Producer Profile: Mexico

Written by Cafe Campesino on Dec 1, 2004 in NEWSLETTER, Producer Profile |
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Many of Café Campesino’s new customers might be surprised to learn that Mexico is a significant, high quality coffee producing country. In fact, some of the best Latin American coffee is grown in Chiapas, Mexico’s southern-most state which borders Guatemala. Coffee is critical to the Mexican economy, representing one-third of the total agricultural exports to the United States. Mexico is particularly important to the organic movement and is now the world’s largest producer of organic coffee.

Since our first visit in 1999 with the Mut Vitz (Hill of Birds) Cooperative in Chiapas, we have been drawn to this beautiful, diverse, remote, yet politically troubled, portion of Mexico. With assistance from the Idyll Foundation and in partnership with the Human Bean Company, we purchased Mut Vitz’s first export container five years ago. Last year, Cooperative Coffees sold six containers (each container holds 38,000 lbs of coffee) of Mut Vitz coffee and next year we anticipate purchasing seven containers. Our growth and partnership with Mut Vitz remains strong and Mut Vitz is now well established as the leading source of Fair Trade, organic coffee from the autonomous regions of Chiapas.

The exciting news — next spring we will begin purchasing coffee from two additional cooperatives in Chiapas. Each is profiled below. As Fair Traders, one of the most important aspects of our work is helping introduce producers to international markets. The most difficult container to export is always the first one, and it usually takes several years of direct exporting experience before a producer group is comfortable in this role and develops a sound system to ensure future success. We find great pleasure in bringing new, interesting coffees and, more importantly, stories of the people producing the coffee to you. This spring, we will visit with Yachil Xojobal Chulchan and Maya Vinic, and we look forward to roasting and shipping their coffee to you shortly thereafter!

Yachil Xojobal Chulchan/New Light in the Sky Cooperative

New Light in the Sky coffee cooperative began in 1999 with meetings of 65 autonomous small coffee producers and families in an area three hours walking distance north of the small town and county of Pantelho in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. They soon contacted other autonomous coffee producers from the counties of San Juan Cancuc, Chilon, and Sitala who joined in their efforts. Up to this point, autonomous coffee producers from this large, roadless region had only sold their coffee to coyotes at very low prices. Much of their coffee was bought to fill contracts for Guatemalan exporters who sold it with Guatemala as the country of origin! In spring of 2002, the now 350 Maya-Tzeltal members of Yachil were finally granted legal cooperative status. In the spring of 2003, they received their first Fair Trade contract from Café Libertad in Hamburg, Germany. During this season 850 displaced autonomous coffee producers from Chenalho, concentrated in the refugee camp at Polho, left the Majomut cooperative to join Yachil. In 2004 more than 500 autonomous producers from the counties of Chalchihuitan and Tenejapa were added as members. Currently there are more than 1,800 autonomous producers in the Yachil/New Light Coffee Cooperative. In September, Yachil completed the annual organic field inspection process with Certimex, the Mexican organic certifier, and the expectation is that about 350 members, the original founders of Yachil, will receive organic certification for their coffee this year. This will translate into 5-6 containers of ready for export organically certified coffee for the 2004/2005 coffee harvest. The rest of the cooperative members will be certified in transition I and II. The export grade container estimate for the 04/05 Yachil harvest is 30 containers.

Unión de Productores Maya Vinic

The Cooperative Producers Union Maya Vinic is comprised of some 700 coffee farming families located in 36 highland communities in the municipalities of Chenalhó, Pantelhó and Chalchihuitán, in Chiapas, Mexico. Inspired by the traditions of their ancestors, Maya Vinic is organized and operates in keeping with a respect of local culture, language, reverence for the Mother Earth and traditional forms of self-government.
Maya Vinic is born out the wider community organization “Las Abejas”, which formed in response to the prevalent injustice in their communities and in the hopes of promoting positive change and autonomous development. Las Abejas is an indigenous faith-based organization committed to working non-violently for peace in Chiapas. The plight of their communities came to the public eye in the aftermath of the infamous 1996 Acteal Massacre, where 45 men, women and children were killed by paramilitary forces while worshipping.

The coffee farmers of Las Abejas eventually organized themselves into producer cooperatives in search of more equitable markets. Cooperative Coffees assisted Maya Vinic in gaining acceptance to the international Fair Trade registry by purchasing their first export container in 2002. All of the farmers in Maya Vinic must agree to use organic farming techniques and standards — and after three years of inspections the cooperative anticipate exporting their first organic certified coffee in the spring of 2005.

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