The week-long visit with our Canadian micro-roaster culminated with the signing of a contract, a decidedly positive accomplishment for all involved.
In brief, the history of the fair trade project I am supporting is such that over the past year, Crossroads facilitated North/South and South/North visits, enabling Canadian coffee roasters to visit a coffee cooperative in Bolivia and vice versa. COAINE cooperative consists of 250 members, impacting more than 500 families. FONCRESOL (a micro-finance institution in La Paz that promotes economic and community empowerment in marginalized communities) collaborated with COAINE, offering them vital access to a loan in order to finance shipping costs and thus export their premium coffee at market price. As a result – and with considerable support from my volunteer predecessor – it was with great excitement that COAINE`s first export to Canada took place earlier this year.
Derryl Reid of Green Bean Coffee Imports was one of 5 Canadian micro-roasters who collaborated to purchase the first container. This month, Derryl was thrilled to return to Bolivia and commit to importing an entire container (in this case, 260 x 60kg bags). Since April, Green Bean has switched over to buying and selling uniquely Bolivian coffee. Having a direct relationship with the coffee producers he works with is key for Derryl and it was evident both parties are learning and growing together as their friendship and business relationship flourishes.
Both organic and Fair Trade certified, COAINE produces high quality, 100% washed Arabic Creole coffee. When asked what distinguishes Bolivian coffee from other varieties he has stocked in the past, Derryl cites its versatility: of a well-rounded quality, it balances the elements of aroma, body, flavour, acidity and sweetness. With a smooth, mellow favour, Bolivian coffee performs well when roasted at different levels and when blended.
The negotiations took place at COAINE`s production plant up in El Alto – the sprawling, impoverished city located above La Paz. About 6 members of COAINE were present (7 including one sleeping colleague) and I was on hand to translate the discussions. Coffee production was lower than usual this year in Caranavi (due to various factors, mostly climate-related), leaving the farmers anxious. However, next year`s harvest – from March to June – is shaping up to be more fruitful, both literally and figuratively.
There was much dialogue about the current coffee market, fair trade and organic premiums, and the hopes, needs and limitations of both parties. Following preamble from various members, the actual number-crunching part of the discussion was smooth, with both parties satisfied after very little back and forth.
While on site, we took the opportunity to visit the quality control area of the plant, where coffee beans are sorted and selected for export. The selection of coffee beans is a manual process, carried out by the women. The rejected beans are set aside, while the selected beans are funnelled into a sack underneath the work station. The lesser quality beans are not discarded, rather they are sold on the local market (there is hope amidst the ubiquitous Nestlé instant coffee!).
It was a privilege to participate in the negotiations, and to witness first-hand the key elements of a direct trade relationship – dialogue, transparency and respect – that I have so often talked about.
A fun coffee fact: Currently the 3 largest producers of coffee are Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.