A Fair Trade Pilgrimage

Ercilio, our host, showed us his son's wedding picture.  It had been years since he had seen his son, who had made his way from their small farm in the Dominican Republic to Germany where he worked as a mechanic. Ercilio hadn't met his daughter-in-law, but he had this picture. 

He held it to his chest. 

Mi Corazon, he said, and looked up to the stars. Ramon Antonio Mosquea, a CONACADO farmer, breaks open a Cacao pod (Photo by Ashley Cheuk, Equal Exchange)

I came to be Ercilio's houseguest as a part of a delegation visiting the National Confederation of Dominican Cacao Producers (CONACADO), a co-op of 8,000 small-scale organic cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic. CONACADO is a pioneer in organic and Fair Trade cocoa, and the World's leading exporter of certified organic cocoa. Equal Exchange, Week of Compassion's Fair Trade partner, has worked with this farmer organization for 11 years.

One of the goals for this trip, and others Equal Exchange has led over the years, is to help the US public see and appreciate the hard work, skill, investment and years of perseverance that are required to produce top-quality organic cocoa. Another goal is to allow the delegates to see first-hand the benefits of the farmers' co-operative business model, and those of Equal Exchange's Fair Trade practices. Equal Exchange introduced the Fair Trade food and beverage concept to the US in the 1980's and sources approximately 99% of its imports from small-farmer co-operatives. 

The visit took us not only through the technical aspects of cocoa production, which included helping harvest cacao pods, learning about the fermentation and drying process, and visiting CONACADO's top-notch production facility, but it also took us into the lives of the families whose farms produce the raw material that makes its way into the Fair Trade chocolate that is served by many of our Disciples congregations.  We spent time in meeting with farmer associations, listening to their hopes, aspirations, and concerns, as well as enjoying the generosity and hospitality they offered as they opened their homes to us.  And no one was more hospitable than Ercilio.

WoC Associate Director, Brandon Gilvin, tries his hand at harvesting Cacao (Photo by Ashley Cheuk, Equal Exchange)

Ercilio showed us around his farm, letting us taste raw almonds, fresh fruit, and of course, cacao. We shared both rich, spicy homemade drinking chocolate and an Equal Exchange chocolate bar made with cocoa that originated from CONACADO farms, and we asked and answered one another's questions -How much does a plane ticket to the United States cost?  How long ago did your wife and sons migrate to look for work?What do you think of the Boston Red Sox? How much do people pay in the United States for a chocolate bar like this?

Our conversations with Ercilio, whether over breakfast or a late night game of dominos, reminded us of just how central relationships are to the fair trade model; how aspiration, security, migration, and the value of family intersect messily in the lives of farming families; and why human dignity and investment in an entire community are essential parts of a just economic exchange. 

By working through co-ops like CONACADO and offering Fair Trade Premiums, Equal Exchange's Fair Trade model not only provides  individual farmers with a fair price for their labor and product, but economic empowerment.  As we spent time together, CONACADO farmers told us that before the belonged to the co-op, they were often at the mercy of cacao brokers.  They sold their cacao at the price the brokers quoted.  Now, they told us, they were aware of the market price, and by working together as a co-op, they had more leverage, more opportunity, and dignity.

We toured a computer lab in a local community center, and visited a community water project, both of which resulted from the investment of Fair Trade premiums managed by the Co-op and its local associations.  Farmers told us that the education of their children was more easily affordable and that there are new jobs that flow from the successes of the co-op and farmers.  Younger people do not have to leave the community as often when seeking certain kinds of education or training. In turn, more of them are staying in the community. And that means there is a greater skill based residing in the community. Less often do people, or businesses like the co-op, need to go outside the community to hire, or contract, for certain kinds of skilled work.  The impoverishing, vicious downward spiral of de-population had reversed itself-an incredible achievement.

As I've reflected on this trip since returning to the states, my thoughts have turned repeatedly to Ercilio and his family. What can fair trade mean to a family?  Earning a livelihood, sure, but it can also make migration more of a choice than necessity for future generations.  It can mean the slowing-or even the virtual end-of a community's "brain drain" as the best and brightest are able to benefit from a thriving organic, fair trade farming operation.  I can't think of a better way to put our Compassion into Action than supporting this sort of work.  It gives us a real opportunity to make purchases that express our values as people of faith, building partnerships that  give a farmer like Ercilio the opportunity to hold his children-his heart-much closer in the future.


You are Inspiring!

If you have participated in the Disciples Coffee Project you have invested in the lives of farmers like those who are members of CONACADO, and your purchases have also helped to support food security and other projects supported by Week of Compassion.  Your purchase has counted twice!


Cacao Pods and Equal Exchange Bars (Photo by: Ashley Cheuk, Equal Exchange)


Over 10,000 congregations, schools, and groups use our products every year, and each one has a story to tell about how they learned about Fair Trade, got their program started, and found support in their community. Now, Equal Exchange has a new web page to broadcast those stories far and wide! Get inspired atwww.equalexchange.coop/programs/customer-stories.

Do you have a story to tell about your experience with Equal Exchange? Email your story to jrazsa@equalexchange.coop. 

This week's responses:

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance
Texas, Emergency Grant
Illinois, Tornado Damage (5)
Development and Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
Guatemala, Human Rights Education
Mexico, Job Training for Persons Living with HIV and AIDS
Mexico, Water for Life
Paraguay, Economic Development Initiative for Women
Democratic Republic of Congo, Water for Life
Democratic Republic of Congo, Medical Supplies
Hungary, Refugee Community Center
Egypt, Human Security and Youth Empowerment
Afghanistan, Orthopedic Workshop and Physical Therapy Center
Bangladesh, Community Development (2)
Vietnam, Cleaner Villages
Serbia, Inclusive Roma Education
Republic of Georgia, Tblilsi Youth House
Pakistan, Peace Education
Kenya, Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation
Uganda, Safe School Zone
Tanzania, Cervical Cancer Prevention