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MAGGIE JO'S BLOG

COST O'COFFEE

28-10-2006

Birmingham fair trade campaigner Maggie Jo St John is currently in Nicaragua teaching English and learning more about the communities who make our coffee. This week,her blog brings a cup of cheer.

Great news. UCA Miraflor have gained Fairtrade certification for their coffee.

They've been through a long and costly process to achieve that status - so who are they, and what's the significance of this?

They're a small union of farming co-operatives in the northern region of Nicaragua, one of the poorest zones of a country that is the second poorest in the western hemisphere. They live in an area they themselves worked to have declared a nature reserve so as to preserve their natural environment, which includes some of Nicaragua's remaining cloud forest. By combining together, small producers gain a bit more clout and control over their lives.

They may be small but they produce some of the best coffee in the country; I love it. In the annual awards the top places very often go to the smallest producers. The family I stay with on the Miraflor Nature Reserve toast their own beans over their wood-fired stove and the aroma is wonderful.

So UCA Miraflor has its Fairtrade certificate. What does this mean for the producers and their families? I'll be asking different people, and over the next few weeks I'll share their views, and learn more about the process.

So far I've learnt that it's a costly business, both in time and money. There's a substantial fee that the organisations have to pay for the initial inspection. The amount depends on the number of members (in a co-op) or workers (in a business).

  • up to 499 members , 2000 euros
  • 500 to 1,000 members, 2800 euros
  • 1-3,000 is 3600 euros
  • and so on.

For the smallest organisations, that's at least 4 euros / member which works out as just over US$5.00 or around ££3.00. That may not sound much to you and me, but to get a sense of what it means to a local, convert it to two and a half days of your wages. A labourer here earns maybe $2.00 a day - and that's all assuming there's a job to go to in the first place, which is far from certain.

One of the many problems Nicaragua faces is lack of jobs. In rural areas, paid work is generally seasonal, mainly during the coffee harvest months of December to March. And there are thousands of young graduates in a young population who are struggling to find paid work for even a few months. A familiar scene in many countries.

More on that another time maybe - but just now,I'm off for another cup of that delicious, fair-trade coffee!

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