This post was written by Tim Flores of Community Food Cooperative in Bellingham, WA.
A long time Co-Op advocate and friend of Pachamama Coffee, Tim joined our CEO, Cafe Director, and several other wholesale partners to visit our farmer-owners in Nicaragua in March of 2018.
Co-ops around the world, including ours, are founded on the six principles created by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. A seventh principle was adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance in 1995. Amongst these 7 Cooperative Principles, is Principle 6 (P6): Cooperation among Cooperatives.
In the spring of last year, I traveled with Pachamama Coffee Roasting Co-op, to the Central American country of Nicaragua, a country famous for its cooperatives in all sectors of economy and education. Established in 2001, Pachamama is a global cooperative owned by five member groups who, in turn, are owned by thousands of families in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.
This trip was dual purpose:
First, to visit “Primary Level Farmer Cooperatives”, the village based small farm co-ops that specifically grow Organic Fair Trade Coffee that we sell here at the Community Food Co-op. Second, to visit, PRODECOOP, a coffee drying and milling cooperative made of 38 primary level Coffee Farmer Co-ops. PRODECOOP, a “Secondary Level Farmer Cooperative,” supports 2,300 individual farmers, 28% of whom are women, and all of which sell their coffee in the Fair Trade market.
Upon arrival in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, I met up with Thaleon Tremain, CEO and cofounder of Pachamama. Managua is a huge urban metro, surrounded by volcanoes, large lakes, and rain forests. One need only drive through Managua’s busy, unregulated streets to recognize the country’s active struggles with post war poverty. At any traffic crossing in Managua people of all ages sell bananas, tortillas, and plastic bags full of fresh coconut water. I was told they were part of street vendor cooperatives that pool their money at the end of the day.
We drove across Nicaragua to the city of Esteli, home of PRODECOOP. At PRODECOOP, we were given a presentation on the economic power of co-ops in Nica, by the famous Central American Women’s Rights and Cooperative leader, Merling Preza. General Manager of PRODECOOP, Merling is also one of the founders of the global Fair Trade movement. She helped found Fair Trade coffee co-ops all across Nicaragua, as well as setting up distribution of Fair Trade coffee to Europe, Japan, and cofounding Pachamama Co-op in the U.S.
We then traveled to PRODECOOP’s Beneficio (coffee processing facility) in the town of Palacaguina. Beneficio’s air dry and warehouse coffee beans for distribution. Organic Fair Trade coffee is so valuable the Nicaraguan military guards the green coffee beans 24 hours a day after harvest. The soldiers, machine guns in hand, told me occasionally people attempt to steal coffee, to resell back to the beneficio. Co-op jobs in Nicaragua are highly desired, this cooperative beneficio hires 400 local people during harvest season!
Nicaragua’s Agricultural Production Co-ops, were started in the 1980s as a way to give land back to members of the agricultural peasantry following a brutal civil war. All across Nicaragua, families live on shared land, but farm individually, then pool their agricultural crops together at Primary Level Co-ops. These co-ops are the heart and soul of Nicaragua!
We finally traveled to the primary level co-op, Cooperativa de San Anton de San Lucas, near the municipality of Somoto.
From here, we hiked 3km with members of this co-op, to a gorgeous mountain top farm accessible only by foot or horse. I was told by kids along the way, they carry coffee on their backs down this trail with their dad when walking to their cooperative school in Somoto. At the farm, Don Luis Alberto showed us his coffee plants, and explained how their cooperative farms now use crop diversity and organic methods to help stop Coffee Rust, a fungal disease which had destroyed their crops in the 1990s do to monoculture farming. Don Luis shared fresh coffee cherries to eat, but asked us to give him the seeds, as every handpicked coffee bean is quite valuable to him!
All along the way I gave people photos of our co-op in Bellingham, and all along the way, people said to me, “De nuestra cooperativa a tu cooperativa!” “From our Co-op, to your Co-op!”