A Transformative Model in Action

Small Farmers, Big Change
January 28, 2015

This is the second post in a three-part series. If you missed the first part, you can read it here.
On Friday, we introduced you to Equal Exchange’s vision for transforming the way Mexican produce is grown and exported to the United States. Today, we’re going to dive deeper into our ideas for a more just and sustainable food system by talking about our experience importing avocados from Mexico.
In September of 2013, we imported our first container of fair trade organic avocados from PRAGOR, a producer coop in Michoacan, Mexico. We had visited them that summer and saw the challenges they were facing as small-scale producers, despite the increase in demand for avocados from Mexico. The stories they shared demonstrated the need for a trade model that is drastically different from the way conventional Mexican avocados are grown and exported.
Building that trade model has been challenging. That is because when we transform something, we start from scratch, moving beyond what has worked in the past. We take a lot of risks in reconstructing the system, and it takes time to get it right.
But it’s also exciting to be building this model from scratch. Because every time we import a fair trade avocado from PRAGOR, we are living out our vision for what we think our food system should look like. At Equal Exchange, we believe that a truly transformative trade model includes:

1. Farmers owning their own land.
PRAGOR is a cooperative of 20 producer members who each own an average of 10 acres of land, all 100% organic. Many of the members transitioned to organic 10 or more years ago, a revolutionary move at the time. At Equal Exchange, we have seen that when farmers own their own land, they are more likely to take measures to ensure the environmental sustainability of the land. Owning land is inherently more empowering than working as a laborer on a plantation, and provides producers with greater economic security and opportunity.

2. Small-scale farmers having access to the global marketplace. 
Giant avocado agribusinesses have a heavy presence in the region where PRAGOR members farm. PRAGOR talks about how, for many avocado farmers, their only option is to sell their avocados to big companies. These companies pay low, and the price fluctuates greatly throughout the season. Producers do not have enough information or power to negotiate an appropriate price, and the multinationals take full advantage of this. By organizing into a cooperative, PRAGOR has built power for these 20 producers. They now have the infrastructure to export their avocados on their own, instead of being at the mercy of middlemen or corporate buyers. As a result, more money goes back to each farmer.

3. Having the real cost of food reflected in consumer prices. 
To keep farmers farming, we must recognize the need to pay higher prices for our food. In the United States, consumers expect cheap produce year-round. But poverty level wages in Mexico are the cost of this relentless emphasis on bargains. It is critical that we start factoring the true costs of social and environmental sustainability into the price of our food. Fair trade minimums are one way to guarantee that farmers receive an adequate price for their product.

4. Connecting consumers with producers around transparent supply chains. 
The LA Times piece illustrated the lack of transparency in global supply chains. There were numerous quotes from large corporations that demonstrated a mentality of passing the buck on being accountable for their supply chains. At Equal Exchange, our mission has always been to connect farmers and consumers through our supply chain. And while our supply chains are often small and imperfect, we are committed to their integrity. We have open and transparent conversations about our supply chains, and we often bring multiple stakeholders from our supply chains together to talk about our work.