Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Chiapas Coffee Growers Speak Out

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Chiapas Coffee Growers Speak Out

Article excerpt

For many members of the Majomut Cooperative, organic coffee growing has meant not only financial salvation but a new (or rediscovered) ethos of ecological farming:

"We had lost our respect for nature instead of feeding and caring for the earth, we used to poison her. If we had kept on like that we would be much poorer now, with unproductive fields, under the illusion that only by spreading chemicals could we increase productivity.... with no future for our children."

--Rosario Gutierrez Villarreal, 48 years, from Ejido Vicente Guerrero.

"To do the organic program we had to look back, to rescue the ways of our grandparents who worked the coffee ... Government extension workers (Inmecafe) said that we could only increase production with fertilizers, but we use compost without contaminating the earth. The composts and the living terraces are made with local materials, we don't have to spend money to improve production."

"When the organic program began, we exchanged plants between communities to diversity the coffee lands ... There are many kinds of different plants in the coffee plot because they are well arranged. First are the trees that serve to shade the coffee, then there's the coffee with other plants, and below that the herbs. There are the living hedges that serve to prevent erosion. We get food and medicine and sometimes wood from the trees, the plants and the herbs. That's the way my grandparents did it, and that's the way we still do it. Everything in the coffee plot serves to conserve the coffee or to fulfil our needs."

--Juan Luna Perez, 40 years, works in Polho, Chenalho.

"When I die my children will continue on the path of organic agriculture. Making the compost (that's like food for the earth) planting living walls so the soil isn't lost doing the work, cultivating organic coffee. Caring for the earth, without puffing poison on it. This is the plot I inherited from my grandparents, from my father. It is the land my children will receive from me."

--Pablo Vazquez from Naranjatik, Chenalho.

Manuel Gomez Ruiz, a small grower from San Miguel, El Bosque in the northern part of Chiapes belongs to the Majomut Cooperative. He describes the advantages of being organized and how the chain of coyotes (intermediary buyers) erodes the price to isolated producers.

"The price of coffee has been going down a lot, but the price that the cooperative pays is always better than the price that the coyote gives you. We've been struggling to sell our coffee on the fair trade market but we haven't been able to. But at least in the Cooperative we get a better price than if we sell to the coyote. That's why we stay in the organization ...

"There is a coyote that goes house to house in the community. Then he can sell the coffee to the bigger coyote in the municipal seat. The one in the municipal sea then sells in Bochil, to the regional coyote. And the one in Bochil sells it to the other coyote that's a business in Tuxtla Gutierrez (state capital). That's where the coffee is processed. The business is a representative of an even bigger business that exports the coffee. The producer ends up with very little for his work.

"I got ten quintals of green coffee from my coffee farm of one hectare (2. …

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