tecafé – wales’s fairest coffee

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Santiago Dolmus picked up the marker and walked to the whiteboard. We were in CECOCAFEN, the second tier coffee co-operative in Matagalpa. We’d spent the day visiting agricultural projects in La Dalia, and were squeezing and extra meeting in before finishing for the day. It was gone 5, and Santiago and the group were all tired.

“This is what we get as fairtrade producers for a pound of coffee,” Santiago said. He wrote $1.50 on the board. “What does a bag of coffee sell for in your supermarkets?”

The coffee-addicts in the group consulted. “For fairtrade coffee, around £3.80 a bag.” More discussion. “That’s about $5.40 a bag,” we said.

“For a pound bag?” asked Santiago.

“No, a half pound bag.”

Santiago returned to the board, and wrote $10.80.

“That’s how much our coffee sells for,” he said. “$10.80. We get $1.50. So the question is, who’s getting the other $9.30?”

Llunie Nicaragua 295

Santiago Dolmus o CECOCAFEN

The economics of coffee, in fact of all commodities, are pretty simple. Most of the ‘value chain’ (from growing to preparation to transport to packaging to retailing) is captured by large multinationals. The producers usually receive the smallest share, and this dependent on the fluctuations of international prices. Fairtrade seeks to address some of these problems. Through a guaranteed price the fluctuations are ironed out. Through technical and other support, producers can improve the quality (and thus the value) of their product. Through coming together, and working through sophisticated second tier co-operatives like CECOCAFEN (a co-operative of co-operatives) they can increase their negotiating power with the buyers from the large companies. But this still leaves most of the value chain outside of Nicaragua.

Solcafe demo 8

Pic: Christian Petersen

ETICO is an attempt to do something about this. It will ensure that more of the value chain is captured in Nicaragua. The Campaign has long standing links with two of the partners of ETICO, Del Campo – which deals in sesame – and CECOCAFEN. ETICO’s aim is to promote co-operation rather than competition as a means of achieving efficiency, and integrating the supply chain for different products (see here for a longer description of their work).

To support this aim Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign is launching it’s own coffee, Tecafé (‘tecaf’ is the Welsh word for fairest). We don’t hesitate to claim that this is the fairest coffee in Wales. It is produced by a women’s co-operative working through SOPPEXCCA, another of the second tier co-operatives in Nicaragua. The Campaign was fortunate to host the visit of one of its representatives, Janixce Florian, in 2007, and we met with Janixce in Jinotega on the delegation’s trip in 2009.

Jinotaga 18

Janixce Florian. Pic: Christian Petersen

The mechanisms for being Wales’s fairest coffee are pretty straight forward. Coffee producers keep a bigger share of the value chain – growing, and organising their own roasting, packaging and transport. By buying through the Campaign, the retailer’s slice is kept to a minimum. A version of this is working well for several coffee farmers in Costa Rica (see here for an article). With Tecafé, the benefits are even greater, working through Nicaraguan co-operatives.

Like most ideas, this one has been around for a while, even in fairtrade circles. Divine Chocolate is 45% owned by Kuapa Kokoo, a Ghanian co-operative of cocoa growers. It’s aim is the same – to maximise the amount that growers can make from their products (see here for the Divine story).

Tecafé will be launched officially during the next month. We hope to grow its sales quickly, so when we return to Nicaragua next year, we can say we are doing our bit to ensure that fairtrade is getting even fairer.

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