Tag Archive for: Coffee Trust

Chajulense de Mujeres

The Chajulense Women’s Savings/Micro-Credit Project

Categories: 2015, JulyTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Project Description
In 2007, sev­eral hun­dred women-coffee-sorters from the fair trade, organic cof­fee coöper­a­tive Asociacion Chajulense, in the Ixil region of Guatemala, lost their jobs to new sort­ing equip­ment. The area is one of the poor­est, most mar­gin­al­ized regions at ori­gin.  In 2008, under the umbrella of the cof­fee asso­ci­a­tion, 20 women cre­ated Chajulense de Mujeres, a Savings/Micro-Credit group estab­lished in the hopes that one day, it might pro­vide an income for some of the hun­dreds of jobs that were lost.

The Coffee Trust pro­vided cap­i­tal for the project and intro­duced a sav­ings com­po­nent from which the women would even­tu­ally build their own cap­i­tal fund. The Coffee Trust invested in Capacity Building for the women to develop a more effec­tive, more effi­cient orga­ni­za­tion. Leadership train­ing was empha­sized along with fundrais­ing skills so the group could sus­tain itself with­out sup­port from The Coffee Trust.

After 7 years, there are 1,000 women in the pro­gram. It is 100% finan­cially sus­tain­able. It is capa­ble of pro­vid­ing loans to those 1,000 women from a cap­i­tal fund made up of the women’s savings.

Through The Coffee Trust Capacity Building Program, the women lead­ers have become finan­cially lit­er­ate, and have gained fur­ther access to low-interest and zero-interest loans from KIVA Foundation and the Swedish Embassy. In the future the pro­gram will serve thou­sands of women, far more than the hun­dreds of jobs lost in 2007.

The Coffee Trust will con­tinue to pro­vide the women with finan­cial man­age­ment skills to cre­ate the only bank for the poor in the region.

The project helps women pro­vide an income for them­selves that is not depen­dent upon the very volatile cof­fee trade.  The income helps them buy food for their fam­i­lies where cof­fee has fallen short.  The project teaches women finan­cial lit­er­acy, such as how to make a house­hold bud­get. The project teaches women how to man­age their small busi­nesses.  The project teaches women to how to run a major bank­ing institution.

By pro­vid­ing a sig­nif­i­cant part of their fam­ily income, the women gain a voice in their own home, and a voice in their own com­mu­nity.  In the process, the women gain self-confidence. They become empow­ered and inspired. They see hope where they could only see despair. They see oppor­tu­ni­ties where they had only seen lim­i­ta­tions.  They see a future filled with pos­si­bil­i­ties instead of one that has nowhere to go.

The project inspires women not only in the area of money and income.  It inspires the women in every aspect of their lives.

Readers can help by
Readers can help Chajulnese de Mujeres develop into a major bank for the poor in the Ixil region of Guatemala by sup­port­ing The Coffee Trust’s Capacity Building pro­gram. The pro­gram is train­ing Chajulnese de Mujeres in finan­cial man­age­ment so they can effec­tively and effi­ciently develop their suc­cess­ful women’s sav­ings and credit project into a major bank for the poor in the region.

Contributions to The Coffee Trust should be des­ig­nated for the Chajulense Women’s Micro-Credit Project.

Readers can also help by inquir­ing at the Coffee Trust for pro­mo­tional mate­r­ial that can be used inside cafes to inform cof­fee cus­tomers about the com­plex­i­ties of life at ori­gin and what is being done to help cof­fee farm­ers and their fam­i­lies build sus­tain­able lives.

Project Contact:
Bill Fishbein



Project URL:

Guatemala, San Gaspar Chajul, Quiché Guatemala,

Project Impact:
1,200 fam­i­lies and 6,000 peo­ple will be impacted by this project.

The Death of Coffee Certification — Let’s Hope

Categories: 2012, MarchTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Editor’s Note: The ques­tion of the future need for social and envi­ron­men­tal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion – and their asso­ci­ated costs – is very much on peo­ples’ minds. Instead of the reg­u­lar “View” from us, we decided instead to devote this space, and much of the rest of this issue, to opin­ions from promi­nent mem­bers of our com­mu­nity. First off is Jim Stewart, co-founder of Seattle’s Best Coffee and one of our industry’s early pio­neers in how to do “spe­cialty.” Farther on we hear from Bill Fishbein, co-founder of Coffee Kids and Founder of the Coffee Trust; Sandra Marquardt joins in sup­port­ing Organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion; and Fair Trade – USA™ par­tic­i­pates with a Q&A about their resent pol­icy changes. We hope you enjoy this exchange of opin­ions.
Kerri & Miles

In my opin­ion, cer­ti­fi­ca­tions in the cof­fee indus­try are a crutch used by roast­ers and to some degree, by pro­duc­ers as well. It facil­i­tates them not tak­ing the time to get on an air­plane, fly­ing to a pro­ducer coun­try, and form­ing their own close per­sonal rela­tion­ship with a cof­fee pro­ducer. Why should a pro­ducer pay a fee to some cer­ti­fi­ca­tion group, plus then an exporter and an importer each pay another fee to be in the pro­gram, and finally the roaster pays yet more fees, so some stranger can ver­ify their story? Why not tell it your­self? Surely, your cus­tomers will trust you! Let me tell you why. You get the lit­tle sticker so when Mrs. Housewife comes in and says I want Fair Trade, shade grown, rain for­est friendly, etc. etc. etc. cof­fee, Mr. Roaster can point to his lit­tle sticker or maybe 2, 3, or 4 lit­tle stick­ers and say, “yup” we got it lady. What a cop out!

Let’s back up
I live on Vashon Island in Washington State. A very unique place, in fact I expect the sec­ond com­ing to occur there. With lots of cre­ative, sen­si­tive, organic, earth friendly, results ori­ented, opin­ion­ated types of folks. They are on the cut­ting edge of many trends that are way ahead of their time.

So, early one morn­ing in Costa Rica watch­ing CNN, sip­ping my farm’s wild har­vest typ­ica cof­fee, on the screen appears a ring of 24 naked les­bians toe to toe form­ing a “cir­cle of peace” on the cold wet rocks of a Vashon Island beach. It was the first pub­lic nation­ally tele­vised protest of the Iraq inva­sion. As I said these Vashonites are the lead­ers of many trends.

I would say, it was maybe 5 or 6 years ago that some of these same peo­ple, pri­mar­ily the Vashon organic pro­duce farm­ers said “NO”! NO MORE, to organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Why, they said, should we pay a total stranger in New York City who may not have as much as a flower pot in his or her win­dow a fee that says to my cus­tomers that I am an organic farmer? Further. I know my cus­tomers and they know me. They are wel­come to visit the farm and see first hand what my farm­ing prac­tices are. See my chil­dren play­ing in the fields and know for sure that it is safe. They can choose to trust me the farmer, their neigh­bor and not rely on the word of a total stranger. This is hard to argue with in itself and we have not even touched on the added cost to the con­sumer for this ser­vice. This cost, when push comes to shove, is meet­ing with high resis­tance at the con­sumer level. Fact is in my 40 years at SBC the cus­tomer never was will­ing to pay for all the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion costs and much of it was born by the company.

Several years ago, I stood up, totally out of char­ac­ter, and stated the above at a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sym­po­sium in Costa Rica’s Sintercafe. My point being that I pre­dicted the end of the cof­fee cer­ti­fi­ca­tion folly in the next five years based on the actions of the Vashon Island organic pro­duce farm­ers. The room, mostly made up of pro­duc­ers and roaster retail­ers plus 6 to 8 of the var­i­ous cer­ti­fi­ca­tion groups exploded in applause.

I hate to com­plain if I can­not offer an alter­na­tive or a solu­tion. I went on to explain that I, in 1977 as a tiny break-even-at-best cof­fee roaster retailer got on a plane and trav­eled through­out Central and South America vis­it­ing cof­fee exporters and pro­duc­ers and how that trip lead to buy­ing directly from pro­duc­ing coun­tries (always thru exporters). I formed per­sonal busi­ness rela­tion­ships and friend­ships that I still keep today. I spoke directly to farm­ers about my con­cerns and rec­om­men­da­tions with regard to the envi­ron­ment, tra­di­tional prepa­ra­tion, the vari­ety of tree, social well­be­ing, etc. etc. etc. You see I was the buyer offer­ing to buy their prod­uct at a pre­mium when my sug­ges­tions were fol­lowed. I was not from some cer­ti­fy­ing orga­ni­za­tion charg­ing for my ser­vice, and leav­ing the farmer with a dream that buy­ers would be clam­or­ing for their cof­fee and pay­ing mag­nif­i­cent prices because they had some stamp of approval. I went on to explain how these rela­tion­ships lead to the for­ma­tion of The Vashon Island Coffee Foundation (the sec­ond best kept secret in the cof­fee indus­try). Thru this foun­da­tion we returned some of the inter­na­tional value of the cof­fee we pur­chased directly to cof­fee pro­duc­ing com­mu­ni­ties in many coun­tries but in par­tic­u­lar to Santiago de Atitlan in Guatemala. In that com­mu­nity, we built two schools, a water sys­tem, a road, and a clinic. You see we did that because we thought we should, because it was right, and not because it was a mar­ket­ing strat­egy. You guys can do it too, you can, and I know you will, in time, just like those Vashon Island pro­duce farm­ers did.

The mod­er­a­tor then gave the cer­ti­fy­ing guys a chance for rebut­tal and I will never ever for­get what Chris Willy of The Rain Forest Alliance said! “We don’t want you build­ing schools!” I was so shocked I could not respond. “‘Scuse me ‘scuse me, what did you just say?” I was so stunned that I never did go to him for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. We were so proud of the work we did, those projects changed lives, and they were the great­est projects. What could he have pos­si­bly have meant?

I made these com­ments after I had sold SBC and was very clear then as I am now that these are my per­sonal feel­ings and have noth­ing what­so­ever to do with cur­rent SBC pol­icy, sup­pos­ing they have any policy.

I more or less for­got about it, went on about my busi­ness of enjoy­ing life and then about three years ago I began help­ing two roast­ers, one on Vashon Island and the other on Whidbey Island buy cof­fee directly from pro­duc­ing coun­tries. These roast­ers are con­tin­u­ing my per­sonal rela­tion­ships and mak­ing them their own. They have trav­eled to the farms that sup­ply their cof­fee to wit­ness first hand the ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion. They also tes­tify to their own com­mit­ments, pas­sion, and appre­ci­a­tion for the producer’s effort. The roast­ers use the expe­ri­ence to edu­cate their cus­tomers thereby sup­port­ing and jus­ti­fy­ing the value and price of the prod­uct. This fur­ther cre­ates a great feel­ing for the cus­tomer for their con­tri­bu­tion to rais­ing the stan­dard of liv­ing for cof­fee work­ers in devel­op­ing countries.

You can imag­ine my glee when this January I asked the roast­ers how much cer­ti­fied organic cof­fee they wanted and they both said, “none!” Independent of one another they both said we are drop­ping cer­ti­fied organic. “The gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions have become too dif­fi­cult, too expen­sive, and we do not need the aggra­va­tion. The vol­ume does not sup­port the headache and the cost. We are devel­op­ing our own pro­grams based on our trav­els and explain­ing this to our clients directly face to face, one on one. The folks like it bet­ter to be shar­ing with us our per­sonal expe­ri­ences and feel a real con­nec­tion to the cof­fee farm­ers. Quite hon­estly there has been a lot of resis­tance to the added cost of certification.”

Food for thought!

Jim Stewart, along with his brother David, founded Seattle’s Best Coffee within their ice cream par­lor called the Wet Whisker. Seattle’s Best grew to become one of the pre­em­i­nent spe­cialty cof­fee com­pa­nies world-wide. An early true believer in spe­cialty cof­fee, Stewart is truly one of our industry’s great­est luminaries.

Sunrise, Sunset…Sunrise

Categories: 2012, MarchTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Recent devel­op­ments around the Fair Trade front have shocked the Fair Trade world. Fingers are pointed at those con­sid­ered vil­lains. Perceived betrayal has led to feel­ings of right­eous indig­na­tion. My own voice has been amongst the chat­ter. A few days ago, I took a moment to look at the broader real­ity of what is hap­pen­ing to Fair Trade. In so doing, I came to a sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent point of view.

Fair Trade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion was born in the late 1980’s from a cadre of indi­vid­u­als moti­vated by the ram­pant injus­tice expe­ri­enced by cof­fee farm­ers, in the face of record prof­its earned by cof­fee mer­chants sell­ing the world’s most traded food com­mod­ity. Let’s call them the Idealists.

At first, the Idealists pushed their way into the mar­ket and the dom­i­nant cof­fee cul­ture balked. But, soon it became appar­ent that Fair Trade would become a very pop­u­lar ‘brand’ that could be applied to anyone’s cof­fee, as long as the cof­fee pur­chased met cer­tain stan­dards. Rightly or wrongly, the name Fair Trade became syn­ony­mous with sus­tain­abil­ity, and Fair Trade cof­fee became the hottest sell­ing cof­fee on the mar­ket. Along with its suc­cess though, came a plea from one Fair Trade fac­tion to loosen the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards in order to free up sup­ply. Let’s call that fac­tion the Pragmatists.

That plea evolved into a Fair Trade civil war between the Idealists and the Pragmatists over the inclu­sion of estate grown cof­fees under the Fair Trade label, which had pre­vi­ously been lim­ited to small-scale farm­ers from demo­c­ra­t­i­cally run coop­er­a­tives. The Pragmatists are keenly sen­si­tive to the power of the mar­ket and its capac­ity to pull mil­lions of pounds of Fair Trade cof­fee on to super­mar­ket shelves. The Pragmatists also see Fair Trade ben­e­fits reach­ing mil­lions more farmers.

With lower stan­dards, the Idealists are par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that the level of those ben­e­fits to farm­ers will be sig­nif­i­cantly reduced, and that the newly cer­ti­fied estates will siphon off sales from small-scale cof­fee farm­ers. The Idealists also worry that flood­ing the mar­ket with the Pragmatists’ estate cof­fee will also pres­sure coop­er­a­tives to lower their own cer­ti­fi­ca­tion stan­dards to increase their own supplies.

Of course, the Pragmatists’ ship has already sailed. So, let’s take a look at the reality.

The real­ity is that in the course of a gen­er­a­tion, the cof­fee world has become a far bet­ter place because Fair Trade pushed its way into the dom­i­nant mar­ket and carved out a pow­er­ful place and brand image for itself. Consumers are far more aware that their pur­chases affect life at ori­gin, and far more cof­fee farm­ers ben­e­fit from their par­tic­i­pa­tion in Fair Trade coop­er­a­tives today than in 1987. And, with the advent of Fair Trade cer­ti­fied estates, mil­lions more will benefit.

The level of those ben­e­fits may not have reached the level intended by the Idealists. But, the over­all extent of Fair Trade’s impact can­not be min­i­mized. That said, rais­ing stan­dards at this junc­tion will not be easy, as the Pragmatists clearly believe that increas­ing Fair Trade sales is the sin­gle most impor­tant mis­sion, and improved stan­dards are an imped­i­ment to those sales. The Pragmatists are not reach­ing for the stars. But, they are con­sol­i­dat­ing the base.

Fair Trade, as it was orig­i­nally envi­sioned by the Idealists, with their high ideals and high stan­dards, is dead. The new norm may be well below the Idealists’ intended mark, but the num­bers stand to be increased expo­nen­tially along with an ever-increasing pres­ence in the mar­ket­place. The ques­tion begs how to increase stan­dards in a mar­ket overly focused on vol­ume, sales and prof­its. Herein lies the miss­ing piece and an enor­mous opportunity.

The oppor­tu­nity to repeat what began in 1987, to relive the Idealists’ dream, the excite­ment, the energy, and the bur­geon­ing entre­pre­neurism that pushed its way into the mar­ket, is ripe to hap­pen all over again. This time though, the jump­ing off point will be from a much higher level, with higher stan­dards already in place. Yes, the stan­dards are lower than orig­i­nally intended, but higher than pre-1987 by a long shot.

Of course, in order to take advan­tage of this oppor­tu­nity, the Idealists must cre­ate a new name, a new brand and new, stricter stan­dards that will chal­lenge the Pragmatists to raise their own stan­dards. Roasters, retail­ers and con­sumers will be chal­lenged to think, and engage in a more open dia­logue about where their cof­fee comes from. If done with integrity, a fierce com­pe­ti­tion will be born between the Idealists and the Pragmatists, and the play­ing field will be those standards.

All cof­fee farm­ers will stand to ben­e­fit from ris­ing stan­dards. Consumers will get a bet­ter glimpse of the com­plex­i­ties at ori­gin, as those com­plex­i­ties will have to be addressed within the com­pet­i­tive envi­ron­ment. This will be a refresh­ing change from the more com­mon approach of pan­der­ing to con­sumers with sound bites and superla­tives that have lit­tle mean­ing origin.

The time is right for a new gen­er­a­tion of Idealists to pick up the baton and run so fast even the Pragmatists’ heads will spin. The next move­ment will require cre­ativ­ity, courage, com­mit­ment, and a seri­ous invest­ment in energy and cap­i­tal. Breaking through to a higher level will not be easy, how­ever it is quite doable. Let there be no doubt that it can be done. Remember, it was already done in 1987, and it was a much harder sale back then.

Bill Fishbein is Founder of the Coffee Trust, as well as the one of the orig­i­nal founders of Coffee Kids, along with Dean Cycon. One of our industry’s great human­i­tar­i­ans, Fishbein not only rep­re­sents the best of our pur­poses, but also advo­cates for all of us to reach toward higher goals.

The View

Categories: 2011, MayTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Arriv­ing back at my desk on Tuesday after the SCAA Annual con­fer­ence, I began the process of men­tally dis­sem­bling all the infor­ma­tion gath­ered through the Symposium and the reg­u­lar con­fer­ence. Here is a par­tial list of those moments that best show the high­est qual­i­ties of the Specialty Coffee industry.

Rick Peyser. Is it pos­si­ble to say too much in praise of Rick. He is our res­i­dent saint in cof­fee. For years he has preached, often in the wilder­ness, about Los Meses Flacos, the thin months. I think I first heard about this from Rick about 5 years ago, and he has writ­ten about it sev­eral times in CoffeeTalk. For those who do not know what this is about, let me explain. The thin months are the period between the end of the har­vest and the begin­ning of next years har­vest when a farmer must sup­port all his family’s and farm’s needs just on what was earned through the last cof­fee har­vest. In a recent sur­vey across Central America, fully 2/3’s of small hold­ing farm­ers said that they were unable to main­tain a nor­mal diet for their fam­i­lies through the thin months. This con­di­tion is so preva­lent that Los Meses Flacos is well known and widely accepted through out cof­fee grow­ing regions as a gen­eral con­di­tion of life.

Now the mes­sage is gain­ing momen­tum in the cof­fee con­sum­ing coun­tries. At the SCAA Rick Peyser, along with the Coffee Trust pre­sented a film about Los Meses Flacos called “After the Harvest” nar­rated by of all peo­ple, Susan Sarandon. It is a mas­ter­piece of visual and emo­tional doc­u­men­tary that bring forth this cru­cial issue with absolute clar­ity. If you care about cof­fee, you must see this film. Rick Peyser, Green Mountain Coffee, The Coffee Trust, and all those involved in the mak­ing of this film are to be con­grat­u­lated. We are in their debt.

Grounds for Health. GFH cel­e­brated its 15th anniver­sary at the SCAA con­fer­ence and what a mag­nif­i­cent achieve­ment. Grounds for Health is ded­i­cated to end­ing the scourge of cer­vi­cal can­cer in devel­op­ing coun­tries. Cervical can­cer is the lead­ing cause of death by nat­ural causes of women of child bear­ing age in the cof­fee­lands. Although rarely lethal in devel­oped coun­tries, for a vari­ety of rea­sons hun­dreds of thou­sands of women die from cer­vi­cal can­cer every year around the world. What is extra­or­di­nary is that the dis­ease is com­pletely pre­ventable and treat­able if dis­cov­ered early. For about 25¢ a kit, the dis­ease can be diag­nosed in a sin­gle visit and then, if a woman is found with can­cer, for a bit more the treat­ment can be per­formed the same day. Everyday, Grounds for Health is sav­ing women’s lives, literally.

This year, Grounds for Health was awarded the SCAA Sustainability Award for their work. A very big achieve­ment. GFH’s big spon­sor is Green Mountain Coffee – again, as well as Royal Coffee, Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee, and ECOM. CoffeeTalk too is proud to be a (lesser) spon­sor and Kerri sits on their Board.

The International Women in Coffee Alliance. The IWCA expe­ri­enced its break­out moment at the SCAA this year. Dedicated to devel­op­ing chap­ters in cof­fee grow­ing coun­tries through which cof­fee women in con­sum­ing coun­tries and pro­duc­ing coun­tries can build strong rela­tion­ships, sup­port each other, and train in bet­ter busi­ness and agri­cul­tural prac­tices to develop qual­ity and higher value. The IWCA signed char­ters with two new chap­ters at the SCAA this year – the Dominican Republic and Burundi, raised thou­sands of dol­lars to fur­ther sup­port pro­grams with a donor appre­ci­a­tion din­ner as well as the now-traditional IWCA break­fast, and secured fund­ing for schol­ar­ships to allow women from ori­gin to attend the sec­ond IWCA International Conference in El Salvador to be held later this year.

With the addi­tion of the Dominican Republic and Burundi, the num­ber of coun­tries with Women in Coffee Chapters rises to seven, with another twelve wait­ing in the wings to ful­fill the require­ments to become chap­ters and join those groups already enjoy­ing the ben­e­fits of the IWCA. CoffeeTalk is proud to also be a spon­sor of the IWCA and Kerri sits on their board as well.

These are just a few of the great moments at the SCAA. We truly have a great asso­ci­a­tion and indus­try. Thank you.

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