Cooperatives Mean Self-Reliance for Coffee Farmers

When you buy Dean's Beans® organic coffees you are directly participating in the strengthening of the cooperative movement not only here, but around the world as well. Most of the beans we buy are grown by farmers who belong to coffee growing and marketing coops. The rest are grown by independent, small farmers (mostly indigenous peoples). As co-founder and director of Coffee Kids, the only nonprofit development organization in the coffee industry, and through my own field work, I have become keenly aware of how cooperatives add many dimensions to the coherence and survival of coffee communities and improve the quality of life for farmers and their families.

In San Juan La Laguna, a small village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, La Voz que Clama en el Desierto ("The Voice that Cries in the Wilderness") coop has about three hundred members. These farmers started the coop about six years ago to gain more bargaining power and better prices from brokers and exporters. Since then, the coop has built a new headquarters building and a processing facility in San Juan, keeping more of the value of the crop for the farmers and creating jobs in the community.

As with most coffee coops, La Voz has also been active in community development, such as building a school in the village and assisting Coffee Kids in the creation of women's communal banks ("Village Banks"). Working cooperatively has also increased the business skills and understandings of coop members, who are active participants in the coop decsionmaking process. Many of the women of San Juan La Laguna are involved in another exciting Coffee Kids project.

On March 28, 1997, I had the honor of joining with 44 indigenous women from around the lake for the inauguration of the San Pedro Women's Health Project. The project, which we have been developing with the women for over two years, is a combination village bank and health training and promotion project. The project will provide income for the women, while generating funds for the administration of the health project. This unique project, funded in part by your coop purchases, is a pathbreaking model of creative self-financing for non-profit community organizations.

Halfway around the world, cooperative endeavors are leading to increased income, nutrition and community health for villagers in Kapubaten, northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Although formal coops are rare in Indonesia, a home-grown version called "Self-Reliance Groups" ("SRG's") parallels the form and function of the coop. In Kapubaten, with support from Coffee Kids, coffee farmers and their families have formed SRG's to bring drinking water through pipelines to their village and homes. The SRG's have also taken advantage of technical assistance to raise alternative crops between the coffee rows for increased family nutrition and income generation. The cooperative movement continues to have a meaningful impact on the lives of children and families throughout the coffee-growing world.

Other organic coffee coops, such as Prodecoop in Nicaragua, La Providencia in El Salvador, Rio Apurimac in Peru, and UCIRI in Mexico mean dignity and dollars for coffee farmers and their families and great coffee for you!

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