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Chiapas Article

Indigenous cooperative opens "third way" for Mexican coffee industry
Antonio Rodríguez, AFP - 10/25/2002

PARIS - An indigenous coffee cooperative has made the unprecedented decision of forming a partnership with foreign companies to distribute its product in Europe, the Agence France Presse reported Thursday.

The Indigenas de la Sierra Madre, a Motozintla (ISMAM) cooperative, which includes 1,500 coffee farmers from the southernmost state of Chiapas, formed a partnership with German coffee roasting company Niehoff and French importer Schorn SA. The cooperative and the two European firms each have a 33 percent stake in the deal.

Until recently, coffee producers, exporters and distributors have largely been alienated from one another and have often fought over competing interests.

"We provide the coffee, the roaster its industry and the importer its experience," said Jorge Aguilar, ISMAM's commercial advisor. "For the members of the cooperative, this partnership offers the possibility of having a stable market with fixed prices, continued growth and the possibility of finding cheaper financing than in Mexico."

ISMAM paid for its share of the initial investment in the trans-Atlantic deal with raw coffee.

"We can't pay in cash, we can only offer out labor," Aguilar said.

The political climate in Chiapas has become increasingly turbulent since the emergence of the Zapatista National Liberation Army led an armed uprising against the government in the name of Indian rights in 1994. A backlash by anti-Zapatista paramilitaries, religious violence and ethnic disputes have brought even greater strife to the nation's poorest state.

Members of the cooperative view the partnership as a viable alternative to fights over personal or group interests.

"Instead of joining the government or armed uprising, we've opted for a third way of economic development," Aguilar told the press.

The new partnership has the advantage of controlling everything from cultivation to distribution, a significant advantage in an industry just coming out of a years-long global crisis.

"We offer a quality product processed with ecologically sound techniques," Aguilar said.

The cooperative's organic coffee goes on sale this month in France under the name "Chiapaneco."

Translated by James W. Robinson

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