Four years ago, the Equal Exchange banana team launched an avocado program knowing little about the avocado market and the realities of the industry in the U.S. We started our work in avocados because we met a small farmer co-op fighting for market access in an industry where farmer voices were absent. Equal Exchange has always had a non-traditional approach in the way that we craft our producer relationships and introduce new products. Not the typical, “there is a need in the market, let’s fill it;” instead we build through relationships.
Last week, we had the privilege of reuniting with representatives of PRAGOR, a progressive group of small-scale avocado farmers in Michoacán, Mexico, at the Equal Exchange headquarters. We were reminded that PRAGOR cooperative is a shining example of the type of organization Equal Exchange aims to work with. PRAGOR is a group of 20 small-scale farmers who, against all odds, are directly exporting avocados to the U.S. and Canada on a weekly basis.
During the visit, the banana-avocado team spent a lively two days diving into an evaluation of the last three avocado seasons and looking to the future - envisioning where we are heading. The avocado industry is still in its infancy and after three years the industry remains a challenge for small farmers and small importers to navigate. Multinationals hold the power through market control of information and pricing. Small farmers continue to fight for a voice, as we saw in the recent strike. This season alone, we have seen record high prices, followed by a strike and a two-week gap in supply, followed by a market glut and a decline in prices. Customers are typically protected from this reality, but extremes like these tend to filter through.
Despite these challenges, as we sat with PRAGOR looking to the future, we were hopeful and grateful. Our collective sales doubled last season. We had no major disruptions in availability despite this growth. And most importantly, we are impacting more small farmers and contributing to changing the story behind avocados.
Gustavo Vallejo, the secretary of PRAGOR’s Board and a farmer member, said, “Where we are now took 60 years of hard work to get to.” Gustavo’s father began farming avocados 60 years ago. There was no organic certification in existence, and there was no avocado market in the U.S. His father had a passion to grow food sustainably and take care of the land for his children.
There has been so much work to get to a place where small farmer organizations like PRAGOR can trade directly with alternative trade organizations like Equal Exchange. While there is still much work to be done, PRAGOR’s visit reminded me of my deep gratitude for our partners. They are partners who are strong, bold and courageous in their countries. They are partners who fight for the same future as Equal Exchange, a future where small farmers have equal access to markets, a future where supply chains are built on transparent relationships not profits. Only together can we build this future.