ALC’s Coffee farmer Cooperative Partners share experiences of diversification project at Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Expo and UVM
Leticia Velasco and Rigoberto Hernández Jonapá, collaborators from the CESMACH coffee cooperative (based in Chiapas, MX), visited the Northeast in mid-April. ALC members Martha Caswell, Janica Anderzén and Ernesto Méndez met up with Lety and Rigo in Boston, where the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) held its annual Expo, from April 11-14. The team presented findings from Smallholder Coffee Diversification Project at a panel and participated in an academic poster session.
The Expo brings together a diversity of actors in the specialty coffee sector to share the latest trends in the coffee industry. However, we and our colleagues noticed that key contributors to the coffee value chain were largely missing – the smallholder producers. While vendors were showcasing expensive machinery and baristas were competing to make the best latte, the producers were visible mainly in pictures on banners and in brochures. Lety noted that although it was interesting to see the Expo, she was a little disappointed with what she saw. “Buyers are not looking for friends, they are only interested in our product”, she commented after the Expo.
Despite these feelings of disillusionment, we were heartened by the words of Todd Caspersen, Director of Purchasing and Production at Equal Exchange, who joined us as a panelist. Todd shared that he sees this kind of research project, with multiple partners, as an interesting way for Equal Exchange to engage outside of the “transactional relationship” with farmer groups. He sees this as very important and discussed the importance of “building our muscles” as we look for solutions to challenges, such as climate change, which threaten the future viability of coffee production. The team also enjoyed moments of solidarity with other smallholder producers, as we learned about the current campaign being carried out by members of the Símbolo de Pequeños Productores (SPP – the small producer symbol). The focus of this campaign is setting a price for coffee that covers costs of production and provides some profit to producers. The difference between the SPP and other labels (i.e. organic or Fair Trade) is that the prices and the standards are set by representatives of smallholder cooperatives themselves, rather than by people and organizations based in consuming countries in the global north.
After the Expo, the team headed to Burlington. ALC hosted a panel at UVM with participation from Ernesto (ALC), Rigo and Lety (CESMACH), Marcela Pino (Food 4 Farmers) and Nate Van Dusen (Brio Coffeeworks), where panelists discussed their perspectives on livelihood diversification for smallholder coffee farmers. The guests also shared their experiences at an ALC lab session, and in an event hosted by the Brio Coffeeworks at their facilities. In addition, Janica (ALC PhD candidate) shared her research in the diversification project at the UVM student research conference.
All of these events presented great opportunities to learn about the producers’ experiences and perspectives, and to discuss how researchers and NGOs can support farmers’ organizations in implementing diversification strategies that can help farmers face challenges such as low prices, climate change, and food insecurity.
– Janica Anderzen, ALC PhD Candidate at University of Vermont