This article is from the April 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Fair Trade Tours to Mexico

by Erbin Crowell, Equal Exchange

The southern state of Chiapas is one of Mexico's most richly-endowed areas, producing oil, timber, hydroelectric power, coffee and corn. Yet most people in Chiapas live in desperate poverty. Chiapas lags far behind the rest of the country in household income, health and education.

In January, Global Exchange and Equal Exchange, a worker-owned fair trade coffee company based in Boston, cosponsored a "Fair Trade Consumer Education Tour" to Chiapas. A key goal was to build awareness of the role that fair trade can play in creating a better future for farmers and artisans.

We met with representatives of NGO's, artisan groups and campesino co-ops. Many of these groups are affiliated with the Network Against Extreme Poverty in the Highlands (RECEPAC), an alliance of coffee and crafts cooperatives, and grassroots groups addressing problems of land tenure, markets and political corruption in Chiapas.

One of the groups we visited was La Unión Majomut, Equal Exchange's trading partner for organic Mexican coffees. Majomut, a campesino organization comprising some 1,200 members in 17 indigenous communities, was founded in 1983 to build economic alternatives for indigenous coffee farmers in the highlands. Based in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the organization assists its members in producing, processing and marketing organic coffee. Majomut helps farmers with training in organic agriculture and coffee quality. Tour participants had the opportunity to pick coffee beans and learn about the different stages of coffee production from organic growing, harvesting, and hand processing, to sorting and storage.

Through Equal Exchange and fair trade organizations in Europe, Majomut is able to sell its coffee directly, rather than through middlemen, and its members get a better price for their beans. Farmers make a better living for themselves and their families and are able to invest in the care and maintenance of their farms, while Majomut is able to invest in training programs, coffee processing equipment, and infrastructure.

For more information on Equal Exchange's fair trade coffee program, contact them at 251 Revere Street, Canton, MA 02021, (617) 830-0303.

For more information on how you can go on a fair trade Reality Tour, contact Sandra Nova at (800) 497-1994.