Fairtrade coffee cooperatives

Making a Difference: Fairtrade Cooperatives

Closing the loop from grower to roaster
Posted on September 16th 2015 by Maddie

In addition to writing the blog for Kicking Horse® Coffee, I also am part of our Procurement Department. Kicking Horse Coffee secures our Organic green beans from Fairtrade cooperatives in Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia.

Last month, our Procurement team traveled to Peru. This was my first trip to origin. A whirlwind journey, we met with five of our cooperatives in nine days. A good portion of time was spent journeying to the cooperative’s various communities. The roads are reminiscent of those here in BC’s backcountry. Driving for five hours at a time to reach our destination amplified how crazy complex the coffee supply chain is: the green beans have covered some serious ground before they even leave Peru.  

It was an incredible experience to connect with those responsible for the quality beans we source - closing the loop from grower to roaster. We couldn’t produce our kick ass brews without them. And, there’s a clear moral imperative to support our growers with the tools they need to have sustainable livelihoods.

Visiting the cooperatives highlighted the importance of fair trade. We saw firsthand the challenges of growing coffee and the human costs associated. Cooperatives offer small farmers support and help mediate the high costs of production.

What exactly is a cooperative?

Cooperatives are made up of farmers (producers). These producers are organized into smaller community associations within the cooperative. Each association elects individuals to represent them at the General Assembly and with the Board of Directors.

Cooperatives are democratically structured to give producers a basic level of security. Those elected are responsible for decision-making, and determining how the Fairtrade premium should be used to best meet needs of the community.

Cooperative Highlight: CENFROCAFE

CENFROCAFE is one of the cooperatives we visited. It is the biggest cooperative in the Amazonas region of Northern Peru. It has been Fairtrade certified since 2007. Presently it has 2550 members, organized into 103 smaller community groups.

Most producers farm on one to three hectares of land. Many of these are between 1600 and 1800 meters. Generally, the higher the elevation, the higher quality coffee (Read more here). The cooperatives we visited were based out of Jaén, Peru. Their producers’ farms are situated within a 10,000 square kilometer radius of the city.

How do you become a cooperative member?

Conditions of membership include contributing an initial fee (about $600 CDN), having a minimum yield, showing genuine care for the environment, having an elevation of at least 1200 meters above sea level and maintaining peaceful relations with the neighbours and the community.

Cooperatives unite Producers

Cooperatives offer access to the market as well as an incredible amount of support for producers.

The producers were eager to show us their farms in every community we traveled. We would have long discussions with cooperative members and then be exuberantly ushered from farm to farm aiming to visit as many as we could before nightfall.

These farmers are proud of what they do and passionate. The cooperatives are so important in igniting this enthusiasm. They constantly are communicating the importance of quality, offering trainings, agronomist’s visits, and tools to assist producers.

Motivation is largely due to the distinction between quality and price. It is a win-win. Producers are full of entrepreneurial spirit and understand the dollar connection, which provides incentive to improve their quality and efficiency. 

A cooperative offers a forum for producers to discuss farming challenges and the ability to learn from each other’s experiences. A community of peers or as one producer put it, a big family.

Folklore & Coffee

One of the producers we met, Anita, told us that Peruvian folklore had them believing coffee was bad for you, which obviously puzzled them as they kept exporting it. When Anita and her husband joined the cooperative, they were urged to drink their coffee - to know what they are producing. This was a game changer for them.

The Importance of Traveling to Origin

These trips are an invaluable opportunity to meet producer’s face-to-face. Establishing relationships across the supply chain is crucial in the success of the industry. Working together with our cooperatives and their producers, we can help to maximize their potential. Ultimately, delivering to you, the consumer, the best cup possible.