Alto-Occidente Coffee Growers Cooperative (Colombia)
Equal Exchange works with 26 farmer cooperatives throughout Latin and South America, Africa, and Asia.
One of the coffee cooperatives is the Alto-Occidente Coffee Growers Cooperative (CCAOC) of Caldas, Colombia. Equal Exchange bought their first container of coffee from them in 1995, and in 2009 they purchased 13 containers! As part of fair trade, the cooperative is paid an above-market price for their coffee; included in this price is a 5 cent/pound premium which the cooperative allocates for social programs. A separate organization called the Small-Scale Coffee Farmers Association (ASPROCAFE) Ingruma was created to manage these programs, including scholarships, school lunches, and environmental preservation.
The majority of ASPROCAFE’s 3300 members are Embara Chambi indigenous people who live on four reserves on the outskirts of Riosucio. Many of them are also the organization’s staff people, and women and youth have a high level of participation in the cooperative and women hold strong positions of leadership in the office.
In 1998, ASPROCAFE created an Organic Coffee Program which aims to replace old coffee trees with newer, higher-yielding varieties, increase tree density, and encourage the planting of fruit trees. Technical assistance is provided to teach the farmers environmentally sustainable practices which protect their water sources and enrich the soils. Another component focuses on “food security” where women are taught organic gardening and how to make natural pesticides and organic fertilizers. A revolving loan fund enables the women to buy farm animals which are used to diversify their diets and their income sources; the manure is used to make organic fertilizer. It is also combined with the discarded coffee pulp to produce cooking gas.
In a recent visit to the coop, Dona Lucia, one of the cooper’s members said “We moved here and were living in a shack. The walls were made of tin; we just had a dirt floor. But I sold my coffee to the coop and after awhile I had earned enough to fix up the house.” With loans from ASPROCAFE, she bought coffee plants, sugar cane, beans, corn. “You see my hands? They’re covered in dirt. But they’re no longer burnt from the chemicals. And my land? It’s time to give back to the earth a part of what I take from the earth.”
Photo courtesy of Equal Exchange.