“I want everyone in the room to recognize that as this meeting comes to a close, it has just begun to rain very hard here in Nicaragua. In our country, rain is a good sign. It brings growth and opportunity.” Corporino Feliz, FEDECARES, Dominican Republic
I write this as Tripp, Abby and I are flying back from an exhilarating week in Nicaragua. Cooperative Coffees, of which Café Campesino is a founding member, just concluded our 7th Annual Membership Meeting which was hosted by our long-time trading partner CECOCAFEN in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. This year’s assembly brought together 32 farmers and leaders from 18 cooperatives in Latin America, 36 roaster representatives from the US and Canada, along with numerous allies who support our work in the areas of development, finance and certification.
This meeting was a bold step forward for the roasters and coffee producers who collaborate through Cooperative Coffees’ role as the only Fair Trade, organic green coffee bean purchasing cooperative of its kind. Our annual meeting has evolved as our organization has grown. When Café Campesino joined together with six other roasters to start Cooperative Coffees in 1999, we purchased green coffee from 3 farmer cooperatives in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Our first annual meeting was hosted in 2001 by Peace Coffee in Minneapolis, attended by about 10 people and most of us slept on the floor of Scott’s and TJ’s apartments. As I looked around the meeting room in Matagalpa at the experience and leadership gathered for a week of open, frank discussion about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I could not help but be hopeful about the future of the Fair Trade movement. This passionate, diverse group of leaders is not waiting on direction from others.
Farmer cooperatives continue to face numerous challenges and need support from their trading partners. More than ever, small-scale farmers urgently need to see more tangible benefits from their commitment to organics and Fair Trade, and the Fair Trade movement as a whole faces increasing challenges and the pressing need to better define and articulate itself. The great news is that the Cooperative Coffees family, roasters and farmers alike, is rising to the challenge!
With this Nicaragua experience providing an appropriate backdrop, let’s dive into “The State of Fair Trade”. In order to keep the length of this article within our self-imposed limit of the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, I will break the topic down this way: This month we examine our internal system and network; next month we tackle the external trends and influences that keep us on our toes.
At Cafe Campesino, we attempt to incorporate the principles of Fair Trade into every business decision that we make. “Attempt” isn’t a typo – and it hurts a bit to use this word — but we must acknowledge that purity rarely exists and that we are always striving to improve. Our meeting in Nicaragua presented a dilemma of sorts — it simultaneously confirmed how far we have come and how well our system is working — and reminded us of how far we have to go and how much work needs to be done.
A quick description of our Fair Trade model: Cafe Campesino is a roaster/owner of Cooperative Coffees. Cooperative Coffees is a purchasing cooperative modeled after the farmer cooperative structure. Each member has one share and one vote and the cooperative should work on the farmers’ behalf to help the farmer directly access the market. Working collectively with fellow farmers (or roasters), all participants should achieve results and build relationships through their individual cooperatives that would not be possible if they were operating alone. The big question — is it working?
All the standard methods that we use to evaluate commercial enterprises easily illustrate that indeed this system is working – sales of coffee at Cafe Campesino and other roasteries in our coop are growing rapidly. Almost all of the farmer cooperatives that we work with are exporting more Fair Trade coffee each year; some can’t fill all of their orders. Even though there are now over 500 roasters in the US offering Fair Trade coffee, our phone continues to ring off the hook. Cooperative Coffees has 22 members and each week we receive inquiries from roasters who want to know more about our model. Our coop will soon import its 10 millionth pound of Fair Trade, organic coffee and we are forecasting 30% growth for the foreseeable future. So this unique “farmer-to-coop-to-coop-to-roaster” model sure seems to be a hit!
But our meeting in Nicaragua made visible challenges that we must address if we are really dedicated to forming long term, mutually beneficial, Fair Trade partnerships with farmers all over the world. The meeting was designed to encourage attending farmer cooperatives to share “best practices” with one another — and these exercises proved once again that the answers are usually already present at the local level. Some highlights of our internal examination include:
Building a network that helps farmers learn from each other. A cooperative in Peru is working on a plan to provide consulting work and build a farmer exchange program with a cooperative in Guatemala through assistance from a non-profit that attended the meeting. Many of the coop leaders in attendance stated that the annual meeting’s programming was fantastic, but that the most important benefit of the meeting and of the relationship with Cooperative Coffees is the friendship that they have formed with fellow farmer cooperative leaders who share the same challenges on a daily basis.
Helping farmers find a unified voice in a confusing Fair Trade market. All the coffee farmers I know say they need to earn more money for their work. Meanwhile, a futures market in New York continues to dominate the pricing mechanisms that determine the value of a pound of coffee. Through Cooperative Coffees, we fully support the farmers getting higher minimum prices by raising our minimums above the commonly recognized Fair Trade minimum. We also help the farmer cooperative earn a higher price by contracting to pay higher prices before the harvest begins, giving the cooperative a negotiating tool that they can use to get higher prices from other buyers. Farmers are more comfortable than ever before banding together and telling “the market” that good coffee will not exist if prices don’t go up — and the many buyers seem to be listening.
Identifying our problems as problems of success. Many of the organizations in our system are under cash flow pressure — roasters, our coop and the farmer coops. We are all growing quickly and need more capital to support this growth. The good news is that we have identified this and several innovative lending institutions are stepping in to help. We have experienced supply problems during the last year — there are more buyers looking for Fair Trade, organic coffee than ever before and this can occasionally affect our access to supply. Again, there is good news. This situation forces us to examine and deepen the relationship with producer cooperatives, often moves the price to the farmer up, and can result in a renewed and strengthened partnership. Some farmers attending the meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the percentage of the price that we pay to their cooperative that actually makes its way back to the farmer. The Fair Trade movement must wrestle with this issue — our system must provide noticeable impact at the farm level in order to be sustainable. We are investigating this issue with all of the cooperatives in our network and will push the cooperatives to be as efficient as possible, and certainly transparent, concerning the financial and social impact of our purchases.
Launching a number of initiatives during the next year that will strengthen our network and help fortify our Fair Trade model. We will launch a transparency project within the next 90 days that will allow coffee to be traced directly from our roasted coffee bags to the farmer’s cooperative, and ultimately to the farm. We are building several internal communication systems within Cooperative Coffees that will establish advisory and governance roles for producers within our organization. We are partnering with a local university to track the negative effect that a very weak US dollar has had on the net price paid to farmers and attempting to find ways to share the currency risk with the cooperatives.
As we assess the state of Cafe Campesino and Cooperative Coffee’s Fair Trade network and systems, I am reminded of an Ethiopian farmer’s response when asked how Fair Trade has improved his life. He said, “We are thankful that we now have a school in the community as a result of our Fair Trade partnerships, but my children still walk to school without shoes on their feet.”
We left the meeting in Nicaragua with a renewed spirit and enthusiasm for this work we call Fair Trade. Sure, problems were revealed, but these problems were addressed and potential solutions were discussed. Problem solving, after all, lies at the heart of our work as Fair Traders. This year’s meeting revealed a genuine commitment and dedication to making Fair Trade more effective… consensus has it that we all left Nicaragua invigorated more than ever.
Less than 2% of the world’s coffee is sold under Fair Trade terms, so we have a long, long way to go. But Fair Trade is a marathon, not a sprint… and if this year’s meeting showed anything, it is that the members of Cooperative Coffees and our trading partners have the stamina needed to stay in the race.
Tags: Abby Welch, Bill Harris, CECOCAFEN, certification, community development, community-based initiatives, company history, Cooperative Coffees, Cooperative Coffees Annual Meeting, cooperative networking, Corporino Feliz, development, Dominican Republic, education, Ethiopia, Fair Trade, Fair Trade issues, Fair Trade premium, fair wage, farmer cooperative, FEDECARES, finance, friendship, growth, guatemala, Latin America, long term commitment, Matagalpa, Mexico, Minneapolis, mutually beneficial partnership, Nicaragua, organic, Peace Coffee, Peru, Producer Voice, purchasing cooperative, Sustainability, the state of Fair Trade, transparency, Tripp Pomeroy
Cooperativa Café Timor was founded in the wake of the destruction of much of East Timor (also known as Timor-Leste) after it gained independence from Indonesia in 1999. In 2000, a group of farmers, in an attempt to successfully market their coffee internationally, united to form Café Timor. Today, the organization has grown to include 21,553 members 18 basic geographic groups, and 444 small-scale farmer groups.
The Fair Trade price has allowed Café Timor to establish various social and productive programs. Using primarily Fair Trade premiums, they have set up revolutionary healthcare programs, focusing primarily on prenatal care because of the high infant/maternal mortality rate, that include 10 full-service clinics and 25 mobile clinics that make regular calls to remote locations. Free primary healthcare is provided to all Café Timor members and their immediate families. They have also implemented a business skill development program that provides members with training in bookkeeping, management, English language, and computer skills. Purchases of de-pulping machines, fermentation vats, several trucks, power generators, and the construction of a waste-water treatment facility at the co-op’s wet processing facility have improved their processing greatly.
Café Timor produces 100% organic Arabica coffees, harvesting the cherries between May and September of each year and exporting from July to March. The coffee is grown at elevations around 1,200 meters (about 3900 feet).
Tags: arabica, business skill development program program, community-based initiatives, Cooperativa Café Timor, East Timor, Fair Trade premiums, fair wage, healthcare programs, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, wet processing
PPKGO – Sumatra
Region: Gayo Highlands, Sumatra
Coffee: Arabica and Robusta
Elevation: 3,200 – 4,500 feet
Persatuan Petani Kopi Gayo Organik (Gayo Organic Coffee Farmer’s Association), or PPKGO, is a 400-member farmer’s cooperative working in 24 communities of the Gayo Highlands of Sumatra. PPKGO now produces 1,500 tons of coffee and is Indonesia’s only Fair Trade and Organic Certified coffee cooperative.
The Gayo region is renown for the largest producer of Arabica coffee in Southeast Asia, but also as the site of the seemingly ceaseless civil war between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian military.
PPKGO farmers are predominantly members of the Gayo ethnic group, devoutly Muslim and attempting to remain non-partisan in the Aceh conflict. PPKGO includes members of Gayo, Javanese and Acehenese ethnic groups and various religions, including Christians. This diversity has strengthened the cooperative – an incredible feat in the midst of such intercultural strife in the region.
Accomplishments in great part due to increased earning from Fair Trade and Organic premiums, include the renovation of several village mosques and water supply systems and the coffee renewal program, replacing unproductive plants with some 35,000 indigenous “tipica” seedlings.
The farmers are eager to create alternatives for development in their house credit and savings program, to recuperating age-old traditions, such as the use of water buffalo for weed control and natural fertilization, PPKGO offers its membership the mechanisms to regain control over their own integrated development.
Tags: Aceh, Aceh War, arabica, Christians, community-based initiatives, Fair Trade premiums, Gayo, Gayo Highlands, Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association, Indonesia, Indonesian military, local development, Muslim, PPKGO, robusta, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, water supply systems
This month we are thrilled to offer a most special… well… special: Fair Trade, organic Tanzania Peaberry Coffee! We have a limited supply of this unusual coffee, so once it’s gone it may be a while before we get more. So be sure to order as soon as possible to get your dibs on this full-flavor, Full City roast! To receive your 10% off of the regular price, please use promotion code tanz05 when prompted at check-out or when you call in to order.
This month’s special is produced by the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU), which was founded in 1984 and became certified by FLO in 1993. Located in the northeast region of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, KNCU produces 600 containers of the Keint and Bourbon coffee varieties. Each year, the 80,000 members of KNCU elect delegates from their membership to develop and implement policies and programs for the large collective of indigenous farmers.
As a result of their Fair Trade coffee production, the members of KNCU have established a collective educational fund to help build and run schools for the farmers’ children, formed a cooperative bank to provide members with access to loans and other credit and savings programs, founded a coffee export marketing department so that they can sell more of their coffee directly, and invested in a comprehensive organic production program.
KNCU coffee is cultivated at an elevation of 850m – 1,500m, is wet-processed and dried in the sun. Their harvest season runs from July through January.
Maya Tech Learning Centers, Inc. is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 which seeks to advance educational and technological opportunities for underdeveloped Mayan communities in Guatemala through comprehensive, culturally appropriate computer access, training and development with internet and email capabilities; sponsorship and facilitation of community and youth-focused educational programming; and promotion of projects honoring Mayan heritage. In 2004, Maya Tech opened its first computer center in Nahualá, a growing Quiché Mayan town in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Born and raised in Nahualá, the organization’s founder, Camilo Macario, has developed a plan to bridge the digital divide between first and third world communities using current technology. To learn more about Maya Tech and how you can get involved, visit www.mayatechlc.org.
Producer: OCFCU – Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union
Founded: June 1, 1999
Coffee: Arabica SHB, Organic Certified by OKO-GARANTIE
Characteristics: A sweet, complex coffee with medium acidity and rich, full body
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and yet it is the fourth poorest country in the world. Coffee farmers there live a very traditional lifestyle, farming less than 5 acres and living in stick houses…electricity, running water and indoor plumbing are rare in rural areas.
The Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) is an extremely well organized umbrella organization carrying the heavy responsibility of processing support, marketing, and commercializing coffee for 74 cooperatives comprising of 68,691 members and 343,455 family members. OCFCU works exclusively in the Oromia Regional State, which accounts for 65 percent of the country’s total coffee growing land and includes coffees from Limu, Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, Nekemte, Jimma, Sidamo, Neqemte, Ghimbi, and Harrar. During the 2004 harvest of 2004, OCFCU processed 81,596 tons of coffee, of which 30,415 tons were organic.
To support its work, OCFCU (with 25 employees) maintains 48 pulperies, 15 hulleries, and 63 warehouses in growing communities. Of the 74 co-ops, 11 of them are fair trade certified by FLO – representing 8,963 farmers and 13,906 tons of coffee.
As a member of Cooperative Coffees, Café Campesino is committed to maintaining direct relationships with our coffee farmer partners overseas. Cooperative Coffees was one of OCFCU’s first buyers and the first foreign importer to meet the farmers, the impact of which is best captured by the elder Tasew Gebru of the Nagelle Gorbitu Cooperative, who said, “Before people would not come here, but treat us like animals and oppress us. We appreciate your efforts, and to help us improve our lives; we really have seen an improvement in the last two years.”
With their Fair Trade premiums the coffee farmers of OCFCU have constructed four schools, two health clinics and a clean water supply. They now have a cupping lab located at their office and are in the process of constructing two warehouses. They hope to have their own processing plant within the next three years.
Source: Cooperative Coffees
Tags: arabica, commercialaizing, community-based initiatives, Cooperative Coffees, direct relationships, Fair Trade, fair wage, Ghimbi, Harrar, Jimma, Limu, local development, marketing, Nagelle Borbitu Cooperative, Nekemte, Neqemte, OKO-GARANTIE, organic, Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, Oromia Regional State, processing support, SHB, Sidamo, Tasew Gebru, water systems, Yirgacheffe
La Asociacion Civil Maya de Productores of Santa Anita (Santa Anita) is an organic coffee and banana producer cooperative located on Guatemala’s Pacific slope between Quetzaltenango and Coatepeque at an altitude of approximately 4,000 feet. The association at Santa Anita is made up of 33 families of ex-combatants from the Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity or URNG.
With the signing of the Peace Accords, the association was able to purchase an abandoned plantation in February of 1998. Working collectively, the members have recovered the land’s production capacity. Approximately 65% of the 250-acre holding is in coffee and banana production – the remaining acres are either too steep for any type of cultivation or have been left purposely in a natural state to conserve the existing ecology.
The cooperative’s values reflect the URNG’s 36 year-long struggle to create a society based upon mutual respect and democracy. Now they are leading by example. Santa Anita has a “no-kill” environmental policy, which mandates that no indigenous animals within its confines can be killed. Additionally, their board of directors has to be composed of at least 50% women at all times. Free education and healthcare are provided to all of the community’s residents.
Projects in development at Santa Anita include an organic communal garden and a new ecotourism hosting program, which enables visitors to learn how coffee can be grown in harmony with the natural environment. The garden will supply members of the association with healthy additions to their traditional bean and corn diet as well as supply the ecotourism project’s new visitors restaurant.
In September, Café Campesino will return to Santa Anita for portions of Cooperative Coffees’ Annual Meeting – which will assemble representatives from the coop’s 17 North American coffee roasters along with representatives from all of our Latin American producers’ cooperatives together at this model farm!
Santa Anita is rated HB, which means hard bean coffee grown at an altitude of 1300 to 1500 meters. They are USDA Certified Organic by Mayacert and are registered with the FLO Fair Trade Registry.
Tags: Coatepeque, community-based initiatives, diplomacy, ecotourism, ex-combatants, Fair Trade, guatemala, Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity, HB, La Asociacion Civil Maya de Productores of Santa Anita, MayaCert, mutual respect, organic, Peace Accords, Quetzaltenango, URNG
Date Established: 1997
Number of Members: 1,900
Annual Production: 91 containers (100% organic)
Varieties of Arabica: Typica, Catimor, Caturra,
About Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association
Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association (or PPKGO) is an organic, Fair Trade cooperative located in the Gayo highlands of the Aceh province of Sumatra, Indonesia—an area largely committed to coffee production. The cooperative was founded in 1997, and became Fair Trade certified in March of 2000. The co-op’s 1,900 farmers encompass 24 communities, and 20 percent of PPKGO members are women. In a region known for political conflict, the cooperative has achieved relative peace and unity, even among the different ethnic groups that comprise its membership: Gayo (50%), Javanese (30%), Acehnese (15%), Padang (3%) and Batak (2%).
Ensuring Quality and Environmental Sustainability Quality Control and Organic Production
Gayo farmers believe in producing a high-quality product from the ground up, taking the ecosystem into account, and using a labor-intensive organic system—effectively pruning, controlling erosion, recycling organic matter, enhancing biodiversity, and protecting songbird habitat. All of PPKGO’s coffee is shade grown and certified organic.
With Fair Trade revenues generated by PPKGO since 2000, the cooperative has invested in a cupping lab at its export processing plant in Medan. Another cupping lab at the cooperative’s office in Aceh will be completed in early 2004.
Equipment and Transportation
In 2002-2003, PPKGO invested in five local wet mills in several villages. The cooperative is also planning to build an additional 11 wet mills in nearby villages. Over the last three years cooperative members from five communities have purchased over 25 vehicles for coffee transport.
ForesTrade & PPKGO
Fair Trade purchases from PPKGO: 2,323,695 lbs
Payment to PPKGO at $1.41/lb: $3,276,410
* Farmer income from purchases: $2,277,221
* Production & social investments from purchases: $697,109
* Milling & operating costs related to purchases: $302,080
“When you drink our coffee, don’t just think about the higher incomes small farmers are earning, but about the species we’re protecting in the midst of this conflict. The value added from Fair Trade is not just about money, it’s about protecting the ecosystem and our community.”
—Iswandi Idris, PPKGO member
Technical Assistance and Sustainability
With Fair Trade revenues, PPKGO provides its members with technical support in the non-chemical control of pests, diseases, and weeds, as well as training in the uses of organic fertilization methods and improved shade tree management. Within this last area, coffee plants are intercropped with leguminous shade trees, fruit trees, and horticultural crops. During the last harvest, agronomists and members set up a community nursery for coffee and shade tree seedlings.
Social Benefits and Community Development
With Fair Trade revenues, the cooperative helped to fund a potable water system that now benefits more than 1,500 people in five communities. This project, and others funded by the cooperative, have created over 100 new jobs across Gayo’s headquarters, villages, and processing plants. Since PPKGO’s first sales to the Fair Trade market, many cooperative members have made upgrades to their homes and farms, and many others have saved enough to build their own homes.
PPKGO is working with a number of local farmer organizations, NGOs, and entrepreneurs to develop alternative sources of income, including vanilla, patchouli oil, vegetables, rice, tobacco, oranges, potatoes, avocados, and bananas.
“Thanks to Fair Trade, we can invest in infrastructure to improve our well-being. One of my children now attends medical school and the other is studying midwifery.” —Mohammed Salim, PPKGO member
With the support of Fair Trade revenues, PPKGO has provided supplemental financing for the construction of two local schools, three schools of Koranic studies for children and young people, and one football field for children.
With higher incomes, many of PPKGO’s members have been able to participate in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. To date, nearly 150 Gayo farmers have fulfilled this lifelong goal of Muslims.
Written data provided by Lucia Lie Sembiring, Director of ForesTrade Indonesia, October 2003; Stephanie Madoff, Director of Marketing, ForesTrade, November 2003; and by Thomas Fricke, Owner, ForesTrade, November 2003.
Tags: Aceh, arabica, bergendal, catimor, caturra, community-based initiatives, education, Fair Trade, Gayo, Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association, Hajj pilgrimage, income diversification, Indonesia, local development, Lucia Lie Sembiring, Mecca, Medan, organic, potable water system, PPKGO, shade-grown, sidikalang, Stephanie Madoff, Sumatra, Sustainability, Thomas Fricke, typica
Coffee Kids is an international non-profit organization established to improve the quality of life for children and families who live in coffee-growing communities around the world.
Coffee Kids has helped thousands of children, women, and men in coffee-producing regions in Mexico and Central America to improve the quality of their lives and build more sustainable communities. Their staff works with local non-governmental community organizations in Latin America to create education, health-care, training, and microenterprise programs for coffee farmers and their families. Their projects respect the cultural integrity of local partners, foster independence, and promote long-term self-sufficiency.
Coffee Kids has established the Sumatra Relief Fund to benefit coffee-farming families in Sumatra affected by the earthquake and tsunami disaster in the area of Aceh. Coffee Kids will not take any administration fee. 100% of your contribution will be sent to the PPKGO cooperative. You can make a donation online at http://www.coffeekids.org/donate/
To learn more about Coffee Kids, visit their website at www.coffeekids.org, call them toll-free at 1-800-334-9099 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write to Coffee Kids at at 1305 Luisa St., Suite C, Santa Fe, NM 87505.
The coffee industry may finally be catching on! This month’s coffee industry journal – Tea and Coffee – features an article entitled, “Peeling back the Layers of Global Sustainability.” The cover of the Specialty Coffee Associations bi-monthly Chronicle leads with the article “Roads to Sustainability.” Our prolific Fair Grounds writers Nate Wayman and Nubia Perez examine this concept of sustainable, grassroots development and the fair trade model.
What exactly is sustainable development? For the past decade or so, it’s been a buzzword phrase for environmentalists, developers, economists, government officials and social workers. However, wrapping our minds around the concept and more importantly, determining how it can be put into practice can be rather complicated.
The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Another perhaps more accessible way to think of it is that sustainable development is about “ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come.” In essence, sustainable development is one generation’s gift to the next.
The concept of sustainable development is central to Café Campesino’s mission as a company. The fair trade model of coffee production and distribution we embrace is directly concerned with sustainability on both the environmental and human levels. By working directly with the farmer cooperatives, we’re able to ensure that coffee is grown in an ecologically renewable and sound fashion, without the use of pesticides or other chemicals. Also, by receiving a substantially higher-than-market rate for their coffee, the farmers are better able to meet the needs of their families, whether through increased educational opportunities or healthier homes and villages. Now let’s take a look at the specific role of communities in effective sustainability.
In practice, the central notion of sustainable development at the community level is that the people of a community play a major role: in the planning, execution, and later evaluation of the project. Community members are consulted in each aspect of the process, rather than have outside development professionals arrive in a community to assess and determine what THEY think is most necessary. After the project has been implemented, the community is again engaged in a participatory evaluation to assess the progress. The role of the non-profit, government agency or other development agent is to be the catalyst, providing the resources, ideas, encouragement and excitement.
The projects themselves can be referred to as community-based initiatives, indicating that the ideas and procedures are decided as a community. This model encourages and promotes collaborative efforts, which later yield a sense of ownership by the people in the community. Promoters of sustainability believe in the notion that when people have a sense of ownership, they are more willing to work on projects to their fruition.
How are community-based initiatives achieved? One way is through the appreciative inquiry methodology, in which the local people are consulted, involving them in the process from the very beginning. As obvious as it sounds, many organizations continue to forget that those who actually live in a community are those who best know its strengths and needs. There are two basic ways in which an outsider may assess a community. The more progressive organizations are steering away from the outdated need-based method to a more respectful and effective asset-based model. The traditional need-based practice operated under the assumption that the development organization was the repository of all knowledge, and was there to “fix the problem.” Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the difference in approaches is with the following example:
Consider this example. As an international development aid worker, you walk into a rural community. Your first thoughts may be: “This area lacks many resources, unemployment is high, and there is a poor sanitation system and inadequate medical facility.” This assessment is consistent with a narrow NEED-based view of development, which focuses on the limitations of the community. Conversely, an ASSET-based approach would focus on what a community already has established, and build potential solutions from that foundation. Walking back into the community under this new framework, you may note: “This town has a very dynamic school teacher. Perhaps we can work WITH HER to form a youth group that will give skits on the importance of dental hygiene. Also, there is a university in the main city 30 km away, with whom we could form a partnership that allows medical students to practice their skills by teaching young mothers the significance of breast feeding.” This lens through which to view development will not magically create panacea solutions, but will greatly enhance the value of any project, in no small part by encouraging the community to continue the project as they have now become its leaders.
First-hand experience has demonstrated to us that people in economically disadvantaged communities are quite capable of helping themselves, when provided with the resources to do so, or sometimes even just confidence and encouragement. They are constantly being reminded by their governments, by powerful nations, by the elite, that they are poor, that they are and always will be on the bottom. What has been shown over and over again is that they don’t all want hand-outs. They do not want to become dependent on outside assistance, and they definitely do not want outsiders telling them what is best for them. In the context of sustainable development, you are not helping them; you are instead working with them in their own initiatives.
This is the beauty of the relationship between Café Campesino, our importing organization Cooperative Coffees, and the farmer cooperatives that we partner with across the globe. By connecting the farmers directly to Northern markets, links are built that help connect them with the resources they need to manage their own projects. Returning a larger share of economic power to those currently without it is the reality of the fair trade model and one of the foundations for future development that is both sustainable and just.
Sustainable development is organic, it is grassroots, and it works. One key is that the community must be involved in every step of the process. Every human being deserves to be treated with respect, dignity and equality. Sustainable development serves as our guide for bringing these values into reality.
Nubia Perez is currently living in Houston, TX working part-time for AMIGOS de las Americas, a non-profit that promotes youth leadership and the implementation sustainable community projects in Latin America. She hopes to attend graduate school next fall. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Nate Wayman is a caffeine addict who’s currently studying non-profit management in southern Vermont, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: appreciative inquiry method, asset-based method, Chronicle, community, community-based initiatives, Cooperative Coffees, dignity, direct market, equality, Fair Trade, fair wage, farmer cooperatives, need-based method, organic, respect, Sustainability, sustainable development, Tea and Coffee, United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development
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