Ah the struggles of traveling, starting with loading the microbus so we could get on our way to the coffee farm we were visiting for the next two days. The ride to the community with the coffee cooperative was a 4 hour drive from Xela, with one of those hours being a particularly bumpy ride. Everyone was glad when we arrived at the small community in the mountains. Once we were settled in our rooms for the next two nights, we had a delicious meal waiting for us before our hike to see more of the town and coffee farm.
The process of coffee is complicated, from the planting process to the sorting of which coffee beans will be sold, the process requires much attention and people that will be attentive. We were given a tour of the machines and the space where all the coffee and macadamia nuts were produced. Just explaining the process took a long time; all the stages we went through had a different purpose but was necessary in producing the best coffee or macadamia, not to mention it was organic. At the end of it all, the most important thing I learned was where my coffee came from that evening. It took literally years to complete the process of getting that cup of coffee to taste as good as it did. I saw a community struggling to produce an environmentally and socially conscience product while competing with corporations that are unjust to its workers and use harmful chemicals that taint the coffee to taste better. In that cup of coffee were years of perfection, of attention, of cooperation, of generations of struggle. And it only cost 20 Queztales. A fair price?
The struggle of Nueva Allianza lay in its struggle to compete with large coffee corporations that are already established in Guatemala. The community also struggles with unity. In the last year, the cooperative that was formed between the 40 families in the community was voted to be dissolved. 8 of the families continue to form part of the cooperative that upholds the organic quality of the coffee and macadamia, but the other families have started to introduce chemicals and other non-environmentally friendly practices in order to produce more, faster. As we heard of all the projects the community had started, also starting a water filtration project and a bio-diesel project, it was sad to hear at the end that these projects had all stopped. The community had decided to stop cooperating. After hearing about how far the community had come from being a community ruled by a landowner that didn’t pay his workers to a self sustaining community through collective actions taken to purchase land and machinery, I wondered why would they want to stop cooperating? And then the sad news of inorganic practices. It makes sense that not everyone is on board with producing organically when they can increase their sales and make more profits to take back to their own families. But, in the long run, they are damaging their own land and own plants. Unfortunately not everyone sees the long run effects, only the immediate necessities of having a little more food. Unfortunately, Nueva Alianza is divided by simple human selfishness. But can we really call wanting to give one’s family more to eat selfish? And then why are there hungry people in this world? It goes back to the structural, to fair trade that we discussed the next day. It goes back to producing and selling a raw good at a cheap price while the man in the corporate office makes millions by selling it at a set price. A $4 cup of coffee from Starbucks but Nueva Allianza is selling their bag of ground coffee for 20Q, which is not all profit because they have to buy the plants, the water, the machines, pay the loan on the land, and so much more that goes into packaging one bag. Nueva Alianza struggles to form new alliances of fair trade to sell their coffee at a profitable price and to keep old alliances within their community. My coffee is fair, is yours?