I just returned from an amazing trip to Nicaragua where I joined the dedicated, fantastic, and very fun new student leaders of United Students for Fair Trade. The USFT crew let me join them for five days to talk about the great work that Cooperative Coffees (and consequently, Dean’s Beans) does for the Fair Trade movement. I also was able to hear more about the campaigns and organizing they run in America and with producer groups. USFT was preparing their new leaders for a busy year of advocacy and policy work in the States, and the time they took to spend with me was greatly appreciated.
I was clearly looking forward to the trip – who doesn’t want to pretend they’re back in college by gazing at life through the lens of motivated and brilliant students, and doing it with a fist clasped around some good ‘ol Nicaraguan rum? If it was conversation with these stimulated minds I was looking for, I sure found it. In fact, there was no avoiding it thanks to the one room and one small bus fifteen of us shared for five days.
Once all our flights arrived, we didn’t waste anytime leaving the run-down capital city of Managua. We hurtled directly, as best our bus could, to the quiet village of San Ramon, outside of Matagalpa. In San Ramon, we were able to witness how cooperative members are creatively finding new ways to improve their lives and the health of their communities. At the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives (UCA), which is an umbrella group working with 21 cooperatives and selling to the overarching group CECOCAFEN, farmers have developed sustainability standards for growing their coffee which include preserving watersheds, planting on terraces and avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They have also initiated a gender awareness program that both men and women participate in. This has allowed women to hold positions in the Cooperative’s voting structure, as well as to hold their own land. In addition, the UCA engages local youth to be active participants in their communities through theater, music and literacy programs.
I spoke with the head of the UCA, and discussed a project that Dean’s Beans has been committed to for a few years now. There has been much discussion about creating a café much like the successful Ben Linder Café in Léon we helped establish, as a way to promote and highlight fine Nicaraguan coffees and diversify income sources. In recent years, because the cooperatives did not own roasters to roast their coffee, the café concept remained just an idea. But now CECOCAFEN’s coffee processing plant, SoLCafé, has a roaster and is selling coffee locally; the time is ripe to implement the Café idea. Stay tuned for more!
In light of the recent collapse of the Doha Round WTO trade talks, I left Nicaragua grasping not a bottle of rum, but rather the beckoning hope of Fair Trade. Time and time again during the trip, Coop members mentioned how Fair Trade has helped improve their lives, and the lives of their children. And to see a new generation of USFT students asking the hard questions about Fair Trade and connecting with farmers made me practically leap in the air, fist just that high, and yell "We are going to change the world!"