La Perla de Oaxaca Organic Mexico
- November 2018
- Written by : Michael Sheridan
Director of Sourcing and Shared Value / Green Coffee Buyer
I got my start in coffee leading a Fair Trade program for a nonprofit. For four years, I worked with pioneering Fair Trade roasters in the United States and groundbreaking Fair Trade cooperatives in Central America. Then I spent nine years living and working with in Central and South America with thousands of smallholder growers and dozens of roasters of all shapes, sizes and stripes, including some of the most influential Fair Trade and Direct Trade roasters in the United States. That work convinced me that both the farmer organizations that drive Fair Trade and the promise of intrinsic quality that is so central to Direct Trade are essential for the sustained success of smallholders: that the best hope for the future of smallholder coffee lies in the space where the Fair Trade and Direct Trade circles overlap in the Venn Diagram of specialty coffee. Our blended incentive pilot program represents a deliberate, if modest, first step toward building bridges between two models smallholder growers in Mexico and everywhere need to thrive in today’s coffee market.
Over the past 18 months, we have worked intensively with CEPCO’s leadership to introduce modest reforms that build bridges between our two models and help CEPCO and its members capture more value through quality, all while respecting the values of the organization.
That work has focused in this initial phase on incentives for individual achievement. The success of the Direct Trade model is predicated on its ability to deliver on the promise of quality — to pay more for better coffee. Without such incentives, it is difficult to imagine growers committing to the labor-intensive practices required to optimize quality. The transparent incentive system with graduated premiums for quality that has been a bedrock of the Intelligentsia Direct Trade program for more than a decade has become a standard practice in specialty. But it represents a radical break with CEPCO’s collectivist creed and egalitarian tradition of sharing premiums equally.
So we worked with CEPCO to devise a transparent incentive system in which the quality premiums we pay for each lot are split between the organization and the individuals who produce it. This approach only seems fair. The cooperative should share in the individual successes of its members, which would hardly have been possible without its collective investments in renovation, logistics, milling and marketing. This program creates some incentive for individual achievement without undermining the cooperative structures smallholders in Oaxaca so desperately need.
This lot of our La Perla de Oaxaca Organic Mexico comes from members of Pequeños Productores Mixtecos, a cooperative based in Santiago Nuyoo in the rugged Sierra Mixteca of Oaxaca.