Solidarity as an Antidote to COVID-19

At Cooperative Coffees we believe that actions speak louder than words. 

Today, we are proud to announce that our roaster members have agreed to “redirect up to US$130,000 from our Impact Fund for COVID-relief in producer-partner communities.”  Once again, our members have stepped forward and demonstrated, with timely and tangible support, our solidarity with coffee producers and their cooperative organizations.

“I’m delighted to receive this news, and would like to express our gratitude for the support that Coop Coffees has offered to our organization,” Rio Azul General Manager Francisco Delgado Quiñonez said. “With this support, we’ll be able to deliver food and basic provisions to each of our members in and around Jacaltenango (Guatemala); this will be an enormous relief for them and for their families.” 

Our revolving Impact Fund, generated through a 3-cent fee on all green coffees sold, is part of our Carbon, Climate and Coffee Initiative, originally intended to support climate mitigation work. But given the current global context, we will be channeling these funds for the next months towards emergency support in the wake of COVID-19 impact in farmer communities. 

The evolving COVID-19 crisis and response is anything but uniform from one region to the next. Government-led, COVID-response in producer countries has varied wildly: from early and strict #quedateencase lock-down measures in Honduras and Peru; to no apparent plan of action (as of this writing) in Mexico and Nicaragua. To the contrary, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega together with his wife (and Vice President) actually organized and promoted a public march “Amor en Tiempos de COVID-19” (Love in Times of COVID-19) and encouraged Nicaraguans to take to the streets in a show of collective solidarity for those who have been affected by COVID-19!

But at the local level we see a consistent approach of “prevention, prevention, prevention” in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the face of volatile and complicated situations. 

As in many parts of the world, rumors of potential shop and market closures have been running rampant, leading to waves of panic purchasing. (However, in grower regions this has focused more on food supplies than toilet paper!). Meanwhile, many vendors of basic grains and other products, have scrambled to increase prices and take advantage of the opportunity for their own short-term profit! For example, our partners in Chiapas, Mexico reported corn prices tripling overnight in their primary market towns, pushing people already living in extremely precarious conditions even further into despair.

From Fondo Paez, one of our historic partners in Cauca, we learned that the Colombian government has declared coffee an essential service (thank you FNC for defending the national economic interests!). But the local, Indigenous Nasa and Paez resguardos, or community security forces — are more concerned about the health of their populations in areas where medical services are rudimentary at best. The resguardos have blocked roads and issued strict stay-at-home orders (even preventing many farmers access to their own fields) — in attempts to keep the virus from spreading across their territory. So while the precautionary principle is good, when taken to an extreme – this could actually put coffee producers’ harvest (and their primary annual income) at significant risk. 

This is just a quick snapshot of the strange net that’s been cast across the region. 

But for any real action in the communities, it’s been largely up to the producer organizations themselves to provide support to their local population.

We’ve seen our producer partners quickly respond to local concerns about food scarcity — whether that be delivering sacks of basic foods and provisions, such as those being distributed by Rio Azul in Guatemala; or encouraging and facilitating home vegetable gardens, as we see being promoted at Maya Vinic, in Chiapas, Mexico and at La Cooperative Las Diosas in Nicaragua.

And to prevent the spread of this virus, we’ve seen a combination of quick actions, such as: cooperative leaders raising awareness through public radio announcements; postering with best-hygiene advice in communities; and virtual messaging via Facebook, WhatsApp and text-message. This concerted effort has encouraged best practices in order to keep their member families safe and their communities clear of COVID-19 during these unpredictable and potentially deadly times. 

Despite the obvious anxiety and strife, it’s been amazing to hear the positive, problem-solving attitudes coming from our producer partners as they reach out to their own membership to give advice, share practices and separate fact from fiction as an array of home remedies circulate across cyberspace (ranging from folkloric to flat-out crazy!). We see them quickly implementing additional, protective protocols in handling product and doubling down in order to help their members salvage their harvest. And all the while, we see good faith and good humour as we slowly move through this crisis!

Undaunted by the situation, Alberto Caballero of CAC Pangoa, pictured here, continues to prepare his organic foliar-sprays and enhanced compost mixtures,with the understanding that healthy fields support healthy people. 

And similarly, we’ve heard from partners across Latin America of their proposals and contingencies plans, preparing for worst-case scenarios in order to achieve best results.

“In the name of everyone at Manos Campesinas, producers and technical team, we send our most heartfelt gratitude to Coop Coffees for keeping us in your thoughts and for your support (to set up an emergency medical-services fund) as we face this global emergency together,” said Commercial Manager Miguel Mateo from his home office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. “We are constantly reminded of the level of commitment that Coop Coffees has demonstrated with the small-scale farmer families at Manos Campesinas!”  

And meanwhile, we at Coop Coffees are reminded time and again about just how fortunate we are to be partnered with such incredible people and organizations through trade and friendship!!

Author: Monika Firl
April 30, 2020