Fair Trade Resource Network. The three organizations partnered for the first time to host three days of meetings, speaking engagements and fun with producers representing five countries and a number of important non-profit allies from the Fair Trade movement.

On Tuesday, we gathered on the peaceful grounds of the Carter Center in downtown Atlanta for a full day of post-SCAA decompression, sharing and planning. More than 30 people attended the session including producer representatives from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Peru, and Tanzania. Allies included representatives from Oxfam, International Fair Trade Association, Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief and Ecologic Finance. A wide range of topics and concerns were addressed, including the proliferation of product certification labels in the coffee industry, leveraging our networks for better public and consumer awareness, changes within the international Fair Trade monitoring system and shared concerns among small-scale farmers and our organizations about the long-term consequences of plantations in Fair Trade systems. It was a very positive experience and a great way to bring perspective and closure to the often-frantic SCAA conference.

Afterwards, we loaded up the van for an evening across town in Decatur. Strolling around quaint and quiet streets of Decatur was a pleasant change after four days among the high-rises of the Atlanta convention facilities. The political science department at Agnes Scott College sponsored a well-attended program organized by the Fair Trade Resource Network. Speakers included representatives Pedro Haslam from Nicaragua, Jose Rojas from Peru, Tadesse Meskela from Ethiopia, and brief presentations by FTRN, Equal Exchange and Cooperative Coffees. We ended the evening (as one should when visiting Decatur) with a rousing late-night discussion on the deck of Eddie’s Attic.

On Wednesday morning, we were back at the Carter Center bright and early for a meeting with President Carter. Raymond Kimaro from Tanzania’s KNCU and Pedro Haslam from Nicaragua’s CECOCAFEN talked about the coffee crisis and how historically low prices are affecting communities and families in their countries. We then discussed the Fair Trade model with President Carter – including the role of the importer and roaster, the critical need for pre-financing of coffee contracts, and how non-profits are engaging their constituents in the Fair Trade movement. We were all touched by the interest that President Carter expressed in the challenges faced by the farmers and his desire to learn more about Fair Trade system.

After photos and goodbyes, a smaller group of 15 hopped in the van for a tour of scenic southwest Georgia and another public event. We drove straight to downtown Plains and grabbed an ice cream cone at the local café before heading out to President Carter’s boyhood home. President Carter was raised on a farm and the home and grounds are the latest addition to the National Park Service facilities here in Sumter County. All of the producer representatives seemed quite interested in President Carter’s farming roots and were impressed by his friendly small town. We were greeted by Channel 10 News cameras and the Albany Herald – both news organizations were intrigued by coffee farmers visiting the Carter farm – resulting in a front-page article and the lead story on the nightly news.

Next stop was the Windsor Hotel in Americus for a quick check-in — then on to Georgia Southwestern State University for the Third Word in Perspective Seminar Series. Organized by Cooperative Coffees and Café Campesino, this program involved producer representative Raymond Kimaro from Tanzania, Carlos Reynoso from Guatemala and Teodomiro Melendres from Peru; and a response from economics professor Philip Szmedra. We had a great turnout for the event, more than 100 students, faculty and members of the community were in attendance. And many also enjoyed a free cup of Café Campesino fair trade coffee!

We wrapped up the visit with a Thursday morning stroll down to the international headquarters of Habitat for Humanity in downtown Americus. Habitat recently opened the Global Village and Discovery Center, with 12 replicas of the homes that they build throughout the world. Our group toured the Global Village, enjoyed a lunch in the “Samoan Falae” hut, and then made our way back to the Atlanta airport. We are so thankful that this impressive group of cooperative leaders from all over the world were willing to share these three days with us. Possibly the most important aspect of producer visits like this is the quality time talking with one another as friends and partners – hard to quantify, but so rewarding.

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