Equal Exchange bought our first container of coffee from The Alto Occidente Coffee Cooperative of Caldas (CCAOC) in 1995. With every container of coffee we buy at above market prices, we are helping the farmers to stay on their land, provide for their families, invest in their cooperative, improve their communities, and gain economic power in the marketplace.
As part of the Fair Trade system, buyers pay cooperatives an above-market price for their coffee. Included in this price is a five cent/pound premium which the cooperative allocates for social programs. Members vote on the programs to implement each year in their General Assembly. In the case of CCAOC, a separate organization called the Small-Scale Coffee Farmers Association (ASPROCAFE) Ingrumá was created to manage these programs. A dedicated staff, comprised of social workers, agronomists, organizers, gender specialists and youth workers carry out an impressive range of income-generating and social programs for women and youth, educational programs, such as scholarships and school lunches, and environmental preservation and organic farming projects.
The majority of ASPROCAFE's 3300 members are Embara Chambi indigenous people who live on four reserves on the outskirts of Riosucio. Women and youth have a high level of participation in the cooperative and women hold strong positions of leadership in the office.
While discussions about Fair Trade often focus on the higher price paid to farmers, initiatives aimed at raising crop productivity can be equally if not more important. Consequently in 1998, ASPROCAFE created an Organic Coffee Program to increase yields, diversify incomes, improve family nutrition, and protect both the health of farmers and the environment.
The program aims to replace old coffee trees with newer, higher-yielding varieties, increase tree density, and encourage the planting of fruit trees. Technical assistance and trainings are provided to teach the farmers environmentally sustainable practices which protect their water sources and enrich the soils. Another component focuses on "food security": women are taught organic gardening and how to make natural pesticides and organic fertilizers. A revolving loan fund enables the women to buy farm animals which are used to diversify their diets and their income sources; the manure is used to make organic fertilizer. It is also combined with the discarded coffee pulp to produce cooking gas.
According to Zorayda Castillo, Lutheran World Relief's Colombia Program Director, many farmers in Colombia lack interest in organic farming because it is difficult and costly. Yet, when she visited ASPROCAFE and spoke with the farmers, she was deeply impressed with their convictions about the need to protect the water and land. When she asked what food security meant, one farmer responded, "Food for the earth, food for the animals, and food for humans. All three are very important and they are all connected."
Everyone says how hard it is to grow organic, but look, we're doing all this ourselves - before, we didn't know anything. But with help from the coop, and our partnership with you, our buyers, we feel excited about the future, so many things are possible."
- Doña Lucia
If you are interested in supporting the efforts of these Colombians, you can do so by buying Equal Exchange Organic Colombian coffee and by learning more about the situation in Colombia and U.S. foreign policy. For more information, go to these web sites: