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Moving Beyond the Coffee Market in Mexico:
Coffee Kids Partners Creating Vibrant Communities Throughout Mexico

Staff Report

In this article, Tea & Coffee Trade Journal explores how Coffee Kids and other non-profit organizations are improving the lives of Mexican coffee farmers through alternative employment.

Raymundo Osorio and his wife Roberta Martinez live in the village of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The village is a stomach-churning, four-hour drive up winding roads from the state capital. They are typical of the small coffee farmers in the area. Each day the couple walks a mile out of town and climbs a set of steep switchbacks from the road to work on their small coffee plot.

An open-air shed sits in a picturesque spot with views of the valley below. Sounds of the river float up the mountainside and birds abound. Thick forests blanket the surrounding mountains in a carpet of green below bright blue skies.

It’s December and bright, red coffee cherries add a splash of color to the shady green plot. But there’s more than coffee here. Vanilla plants wind their way around the coffee bushes and space is being prepped for the construction of a greenhouse.

Since the coffee crisis began in the early 1990s, Osorio has learned that coffee isn’t enough to survive upon; in fact the entire community has worked to find alternatives to coffee, allowing families to continue farming coffee without being wholly dependent on the crop.

Santa Cruz Tepetotutla is one of 52 communities working with the Center of Support for the Popular Movement of Oaxaca (CAMPO), an organization that has been working for the last 20 years to promote indigenous rights, community activism and sustainable agriculture in marginalized areas of Oaxaca.

Even though Mexico is the largest producer of organic coffee in the world and many of the farmers receive price premiums for their coffee, Mexico’s coffee-producing states are among the poorest in the country.

CAMPO provides technical support for a variety of projects, including: chicken raising, organic honey production, worm-composting, wood saving stoves, greenhouse construction, fruit and vegetable canning and other efforts to boost economic development through local business activities.

The organization is also building a training center with help from Coffee Kids, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that has been supporting a variety of CAMPO projects since 1996. Even in its unfinished state, the center is being used for demonstration projects, research, community outreach and informational exchanges.

CAMPO is just one of four organizations in Mexico that receive support from Coffee Kids, which has been helping coffee-farming families improve their quality of life since 1988. The programs run by these organizations are as unique as the communities they serve, but all serve the same purpose: to help thousands of coffee-farming families find viable economic alternatives and create stable, vibrant communities.

Coffee Kids’ partners in Mexico include CAMPO as well as the Organization Fostering Community Initiatives in Coffee Regions (FomCafé) in Oaxaca, Self-Managed Development (AUGE) in Veracruz and the Association for Research and Training of Southeastern Mexico (ICSUR) in Chiapas.

Saving for a Brighter Future with AUGE
One of the keys to Coffee Kids efforts to encourage sustainable change is to offer long-lasting support that gives a program time to take root. Self-Managed Development (AUGE) in Veracruz has been a partner since 1996. AUGE’s Groups of Women Saving in Solidarity (GMAS) microcredit program serves thousands of women and their families throughout Veracruz.

Microcredit involves establishing a bank to provide people with small loans at reasonable interest rates that help encourage small local business and development, but the GMAS program takes the idea further.

GMAS focuses on creating savings groups where women form small groups that gather once a week to make deposits, learn about money management and social issues and share their experiences. The capital is left with the group instead of a bank and a portion of the interest is paid back to the group thus generating their own capital for additional loans.

“With regular microcredit, you don’t learn how to count money, how to save, you don’t share solidarity with your neighbor,” said David Abedon, Coffee Kids co-founder and board member. “GMAS does more community development and the golden thread through this process is savings.”

The GMAS program began with 100 women organized into five groups just beginning to save money, but since then has expanded to include 4,012 women, men and children in 145 savings groups and over $700,000 has been saved.

Another important aspect of Coffee Kids’ work is the sharing that takes place between partners. Successful programs, such as the GMAS program, serve as models for other groups through exchanges facilitated by Coffee Kids. Groups in Nicaragua are now using a microcredit/savings model based on the program at AUGE.

The Growing Power of Community with ICSUR
The state of Chiapas, one of the most renowned coffee-growing regions in Mexico, also suffers from the highest rate of malnutrition, estimated to affect 40% of the population. Coffee Kids partner, the Association for Research and Training of Southeastern Mexico (ICSUR) is helping local coffee-farming families confront the problem with projects encouraging mushroom and chicken production to improve nutrition while increasing local business activity at the same time.

In 2007, Coffee Kids’ support allowed ICSUR to provide technical training to 33 women and 15 men in the production of edible mushrooms and to begin a chicken raising project. Thanks to the programs, participating families have added valuable foodstuffs to their diet and sold the surplus in local markets.

Given the success ICSUR had in the past year with its mushroom-production project, many women have begun reinvesting the profits from their sales to expand production and educate other women. The organization is now able to direct more efforts to the chicken raising project, which is gaining more attention in the communities where ICSUR works.

“We are 15 women working together, but I am thinking about how we can do this on a larger scale,” said Aida Cruz Ramirez, a participant in the chicken raising project. She has worked hard to grow her small business in addition to feeding her family and now has 67 hens and five roosters.

FomCafé: Variety of Programs for a Variety of Needs
FomCafé, based in Oaxaca, has been a Coffee Kids partner since 2000. The organization helps communities create projects in edible mushroom production, microcredit and savings groups, family gardens and organic honey production.

In 2006, Coffee Kids facilitated an exchange between AUGE and FomCafé, which was attended by 53 women from seven communities. The microcredit and savings groups currently serve over 140 participants in eight different groups.

“By joining this group, I’ve learned that between compañeras the most valuable thing is respect and that there’s love between us,” said Eugenia Barrius Serabia, a participant in FomCafé’s microcredit and mushroom production projects. “But above all, it’s the respect that we have for each other.”

This respect extends to all of the communities served by the program’s Coffee Kids supports. The benefits aren’t only found in improved nutrition and greater economic prospects, but also in increased self-esteem and in business and leadership skills among people in Mexico’s coffee-growing regions.

This year, Coffee Kids celebrates 20 years of helping coffee-farming families improve their quality of life. To learn more about Coffee Kids’ partners and their programs, visit www.coffeekids.org or call +1(505) 820-1443.

Tea & Coffee - March, 2009

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