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Equal Exchange Launches New Campaign to Create A Green and More Just Food System

"The best way to protect jobs and livelihoods, ensure people's food security and health, and protect the environment is to keep food production in the hands of small-scale farmers." - Via Campesina, an international farmers' organization

September 29, 2008 − Equal Exchange's new campaign, Small farmers. Big Change: A green and more just food system starts with small farmers represents a path to bringing justice to the food system and health to the planet. This co-operative business long recognized for being a pioneer in Fair Trade is now creating additional ways consumers and producers can join together to reduce our environmental footprints, conserve natural resources, and demand agriculture and trade policies that actually benefit small-scale farmers and consumers, instead of large corporations. The positive impact of these actions would indeed represent a powerful change.

Why should consumers care about small farmers? While 25 - 30% of the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming are estimated to come from the industrial agriculture sector, the sustainable farming practices of small-scale producers actually help cool the planet, protect the environment, and restore local eco-systems. Organic farming, reforestation, soil and watershed protection, and the use of stoves that convert organic waste into methane gas are just some of the ways in which small-scale farmers are keeping our food, our bodies, and our eco-systems healthy. By supporting small-scale farmers, we can bring justice to the food system and help reduce the effects of our changing climate. It's a win-win solution that benefits us all.

However, small-scale farmers face tremendous challenges. Many of our agriculture and trade policies are designed to favor large agricultural corporations. The subsidies, credits, and tax incentives the government awards to agribusiness dramatically undermine the ability of small farmers to compete in the marketplace. Additionally, global warming causes changes in weather patterns which affect crops and crop cycles. Unusual storms have become more frequent and severe, causing a loss of lives, homes, crops and livelihoods.

Equal Exchange's new campaign involves education, environmental and food security partnerships, and political action. Our new blog: http://www.smallfarmersbigchange.coop/ offers articles and opinions on agricultural, trade, and environmental issues that affect small farmers and consumers. Through the blog, we will also keep consumers informed of key legislative areas and other opportunities for political action in which we can influence trade and agricultural policies that benefit producers, consumers, local communities and our planet.

Equal Exchange is also inviting consumers to directly support the environmental protection and food security projects that small-scale farming co-operatives are implementing in their communities. Toward this end, we have created the Small Farmers Green Planet Fund. Some of the exciting projects the fund will support this year are:

*Climate change adaptation project, South Africa.

The Heiveld Co-operative and Wupperthal Tea Association are comprised of 220 small-scale farming families located in the Northern and Western Cape Provinces of South Africa. These indigenous communities descend from native Khoi and San populations that have inhabited the region and cultivated rooibos for centuries. Due to extreme climatic conditions in the southern Kalahari, global climate change affects these farmers disproportionately. Their land, livelihood and culture are in peril. Equal Exchange has committed to raising $20,000 to support their efforts to adapt to this rapid climate change. The project will include initiatives to: enhance bio-diversity; promote water conservation; develop windbreaks using native plant materials to enhance soil carbon and reduce soil degradation; and, recapture the indigenous strategies of natural resource management used by their ancestors.

*Food security, organic farming, and environmental preservation, Colombia.

"Everything I grow is organic. Why? You see my hands; they're covered in dirt. But they're no longer burnt from using chemicals. And my land? Well, it's time to give back to the land a part of what the land has given to me." Doña Ana Lucia Bañol, "La Montaña" Reserve, Riosucio, Caldas

In the outskirts of Riosucio, Caldas, 3,300 Embara Chambi farmers have formed the ASPROCAFE Ingrumá coffee co-operative to improve their members' quality of life, preserve their culture and communities, and protect the area's natural resources. In Caldas, many of the coffee trees are old, density per acre is low, and soils are depleted. Deforestation and poor land use management have caused additional problems: soil erosion, land and mudslides, water contamination, and changes in the local weather.

Many farmers in Colombia today lack interest in organic farming because it is difficult and costly. Yet, the indigenous farmers in ASPROCAFE are deeply committed to the environment and to deepening their organic practices. In the past two years, Equal Exchange and its partner, Lutheran World Relief, provided over $65,000 to support their integrated food security, environmental preservation and reforestation project which includes: planting of organic coffee and fruit trees; soil and water conservation trainings and practices; organic gardening and the fabrication of natural pesticides, fertilizers, and methane cooking gas; and a loan fund for women to buy farm animals to make organic fertilizer to diversify their diets and income. This year, Equal Exchange is committing to raise an additional $15,000 to ASPROCAFE for this project. The co-operative plans to build an organic fertilizer plant to increase production and offer the excess to neighboring communities.

*Reforestation, food security, environmental protection, Nicaragua.

"Look how green it is here. It's hard to believe, but it actually rains more here than in other areas of Boaco. Wherever you look and see green, lush farms - those belong to members of the co-operative." -Maria Theresa Mendoza Martinez

The Boaco region, where the farmers of the Tierra Nueva (New Earth) Union of Co-operatives have their farms, is cattle country. The landscape is dry and deforested as most of the hills have been cleared to grow pasture for the cattle. But several communities stand out - green and lush, these coffee farms are shaded with varieties of fruit and timber trees and it rains often.

The members of Tierra Nueva are fanatics in their concern to protect these last patches of green. Last year, Equal Exchange, and its partner, Presbyterian USA, funded an environmental protection and food security project in which members planted 200,000 coffee trees, 5,000 fruit trees, and constructed 16 fuel efficient stoves for their members. This year, Equal Exchange has committed an additional $10,000 to continue the project. The co-operative plans to reforest an additional 50 hectares, construct 22 more fuel efficient stoves and begin an organic fertilizer project using worm composting.

*Food security and income generation, Mexico.

CESMACH was founded in 1995 to help the farmers in the Sierra Madre region of Chiapas to market their coffee at higher prices, access affordable credit and receive technical assistance, while at the same time protect the important resources of the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, a U.N. designated World Heritage Site. The organization groups 270 families of small coffee producers in 14 communities, located in the buffer zones of the Reserve. Within the nucleus of the biosphere, agricultural activities are not permitted as the area contains many endangered and protected species. 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.

Consequently, CESMACH has decided not only to become the supplier of the highest quality, organic coffee in the region, but to create and implement a variety of social development and environmental projects which will benefit its members and the fragile Biosphere in which they live. Three years ago, the co-operative began to actively work with the women members and the wives of members to support their efforts to provide a more healthy and diversified diet to their families, as well as generate additional income. Earlier this year, Equal Exchange and its partner, the Uniterian Universalist Service Committee, provided $15,000 to support a women's leadership development and capacity building project. Now Equal Exchange is committing to raise an additional $20,000 to support an integrated environmental protection and food security project which will establish 50 organic gardens, 180 mixed fruit-tree gardens (2000 plants of different species), 40 rustic family plant nurseries to encourage the recovery of native crops found in the Biosphere, and 30 collective chicken coops in which they will raise 2400 chickens for consumption and sale into the local market.

How can consumers help?

*Purchase Equal Exchange's Organic Love Buzz coffee. For every 12 oz. package sold, Equal Exchange will donate 20 cents to our Small Farmers Green Planet Fund. 100% of these funds will go to support the green projects of our farmer partners.
*Food co-operative members and consumers can purchase Equal Exchange's Organic Co-op Blend. For every pound purchased, Equal Exchange will donate 25 cents to the Small Farmers Green Planet Fund.
*Make a tax-deductible donation to Grassroots International and send it to Equal Exchange, 50 United Drive, West Bridgewater, MA 02379. Write Small Farmers Green Planet Fund on the check.
*Visit http://www.smallfarmersbigchange.coop/ to read about these projects and our campaign, as well as to offer your thoughts and opinions. Sign up to receive Action Alerts on key legislative and other political actions.
*Support domestic small-scale farmers by purchasing produce from local farmers, and Fairly Traded coffee, tea, and chocolate from small-scale farmer co-operatives abroad.

About Equal Exchange:

A pioneer and U.S. market leader in Fair Trade since 1986, Equal Exchange is a full service provider of high quality, organic coffee, tea, chocolate and healthy snacks to retailers and food service establishments. Major customers include Shaw's, Whole Foods, Hannaford, Ten Thousand Villages, hundreds of natural food stores, restaurants, and thousands of places of worship nationwide. 100% of Equal Exchange products are fairly traded, benefiting more than 40 small farmer co-operatives in 22 countries around the world.

Contact: Rodney North
Equal Exchange
774-776-7398
rodney@equalexchange.coop

http://www.smallfarmersbigchange.coop/

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