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Fair Trade has Real Impact for Small Coffee Farmers

  • Fair Trade: Providing A Way Out Of Poverty
    By Michelle Gabrielle Centamore
    Suffolk Life, 6/04/08
    Straight to the Source

Equal Exchange is a worker-owned cooperative established in Bridgewater, Massachusetts in 1986 dedicated to fair trade with small-scale coffee farmers in the developing world. The organization offers organic and gourmet coffee, tea, sugar, cocoa and chocolate bars produced by democratically run farmer co-ops in Latin America, Africa and Asia. By accompanying Equal Exchange on their trip, Quinn said he hoped that through his experience, he could gain enough knowledge and insight so that he could educate others about the significance of fair trade. "This program is important to everyone because it is giving others a hand up, not a hand out," said Quinn. "It allows for people everywhere, including the US, to work their way out of poverty. It teaches the younger generations that we need to care about everyone. It is important because it protects the environment so we can have a sustainable part of this earth to grow food." Furthermore, said Quinn, "it's important, because it stops forced and child labor and allows for people to earn a decent wage." Companies have a tremendous impact on the countries - and the people - they purchase their products from, noted Quinn. "I learned that Equal Exchange establishes a partnership with the farmers and is committed to not only bringing their products to the marketplace at a fair price but also to invest in their future and community," he said, adding that he never realized how much effort was involved in producing a chocolate bar. "The growing and harvesting of the beans alone is a tremendous amount of work, never mind fermenting, drying, packaging, and shipping them to be processed." The Equal Exchange program is indeed an educational experience, said Virginia Berman, organizing director for Equal Exchange, and has a major positive impact on all participants of the fair trade operation. "The food we buy and eat is more and more controlled by an industrial food system that gives little care for the earth it is grown in, the farmers who grow it and the people who eat it - and it has become motivated by profit," Berman said. "We put the farmers back as central to our food and the land it is grown on and, ultimately, you taste the difference. It is not taking away from the earth and it is not forcing farmers who grow it off the land." Berman added that in addition to the positive impact Equal Exchange has on developing countries, the organization is also "making a difference" in the United States, as it is currently purchasing cranberries from farmers in Wisconsin and pecans from the Federations of Southern Cooperatives in Georgia. According to Berman, Equal Exchange buys directly from the farmer, giving them a higher price than what they would get if they used a middle man. Having these extra profits in their pockets, said Berman, enables these farmers to invest in their families and their communities. Throughout his trip to the Dominican Republic, Quinn said, "The [cacao] farmers we saw were hard-working and some of the friendliest people I have met. They not only care about their own farm, but about their neighbor's farm, their community and their families. They all depend on each other; otherwise they would not make it." Traveling with 10 other people and a volunteer from the Peace Corps who served as an interpreter, Quinn and his group spent three nights at a hotel in Santo Domingo and three nights with the families of the farmers from Equal Exchange's Conacado cooperative. Quinn, who noted that he had never been to the Dominican Republic nor any other Caribbean country, said he was fascinated by the unique culture and customs of the people there. "Everyone greets each other whether you know them or not," said Quinn. "The families we stayed with were warm and friendly. Even the farmers we visited unannounced welcomed us and invited us into their homes." Quinn said that his group, which included several fellow teachers, visited government agencies, as well as several local schools. "The students and teachers alike were happy to see us and interact with us. At one school we visited, the students did not want us to leave," he said. "They really have very little in material possessions, but their relationships - family and friends - are what really matters," Quinn added. "I would say the people there live with much less but they really cherish what they do have and are willing to share. It is like we here in the US get confused with what we need, as compared to what we want." According to Quinn, the trip was not only beneficial to him but to the people he visited, as well. "It lifted the spirits of the people working the farms. For us to take some time to visit and get to know them and to tell them their product is important was invaluable to them," he stated. "It is not just another country where people farm; it is individuals and their families that need our support to keep their families together." For more information about Equal Exchange, visit www.equalexchange.com.

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