Editorial: Tripp Report

Written by Cafe Campesino on Feb 6, 2010 in Editorial, NEWSLETTER |

Cooperative Coffees’ Annual Meeting in Peru – Is it Time for a Fair Trade Makeover?

There’s a bunch of news to report from our most recent trek to Peru, where Bill and I met and worked with our trading partners and fellow Coop Coffees members for an action-packed week Jan. 15-22. Meetings, farmer and coop visits, roundtables, and community events kept us fully engaged in what turned out to be (another) remarkable, unforgettable experience. So firstly, I want to thank our gracious hosts at CAC Pangoa and CEPICAFE/CENFROCAFE for taking the entire week to be with us, work with us, and teach us. The same thanks applies to the representatives from 12 of our trading partners’ coops and the seven fellow members of Coop Coffees who made it to this year’s annual meeting… what a wonderful group of talented, committed people!

Before I give a brief trip summary though, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention how glad we are that Bill and our good friends from Bean North finally made it out of Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu after a week of being trapped there with 4000 other tourists and locals as a result of catastrophic flooding. While we’re thrilled that our friends and the other visitors made it out safely (thanks to the Peruvian government), we acknowledge the pain and suffering experienced by the folks who live in the area (and who have a long road to recovery ahead of them) and those who lost their lives or were injured.

Fortunately though, prior to Bill’s unexpected stay in Aguas Calientes, we wrapped up what indeed was a very intense and productive week of work that brought together the coffee trade’s two primary stakeholders – coffee farmers and roasters – for frank conversations about the work that needs to be done on Fair Trade. We have been visiting and working with our trading partners (mostly the same ones but new partners as well) for the past 10 years or so, but this meeting packed a bit more punch, as we established a joint task force (trading partners, roasters, and Cooperative Coffees as the importer) to go to work on identifying and, ultimately – hopefully, implementing what it’s going to take to really make trade fair.. at least when it comes to coffee.

Café Campesino is very fortunate to be part of Cooperative Coffees, through which we get to work directly with our fellow compadre roasters and coffee farming trading partners. This direct access, year in and year out, provides all of us with a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and develop deep relationships, which in turn breaks down communication barriers and opens the door for open, honest dialogue.. and the opportunity to take action.

We started our week in Peru with a full day of meetings in Lima, where we attended to the business of our Canada office/organization CoopSol, which is responsible for, and highly skilled at, managing our relationships with our trading partners. We received an update about our new cupping lab in Montreal (oh, we’re so excited to have this new in-house resource to which both roaster members and our trading partners will have access). We then reviewed the past year and our work plans for the upcoming year as part of the CRS-funded Café Livelihoods and USAID-funded Farmer to Farmer programs, two initiatives that have asked Cooperative Coffees to work directly with small scale coffee farmers by conducting workshops on understanding the coffee market, managing coffee quality, and related issues. BTW, we, as roaster members of Cooperative Coffees, volunteer our time for these workshops. (On Monday, I travel to our friends at Maya Vinic in Mexico to work with our good friend Chris Treter of Higher Grounds and facilitate a Farmer to Farmer workshop on the coffee market.)

It was after these updates that we dug into an update on Fair Trade, with a particular emphasis on our trading partners’ point of view. Our roundtable discussion elicited a lot of emotion but, more importantly, valuable information about the impact of Fair Trade and “certification” in particular on our trading partners. The bottom line – the mainstream model of Fair Trade needs to be revisited, reworked, and brought into alignment with the reality of the vast majority of the world’s coffee farmers.. who happen to be small-scale producers. From overarching principles to operational mechanisms, Fair Trade needs an overhaul. We feel a responsibility to heed this call, not necessarily to call others out but to focus in on why our model seems to be effective in bringing roasters together with their coffee farming partners in long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships. We need to continue to improve our approach, building on its solid foundation, and work with our trading partners to make it a model that truly satisfies our trading partners and serves as an example to the many roasters and importers who are truly committed to the tenets of Fair Trade, which I think are best expressed by the Fair Trade Federation.

So.. pretty heavy – I know. After getting the ball rolling on this massive “project”, we headed out into the Peruvian field – with about half of the group heading north to spend the week with our friends at CEPICAFE/CENFROCAFE while I headed off with the other half to visit with our friends at CAC Pangoa. On a personal note, I am proud to say that when we reached the 15k foot plus peak at Tiglio during the 16 hour journey to Pangoa, I was able to stand, smile, and enjoy this stop at the site of the world’s highest operating rail system. My first time through, a few years ago, I could barely stand!

The following day, we launched into a week with our friends at Pangoa that was a blur.. non-stop visits, conversations and learning opportunities. Our first day started off with a truly delightful breakfast at the farm of Don Gregorio and his wife, Olinda, and their three lovely children -Louisa, Hido, and Mika – a family that is half indigenous and half Colonas (Peruvians of Spanish descent, some of whom migrated from the Sierra Madre to the Pangoa region). CAC Pangoa has made it a point to facilitate bringing these two groups closer together as both are represented in their coop. Our breakfast was organic eggs, avocado, and fruit from the farm. Delicious.

Immediately after, we drove up to visit with CAC Pangoa member and coffee farmer Don Jesus to learn about his solar drying system and organic practices. His solar drying facility is one of several that are being constructed as part of a CAC Pangoa initiative that is being funded in part with some of the coop’s Fair Trade premium funds.

We then drove to another member of the coop who demonstrated his extremely large solar drying facility, which was in mid-construction. We wound the day up with a most excellent visit to the farm of coop member Norma Valderama, where Senor Guaringa met us to teach us about his bio fertilizer and bokashi (compost) production techniques and the huge impact they’re having on organic coffee yields… actually bringing yields to a financially sustainable level for farmers – about 3000 pounds per hectare – whereas too many organic coffee producers are struggling to reach half that yield. Kudos to Pangoa and their active collaboration with other pioneers in the organic coffee movement from Nicaragua… through shared information and innovation, they are leading the way for small scale farmers. One little sidenote on the trip to the Valderama’s farm.. which is located atop a very steep hill near the top of a mountain. Let me rephrase: it wasn’t just steep, it was vertical… and muddy. Our driver heroically took us up in our 4wheel drive Toyota pickup, delivering us against all odds in fine shape. My good friend, Terry Patano of Doma Coffee, and I celebrated our newfound ability to hold onto things with our bottoms… a skill one can only acquire trying to stay in a truck bed while the earth spins around you!

The following day, we jetted off in pickups to visit and tour farmer Isaac Cotachi’s botanical reserve (eco-tourism site), followed by a community gathering at the indigenous community of Mazaronquiari, where we learned about development proposals for the bringing of tourism to the community. We were honored to be received by the community, hundreds of whom turned out despite the heavy rains. We will soon post videos of the visit. One the way back from the visit to the community, we had lunch at the home of Dona Cilda, where Monika (Cooperative Coffees’ producer relations manager extraordinaire) and I received the unexpected honor of being named the godparents of Dona’s new restaurant which was under construction. With great fanfare we christened the doorway and celebrated Dona’s new venture… which I can’t wait to visit on my next trip down to Pangoa!

The following day, after waking up to the groaning rumble of the nearby male leader of the monkey pack, we traveled back to spend the day with our friends at CAC Pangoa. There, we were brought up to date on their organization and its management, the many projects they have in the works, and how they manage their organic and Fair Trade processes. We then wrapped up the afternoon with a series of dance presentations by members of Pangoa and lots of smiling, laughing, and dancing with each other.

On our last day there, we spent the morning in Pangoa’s spectacular cupping lab. One note – CAC Pangoa deliberately cross-trains its dynamic technical support and management staff (young, full of energy, and supremely competent) so that any one of them can fill in for or support another when the workload peaks… it was impressive to witness such intentional personnel management. Equally impressive is CAC Pangoa’s diligent use of a strategic plan and annual work plan. So inspired was I that I have finally started to discipline myself at Café Campesino to make sure we follow the example set by our friends at CAC Pangoa.

That night, we left to take an overnight bus back to Lima, where we would jump right back in to our last day of meetings with the group that had also just returned from the visit to the north. This last day of meetings provided each group and everyone who wanted with an opportunity to talk about and share their experience during the course of the previous week. After in effect celebrating our visits to what may be two of the best run Fair Trade coffee farmer cooperatives in the world, we shifted over to discussion of the issue we had broached prior to leaving to visit the coops – how we can help to make Fair Trade better. With our task force in place, we now have our work cut out for us. While the challenges are great, I can think of no other group of people I’d rather work with than our trading partner friends and fellow Cooperative Coffees members. Stay tuned for more!

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