COOPERATION IN PRODUCTIVITY
The Cooperation in Productivity event was the first time Equal Exchange has organized a peer-led, on-farm learning experience between farmer organizations. It was incredibly exciting, not just because it was the first event of its kind for us, but because of all the farmer-driven content.
All too often, nonprofits and development agencies come into communities with “solutions” or “answers” to community or farm problems. However, these solutions or techniques are not developed by the farmers themselves – and while these groups have good intentions, farmers get the message that solutions come from the outside. How many development groups or agencies are stopping to tell farmers that they already know the answers and that the key is to access their own brain power?
The fundamentally unique part of the COMSA philosophy is that the members and staff do exactly that: they empower members and the community by encouraging them to access their own abilities and cultivate innovation to solve problems. As COMSA member and coffee farmer Oscar Omar Alonso said, “The politicians and presidents are not going to solve your problems. They are going to solve their own problems. We have to solve our own problems.”
This message resonates with me and it summarizes the atmosphere in which a lot of our producer partners operate. Presently, farmers are facing tremendous challenges, from our changing climate to coffee leaf rust. Rather than hearing from aid agencies, development groups, and politicians about all the problems they have, the farmers at COMSA are choosing to listen to each other instead. This farmer-to-farmer dialogue is helping reframe their outlook and shift from a problem-oriented mindset to a solution-oriented mindset. As I shared in Part 1 of this series, farmers learn best first and foremost from themselves and second best from their neighbor farmers. Now this is where Equal Exchange, and similar companies, fit into the puzzle. We are able to be the link between farmer groups and can create a space where this learning and sharing can happen.
By being on the ground with producer groups year in and year out, we have the privilege and ability to facilitate events like Cooperation in Productivity – where producers from El Salvador can go to learn directly from farmers in their neighboring country of Honduras. A large part of my job is the mechanics of purchasing coffee: writing contracts, dealing with pre-financing, and giving feedback on the quality of beans. However, the most meaningful part of my job is when I get to work side-by-side with farmers and observe the daily brilliance that they practice on their farms and share with each other.