Two weeks ago, workers from Equal Exchange and La Siembra (a sister worker co-op committed to small farmers, based in Canada) had the opportunity to visit our mutual sugar partner, Manduvira co-operative in Paraguay, and share a day and a half at the homes and fields of several of its 986 farmer members.
If you've been following this blog over the last year, you've seen various critiques of the Fair Trade movement - both its history and the current state of the so-called movement that requires consumers to simply look for a certification seal. To help articulate an authentic version of Fair Trade that is shared by many Equal Exchange colleagues, allies, and partners, we created a comic book that presents the history of Fair Trade with illustrated condensed stories, and heroes and villains. Our hope is that readers will dig deeper, ask questions, and think about the future of small farmers, co-ops, and alternative trade organizations.
Fair trade has gone further in the U.K. than perhaps any other country. And now fair trade—as viewed from the perspective of labeled product—is falling off the cliff. Sainsbury, one of the largest supermarkets in the U.K., is slowly abandoning the seal in favor of in-house certification. Tesco, another major supermarket, is abandoning the seal but on a faster timeline. Likewise, Mondelez, one of the largest chocolate companies, is replacing the already weakened, corporate-dominated seal with its own fully controlled, in-house seal.
In August, I traveled to Michoacán to visit PRAGOR, the avocado co-operative that we partner with in Mexico. I visited both the avocado growers and the management of the co-op that buys the avocados from individual growers and gets them from the farms to the pack house into Equal Exchange branded boxes, and then sends them on the road to us here in the U.S. every week.
One of the most important tea sourcing regions for Equal Exchange is Darjeeling, India, a municipality of the West Bengal state located in the foothills of the Himalayas, just under Nepal. Since early June there have been widespread protests and strikes, and the entire area - including the entire tea industry - has been shut down for over 60 days. The reason for the unrest is the fight for Gorkhaland.
Do you remember hearing about coffee leaf rust, or la roya, over the last few years? Coffee leaf rust is a fungus that has greatly impacted coffee production across the producer world in Central and South America during the last few harvest cycles. While it is not a new fungus, this most recent flare up has wreaked havoc on the household level across not only the Equal Exchange supply chain but throughout Latin America. Besides being a top-level crisis in and of itself, it also has helped to more fully reveal long-term challenges and problems in coffee supply chains.
Twelve years ago this week, Equal Exchange began roasting after building the largest worker-owned coffee roasting operation in the U.S. - and maybe the world. We import green (unroasted) coffee from small farmer co-ops and roast it, making it a direct, cooperative supply chain from farmers to Equal Exchange to you. The beans are roasted on two machines: the G120, which was installed in 2005, and the R1000, which came two years later. In July, we roasted an average of about 22,000 pounds of green coffee per day!
Is there a Fair Trade movement? How significant does a citizen’s social activity have to be to qualify as a participant in a movement? At its peak, Fair Trade social activity may have made it to the movement level in the U.S. and in some other Northern countries. We are past that period now, but can still learn from its history.
Have you ever thought about how food companies are financed? We think about it a lot at Equal Exchange, and we’ve created a capital structure that reflects our cooperative values, and even allows participation from our regular customers and supporters.
Equal Exchange is unusual in lots of ways. You might know that we always pay above-market prices to farmers, buy directly from small-farmer co-operatives around the world, facilitate pre-harvest financing, and provide a ton of other benefits to farmers in the form of direct aid as well as training.
Here on the Equal Exchange blog, we often discuss the woes surrounding the consolidation of natural foods, from the farm level to the store level. Equally as important though, are the discussions around family farmers who are creating success, even along the inherently difficult path that is organic farming. Earlier this month, myself and several others at Equal Exchange had the opportunity to visit with our almond partners, Burroughs Family Farms. At their farm outside Denair, Calif., we shared a meal, toured the grounds, and learned about their methods of organic, regenerative agriculture.