23 October 2006

Field Based Training #2, Day 3

On the third day of FBT #2, it was my turn to present. I presented to the junta directiva of the a small women's cooperative that sells soymilk. God knows why there is a local market for such a product, but they carved a niche and they seem to make sufficient money. The problem, however, is that the five board members got into a fight a few months ago, and now two of them are not speaking to the other three, and vice versa. The problem appears to be very serious, and the volunteer that has worked with the group for a year still can't get anybody to tell him what the fight was about. So, three of us presented to them, again, they spoke little Spanish but plenty of Ka qui'kel, so we broke out the nice translating woman again. The first presentation was on Leadership, and, after breaking some ice, at least got the women to a point where they were making thinly veiled criticisms of various leaders in the group. Sometimes complaining is better than ignoring. My presentation was next and on the imoportant but difficult subject of Conflict Resolution. Pretty much I had to try to get everyone talking to each other again and discussing the different perspectives of the group on any subject and hope that it would make a little bit of headway on the idea that they could work anything together. My primary triumph is that they all were forced to work together towards some common games and goals, which at least forced more interaction between them. Though I'm sure they didn't all get together and make up after the charlas, maybe a few seeds that were already in their head when they asked for the charla started to germinate. We presented at their office, which had no product made, because they haven't been able to work together since they can't talk to each other. A volunteer is going to be assigned to the site, so we'll see if they can make any headway.
In the afternoon, we went to a place called ForesTrade. It is a for-profit business with a strong component of social responsibility. I can't figure out for the life of me why they chose to be for profit, but I'm sure there's a reason. They work with small coffee farmers in remote locations to get them to become fair trade certified and organic certified. Well, organic certification is easy in the sense that most small farmers can't afford pesticides or unnatural fertilizers, and therefore grow organic coffee without consideration. Unfortunately, the certification for organic is pretty tough to acquire and requires detailed records of field history, constant sampling of product, and internal audits. It has been made more difficult because next year is an election year: As always in democracies, politicians use their clout to buy off constituents with capital improvements, economic development, and, in a country where 60% of the population are farmers, free fertilizer.
The next step is Fair-Trade certification. I want to provide a little math about Fair-Trade coffee. The average pound of rousted coffee in the States in the grocery store is about $7.00 a pound if it comes in those cute little bags and is freshly ground, If you buy it in a can, about $5.00 per pound. Usually you can't buy fair trade coffee except in the pretty bags for $7. The basic requirement for that fair-trade sticker is that the farmer is paid $1.30 per pound of unroasted, dry, shelled coffee, in a freight on a ship. If it is organic, they receive a $.05 premium. Therefore, about 1/5 of the price of coffee goes to the farmer, minus the costs for transportation, drying, and packing.
There's two reactions you can have to this: One, that fair-trade coffee is a gimmick that helps only the rich. Maybe you're right. If you're really interested in helping poor small farmers, maybe you should just ask for their address and mail them two bucks for every pound of Folgers' Crystals you buy. The other reaction you can have is that Fair Trade simply isn't enough, that the coffee industry must really be ripping of the non-Fair Trade farmers, and that there's miles more of work to be done. But, until it's closer, you can at least know you scratched at the problem if you didn't put a dent in it. In countries with lower standards of living, $1.30 is a good portion of money and can completely change your family's situation, but your kids in school, and feed the family. . In Guatemala, it's the difference between eating one tortilla a day for three hungry months or eating one tortilla a day for two hungry months. In my opinion, it's still worth far more than two American dollars, no matter how far away it is from true justice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Andrew:

About the ladies in Coban, (they speak quekchi and not cakchiquel) who process soymilk, the niche is there because 75% of Guatemalans are lactose intolerance as are blacks in the states for example, this was a project that was introduced to them with the initiative of NGO Asociacion en Paz con el Ambiente EPA, Care and Wishh, which is the social arm of American Soybean association.
I'm the executive director of EPA and for your information in Guatemala 85% of foodstuffs products are bought by the consumer on the moms and pops stores, but fresh produce and grains which are sold on markets and which also sell foodstuffs, and almost all packed foodstuffs in Guatemala have a sanitary register and msot of them are very good quality for the advantaged price they sell at. Frankly I find your remarks about Guatemala humilliating to our humble people, and it seems that you only learned banalities about guatemalans instead of learning about their real costumes, its not ethic to give facts about a country that you dont really know, because of a bias you have or perhaps you didnt want to see that we are different and we dont do things the same way you do, but this doent mean its bad.
Theres many bad things in this country as there are in many other countries including the US.
And for your info, the shampoo is at Walmart and being exported, and no sir weddings are very formal thing in Guatemala, invitations are sent with advance like in the US, and thats probably the only one you saw, so you should say the one I went to, and I dont know how it is done in general as for almost everything you gave your ill opinion about.

Sincerely
A. Barrios P.

I am required to mention that this blog doesn´t reflect the opinions of the Peace Corps.