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Birmingham fair trade campaigner Maggie Jo St John is in Nicaragua, teaching English to local coffee growers, and checking out first hand the value of buying goods that don't involve ripping-off the people who make them. Last time she told us about a trip to Jintoega, the country's main coffee growing region.

The family I stayed overnight with when I went to Jinotega were interesting.

Flor is a real shaker and mover. She married, at 18, a man almost twice here age.

Like many he used to go down the hill and drink away most of the cash income that they had.

She wasn't prepared to stand for that and fought him and now he may bring a bottle back to the house to share but doesn't go off to drink himself senseless. When Soppexca (a union of coffee growers) started a microcredit scheme she took part to buy her first mananza of land for coffee. She now has 9, her husband has his own - 15 I think, and they work them independently.

In addition that have some fields for growing beans, maize and vegetables. Flor has orange and lemon trees growing around her coffee bushes, as well as bananas, and the scent from the citrus flowers suffuses the coffee bushes and adds a special flavour to the beans.

Three years in succession she has taken third place in the national coffee competition. This is where small and large producers send in samples of their coffee, and an international team of coffee cuppers tastes them.

I had learnt earlier, on a visit to Dipilto, a village near the Hondouran border, that the winners of the competition were nearly always the smallest coffee growers. Flor explained that this is because of the huge amount of care that has to be given not just during the growing season but at harvest and processing time.

It's vital that only the reddest, ripest- but not over ripe -beans are picked and then that they are very carefully dehusked and fermented so that the beans aren't damaged.

What was also news to me was that buyers will pay the winners a lot of money for their coffee. I wrote last time that the market price is around US$100 a quintal.

Flor gets a lot more than that. I don't know how much she got the first year she came third but the second time she earned over US$300 a quintal and this year, 2006, she was paid US$500 a quintal. That blew my mind away. Five times the market price. Wow!

You can imagine the impact that has had on the family. She can pay for all the children to study; she's been able to buy more land. The major investment has been in her house. She now has a two storey house with rooms for visitors.

They have put in a water closet toilet and I guess after the 2006 / 2007 harvest will finish off the room as it looks as if they'll be able to afford ashower. And I wonder if she'll get a solar panel for a bit of renewable energy and

The main room downstairs and the verandah are both tiled which is another rare benefit - usually here, the floors are just compacted earth and to clean them you sweep, sprinkle a little water on and sweep again.

Check out Maggie Jo's previous blog here.

And check out The Stirrer's recent story about the NEC's failure to guarantee fairtrade tea and coffee for visitors here


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