This morning, our entire group headed to the local coffee cooperative, CEPCO, in Oaxaca. Five leaders from the organization spoke to our group. The cooperative covers seven regions in the state and has about 4000 members who belong to 40 different organizations. The member farms are mostly small producers who farm 2-2.5 hectares, with a small handful running farms that have 5 hectares. CEPCO is a member of a national coffee organization, but based on what I heard this morning, it is run independently.
The cooperative serves the producers in many ways, with the end goal of improving farmer income. One critical aspect was through the formation of a credit union for the producers, so they could borrow money to finance their coffee crops. Traditional forms of credit are not available to the small producers because they lack sufficient collateral (globally, including the US, access to credit is one of the biggest problems small-scale producers face).
Four to five years ago, the cooperative started producing coffee under an organic production system (I bought 1/2 kilo this morning), in order to add more value to the farmers’ crops. The cooperative provides technical assistance and training to farmers to ensure they follow organic regulations.
About 80 percent of the harvest is exported (EU, US and Canada); the export markets provide the largest returns to farmers.
Providing a high quality product that meets the requirements for export markets in a key goal (crucially tied to the improving farmer income goal) of the group. Thus, the cooperative is involved in all stages of production and processing, including grading, sorting, and packaging.
Three of us are sick today (including me!) and came back to the hotel and the rest of the class headed to one of the cooperative’s coffee plantations. The five hour bus ride was not something the three of us could face today. Unfortunately, the construction in the hotel is keeping me awake, but also giving me the time to catch up on what we’ve been doing. So here are the rest of the details on yesterday’s hike:
As we walked through the woods, we saw several farmers working on different fields. One was plowing his cornfield, using a plow drawn by a team of oxen.
We saw burros standing by the fields, waiting to carry the hand harvested corn (we were unable to see the harvesting from the trail). We also saw several farmers working in their fields, preparing the soil. Corn planting time is just around the corner: February and March.
Despite the beauty of the fields and the meticulous care that was obvious to us, the subsistence farmers are unable to make a living from their fields (our guide reported that to us).
The end of our hike was an ascent of 365 feet over less than one mile. Several students were unhappy, and honestly, I was huffing and puffing as I walked up that stretch (but I still loved it!). When we reached the top, I remarked to the few students within earshot: imagine how it must be to harvest your food (that you bring to market to seel) and then to strap it to a burro, and walk home or to market, up steep hills.
Lo and behold, as soon as I uttered those words, an indigenous farmer (a woman named Cecile) walked up with her burrow, loaded with three bags full of 185 bunches of watercress that she was taking home to wash. She sells the bunches in the market for 2 pesos each; our translator bought a bunch and gave her 5 pesos. The day in the mountains – first at Monte Alban and then in the woods of Benito Juarez – was spectacular. I am sorry that I missing the coffee plantation, but I expect a report complete with photos tomorrow.