Formed in 1994, Campesinos Ecológicos de la Sierra Madre de Chiapas (CESMACH) is a coffee co-operative in the southern highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. The 225 small-scale farmers in CESMACH are located in the buffer zone of El Triunfo, a very important U.N.-designated biosphere, containing many endangered and protected species. Within the nucleus of the biosphere, agricultural activities are not permitted. Organic farming is allowed in the buffer zone, which separates the biosphere from the surrounding region, as long as it is done in accordance with a strict set of standards designed to protect the fragile environment of the rain and cloud forest. For thousands of farmers living in this area, coffee is the principal agricultural activity and their only source of income. Because organic farming gives higher prices, and because the farmers wanted to protect the biosphere, the farmers organized to create CESMACH.

In 2005, Equal Exchange visited CESMACH and subsequently offered to buy 10 containers of coffee - 60% of their total production - and from that day forward our relationship with CESMACH has been steadily growing.

CESMACH is involved in many environmental protection and social development projects in the area. As part of their Sustainable Coffee Project, they are planting new coffee trees, as well as citrus and other fruit-bearing trees. They have a Women's Project to teach leadership development and co-operative management to the women members and wives of members. The women are also working with organic gardens and domestic animals to diversify incomes and their families' nutrition.

Each year, CESMACH is exporting more coffee into the Fair Trade, organic market, and more farmers are asking to join the organization. Along with three other co-operatives, they used their Fair Trade premiums to buy land and in 2008, they finished construction of a new dry processing plant. Milling their own coffee will enable CESMACH to further control for quality and reduce costs.

"It's been a very long road to get here, and when we started it was just a dream," said Victorico Velasquez Morales, a founding member and former CESMACH president. To read more about CESMACH's journey as a co-op, please visit www.smallfarmersbigchange.coop.