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Coffee and Community

Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair-Trade Markets

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 266
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  • Book Info
    Coffee and Community
    Book Description:

    We are told that simply by sipping our morning cup of organic, fair-trade coffee we are encouraging environmentally friendly agricultural methods, community development, fair prices, and shortened commodity chains. But what is the reality for producers, intermediaries, and consumers? This ethnographic analysis of fair-trade coffee analyzes the collective action and combined efforts of fair-trade network participants to construct a new economic reality. Focusing on La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto-a cooperative in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala-and its relationships with coffee roasters, importers, and certifiers in the United States, Coffee and Community argues that while fair trade does benefit small coffee-farming communities, it is more flawed than advocates and scholars have acknowledged. However, through detailed ethnographic fieldwork with the farmers and by following the product, fair trade can be understood and modified to be more equitable. This book will be of interest to students and academics in anthropology, ethnology, Latin American studies, and labor studies, as well as economists, social scientists, policy makers, fair-trade advocates, and anyone interested in globalization and the realities of fair trade. Winner of the Society for Economic Anthropology Book Award

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-058-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Fair trade is a form of alternative trade that seeks to improve the position of disempowered small-scale farmers through trade as a means of development. The movement, which promotes labeling, certification, and consumer action, rejects the narrow view of third-world producers as victims and instead emphasizes the role that northern consumption can play in their economic empowerment and well-being. Its supporters argue that it contests the conventional agro-food system and the exploitative relations of production characterizing it. The growing popularity of fair-trade coffee reflects our own cultural assumptions and anxieties surrounding free trade, corporate globalization, economic injustices, and the politicization...

  5. 2 The Historical Convergence of Local Livelihoods, the Global Economy, and International Politics
    (pp. 23-54)

    A robust understanding of the cultural politics of fair-trade coffee and its attendant economic, social, and environmental processes is best gained through long-term ethnographic research among the principal actors. However, like all social phenomena, fair trade is by its very nature historical and the relationships among the individuals and events in our particular moment cannot be fully abstracted from their past and future settings (Mintz 1985). The reality of contemporary fair-trade coffee exchange is contingent upon the historical trajectory of coffee production and the centuries-long interplay of local livelihoods, global economic forces, and international politics. Therefore, a thorough analysis of...

  6. 3 “Trade Not Aid”: Assessing Fair Trade’s Economic Impact on Cooperative Members and Their Families
    (pp. 55-80)

    Guatemala is one of the most impoverished nations in the Western Hemisphere and, like many Latin American nations, a region of stark financial inequalities. Approximately 75 percent of Guatemalans live below the poverty line, meaning that they cannot afford to regularly purchase a basic basket of goods. Conditions are even bleaker in rural indigenous communities such as San Juan. However, statistics like these do little to illuminate the harsh reality of this poverty that exists in the shadows of the posh hotels and eateries lining the streets of Guatemala City’s Zona Viva. Guatemala currently has the fourth-highest rate of chronic...

  7. 4 Obligatory Burdens: Collaboration and Discord within the Cooperative
    (pp. 81-122)

    In April 2002 the cooperative held a general assembly meeting in the empty coffee warehouse that the group had recently built with members’ voluntary labor and the funds remaining from the construction of the additional drying patio provided by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. It was a warm and dusty day as the heat of the dry season settled over San Juan and the lingering smell of last harvest’s coffee permeated the room. The meeting began midmorning on Chapino (Guatemalan) time, meaning two hours late. Some male cooperative members came alone while others brought their wives, many with babies tied to...

  8. 5 The Political Economy of Organic and Shade-Grown Coffee Certification, Local Livelihoods, and Identities
    (pp. 123-150)

    In the United States, a casual perusal of the fair-trade coffee offerings at the local supermarket or coffee shop will quickly reveal the extent to which fair trade and organic coffee certifications are linked in the marketplace. The majority of fair-trade coffees for sale are also certified organic and often shade-grown as well. This dual and even triple certification reflects first and foremost the desires of coffee roasters to simultaneously place products in as many market niches as possible, thereby attracting consumers motivated by a variety of personal causes and interests. However, it is also an outgrowth of the past...

  9. 6 Managing the Maya: Power in the Fair-Trade Market
    (pp. 151-178)

    The cooperative’s beneficio is at the center of the flurry of activity accompanying the annual coffee harvest in San Juan; it is where members work rotating shifts and gather each afternoon to weigh their coffee, discuss the year’s harvest, and joke with one another. Children frequently rush down the hill to the beneficio after school to chase each other around the patios and wait for their mothers and fathers to finish their work. The town’s chuchos, or street dogs, aimlessly circulate, occasionally stopping to sniff at the coffee drying in the high-altitude sun on the cement patios. The atmosphere is...

  10. 7 Marketing the Maya: Fair Trade’s Producer/Consumer Relationships
    (pp. 179-206)

    Beginning in May and lasting through October, Guatemala’s rainy season was so ferocious that it forced me to rearrange my daily activities. I am not an overly religious person; however, while making a late afternoon return from an interview in Panajachel during a particularly strong storm, I found myself praying with the elderly Kaqchikel woman who clutched at my raincoat as wave after wave of water soaked us. After that day I began to limit afternoon appointments and instead generally stayed close to home. When possible, I conducted interviews in my neighborhood and always kept an umbrella close. Sometimes I...

  11. 8 Conclusion: A Fairer Future
    (pp. 207-214)

    When I first began this research, nearly a decade ago, few people I encountered were familiar with fair trade. I was forced to continuously explain the then-novel idea to my friends, family members, and colleagues. Today this is no longer the case as fair-trade coffee has entered the mainstream of North American culture. No longer do you have to buy your fair-trade coffee at fund-raisers held in church basements. Rather than scooping your (inevitably stale) fair-trade coffee out of the bulk bins at natural foods cooperatives, you can now grab vacuum-sealed bags of it off your local grocery store’s shelf...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 215-226)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 227-258)
  14. Index
    (pp. 259-266)