Fairtrade is a critically important certification but it might also seem a bit abstract. Because May is Fairtrade month, we wanted to share some information directly from Fairtrade Canada on one association—Café Organica Marcala, in Honduras—to help clarify just why these organisations are so important.
"Café Organica Marcala (COMSA) is an association of small-scale organic coffee producers located in the La Paz region of western Honduras. Its members grow high quality certified organic coffee on small farms averaging 3.8 hectares. Many also grow fruit and vegetables, raise cattle, pigs and poultry and keep fish in ponds. Coffee beans from the individual farmers are purchased by the COMSA collective, who carry out primary processing then buy in milling, packing and export services. COMSA also purchases coffee from non-member farmers. In 2011/12 COMSA produced and sold 90,000 quintals (approx 4,100 tonnes) of coffee, of which two thirds was sold to Fairtrade buyers. COMSA is paid the Fairtrade Minimum Price of US$1.40 a pound for Fairtrade sales, or the market price if higher. There is an additional premium of 30 cents a pound for certified organic coffee. The fact that COMSA pays good prices for members’ coffee is public knowledge and forces other traders to offer higher prices to local farmers. They also receive the Fairtrade Premium of US 20 cents a pound to invest in business development and community improvements. A quarter of the premium must be invested in productivity and quality improvement, to increase incomes and improve competitiveness with other coffees grown in the region.
"COMSA’s organic production policy aims to improve coffee quality by reviving depleted soil fertility and ending use of the harmful chemicals that caused it. This also has health benefits for farmers, makes fields safe to grow food crops and ends contamination of water sources. Coffee waste is recycled to make organic fertiliser which is distributed free to farmers, helping reduce fertiliser costs by a factor of 50 compared to chemicals. Productivity is higher than for conventional production, costs are reduced and the need for more labour generates employment and reduces migration and consequent family breakdown.
"COMSA has funded diploma courses in organic agriculture from the national university for Sonia Vasquez, Director of Technical Assistance, two members of the technical assistance team and two farmers. The team provides agricultural advice and training to farmers and develops low-cost, quick-win technologies that are easy for farmers to implement. The soil fertility programme, for example, requires laboratory analysis of soil samples taken on farm visits, then advising farmers of the recommended organic fertilisers, nutrients and minerals needed to improve the fertility of their soil. Integrated farm management training modules cover crop quality, the use of shade trees, water management, and cupping characteristics – which teaches farmers how agricultural techniques affect the final coffee taste. The team organises farmer exchange visits to successful farms to share knowledge, also publishing this information on its web site.
"COMSA was Fairtrade certified in 2005 after members learnt from Fairtrade co-operatives in the area that Fairtrade included a stable minimum price almost three times higher than the market price. They soon realised other benefits included access to specialist markets, access to finance, business support and technical advice. The training COMSA received to meet Fairtrade Standards helped strengthen business practices and build capacity. COMSA has developed relationships with Fairtrade buyers and roasters who now visit the farms and see the reality of debt and poverty in the communities and understand the sacrifices coffee farmers have to make. Their ambition now is to pass on to their children a legacy of sustainable coffee production."
For more information on Cosma, the full article can be accessed here: http://fairtrade.ca/en-ca/farmers-and-workers/coffee/comsa