This blog post was sent to us by Tom Hanlon-Wilde who is currently in Ecuador about to attend the Second Annual Meeting of the Small Producers Symbol. Tom is an Equal Exchange Sales Manager in Portland, Oregon.
Imagine you wanted to change the world and you succeeded, only to have someone steal your ID and your clothes and pretend to be you. Would you try to discredit the impostor? Or would you go to your true friends and show them the true you?
This is the scenario leaders of small scale farmers’ co-operatives faced in 2011 when large plantations were given fair trade certification against the wishes of the farmers who had painstakingly built the movement. The identify theft suffered by farmers in the Global South spurred their co-operatives to rise up and take action.
I’m here in Quito, Ecuador, to witness those farmers reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
In Quito, a star-studded cast of authentic fair trade leaders, including Merling Preza Ramos of PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, Sergio Neira of CEPICAFE, and Raul del Aguila of COCLA, in Peru, and Nelson Guerra Chinchilla of COPRACAEL in Honduras, have convened the 2nd International Meeting of the Small Farmers Symbol (SPP). At this meeting, the farmer co-operatives involved in the Small Farmers Symbol will formalize the operation of their new certification system. The system is impressive, with the new General Standards incorporating four dozen criteria for small farmer member organizations, including maximum individual farm sizes and a maximum percentage of farm work performed by hired farm workers. In addition, buyers who use the SPP must meet nearly three dozen criteria, including a minimum of 5% annual volume growth in program purchases. At this meeting in Quito, farmer representatives will also approve the newly updated Cost Regulations, and Rules on the Use of the SPP Graphic.
More importantly, the event in Quito will be an giant step in advancing the original vision of fair trade. As Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange Co-President and Co-founder, pointed out at the Interfaith Task Force meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 22, 2011, “We need to be clear: the idea for controlled mainstreaming of fair trade came from the south, most specifically from one coop (UCIRI) in southern Oaxaca, Mexico. The idea was not to give control of the fair trade system to European non- profits, or bureaucrats, or mulch-national companies or to plantations . . . .” It was just that loss of control that brought the farmers together to form the Small Farmer Symbol.
In a 2011 interview with Catholic Relief Services, Merling Preza explained that the US-based certifier Fair Trade USA (a.k.a. TransFair USA) reached an agreement with smallholder farmer representatives in 2003 that its coffee certification program remain exclusively for small scale farmers. She further noted that Transfair confirmed that commitment in a letter to producers three years later, and that as of June 2011, Merling was still receiving personal assurances that there were no plans to open the market to estates. When that agreement was abandoned, the farmers readied themselves to launch the Small Farmer Symbol.
Christopher M. Bacon foresaw the troubles in the fair trade system in his study for the Journal of Peasant Studies #37 when he wrote of the Transfair USA system, “Voices without votes, North-South inequalities, and dwindling prices paid to its stated protagonists indicate the need for governance reform, cost of living price adjustments, and additional investment in the innovative alternative trade and hybrid models. “
Over the past two decades the farmers and leaders used tender care and fierce determination to grow both their coffee trees and co-operatives. Today in Quito, I expect this gathering to burst forth into life an innovative alternative trade model that gives farmers a voice and a vote.