The Multinational Monitor


L E T T E R S    T O    T H E    E D I T O R

On Coffee Cooperatives

THANK YOU FOR YOUR ARTICLE on the El Espino Cooperative and its efforts to survive the ARENA era in El Salvador ("Land Deform in El Salvador," Multinational Monitor, September 1996).

Certainly, El Espino is not alone among the agrarian reform cooperatives that are struggling during this period.

In the wake of the signing of the peace accords in 1992, Equal Exchange, a fair trade organization based in Massachusetts, joined together with Oxfam America and Neighbor to Neighbor to find a way to support the reform co-ops that had given hope to peasant farmers in El Salvador. Through our work with the Salvadoran cooperative federations SOCRA (the Society of Agrarian Reform Cooperatives) and FESACORA (the Salvadoran Federation of Agrarian Reform Cooperatives), these farmers are selling their coffee directly and are paid much more than they received when they were forced to sell through middlemen or work as laborers on plantations. They have been able to invest in education, health care and coffee-processing equipment.

One of our partners, the Las Lajas Cooperative in Sonsonate, has used some of the proceeds from sales to Equal Exchange to pay off its land reform debt, becoming one of only six coops out of 300 in El Salvador that own their land independently.

The impact of the fair trade movement can be dramatic, both materially and in terms of the empowerment of poor communities. As Don Miguel Sifontes, president of the San Antonio Zacamil co-op, said, "Before agrarian reform we worked like slaves. Seeing people from Equal Exchange helps give us hope. We used to live in houses made of corn husks. Now we have better work, better schools, homes made of adobe and a greater brotherhood of decision makers."

As concerned citizens, our role in this situation is as close as our morning cup of coffee. In many ways, it is up to us to help co-ops like El Espino survive. Without consumers to purchase their coffee, the co-ops will not be able to support themselves.

Erbin Crowell,
Equal Exchange,
Canton, Massachusetts

Equal Exchange was founded in 1986 to help Nicaraguan coffee farmers sell their coffee in the United States during the Reagan Administration's embargo. Today it has grown into a worker-owned cooperative trading with democratic farmer co-ops in 8 countries in Latin America and Africa according to international fair trade standards. For more information on Equal Exchange and fair trade, or the Cafe Salvador program, contact:

Equal Exchange,
251 Revere St.,
Canton, MA 02021.
Tel: 617-830-0303
E-mail: [email protected]

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