What it Takes to Ship One Container of Coffee: A Fair Trade Success Story
By Linda Yauk, Fair Trade Vancouver Volunteer
The first shipment of fair trade organic coffee beans from the Cooperative North East Integrated Agricultural Cooperative (COAINE) will be arriving in Canada early next month. Coming from the Caranavi region of Las Yungas in northeastern Bolivia, the container full of smooth, mellow tasting coffee represents the development of a fair and direct trade relationship from producer to roaster — and ultimately the coffee consumer.
The story begins with a partnership between Crossroads International1 (a Fair Trade Vancouver partner) and FONCRESOL (a Bolivian NGO providing micro-finance support) to develop a “Fair Loan.” It costs over $110,000 to ship a container of coffee, an amount which challenges small-scale farmers who face pre-harvest costs and other expenses. The 250-member COAINE cooperative received the first Fair Loan.
With a Fair Loan in place, the problem for COAINE was how to enter the Canadian coffee market. Kevin McCarty (a Crossroads volunteer and FTV member) had already initiated contact with several BC micro-roasters. From that, Tara Scanlan, a Crossroads volunteer based in Bolivia, developed a trade mission between a COAINE representative and Canadian coffee roasters. I became involved in the project by volunteering for Crossroads as a guide/translator for the Bolivian visitor, and setting up visits with local roasters.
On May 6, 2011, Señor Mario Condori, a coffee farmer as well as the newly-elected president of COAINE cooperative, arrived in Canada. It’s rare to meet a producer outside of their country, and in fact, this was Mario’s first time outside of Bolivia and on a plane!
Mario came to learn about Canada's coffee culture. Many Bolivians don't even drink coffee, so espresso drinks, double-doubles, and latte art were all foreign to Mario. During his 10-day tour through Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Victoria, Mario met with a number of fair trade importer/roasters. Mario received an education in coffee roasting and “cupping” (coffee sampling to determine its quality and characteristics), and the profile of Canadian coffee drinkers. In turn, the roasters learned about coffee production at COAINE and the benefits that fair trade has had on the cooperative, including investment in training, education, and social programs for the community; the purchase of new equipment; and planting new trees to replace unproductive ones.
In June, three Canadian fair trade roasters visited the COAINE cooperative in Bolivia, seeing firsthand the coffee operations and positive impact that fair trade has on the community. Following their visit, the three roasters, plus two more from BC, signed a contract with COAINE to purchase a container of coffee.
The container will be arriving any day now, but this fair trade success story doesn’t end here. One of the participating roasters, Derryl Reid (Green Bean Coffee Imports in Winnipeg), explains, “I am just amazed that a shared vision of so many people who had never met can turn an almost impossible vision into a reality. This is just the first step to what we know will be a long term partnership.”
The COAINE coffee will soon be available in Vancouver through AGRO Café and Salt Spring Coffee;
1Crossroads International is an international development organization with projects in 28 countries, working towards the reduction of poverty and improving women’s rights. They are also a Fair Trade Vancouver partner.