Fair Trade Coffee in Peru: An Economist's Notebook

Travelogue of a social scientist studying Fair Trade on a Fulbright in Peru. Personal anecdotes and interviews with coffee growers, importers, and exporters, as well as Andean cultural leaders, LimeƱa intellectuals, business people, professors, writers, and anyone else I meet on the journey. Fair Trade as both an alternative to the dominant model of globalization and as a way of life that is practiced by an increasing number of people who testify to its great benefits.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The project evolves - Sunday morning dispatch

Even before leaving town the project has evolved in a number of different directions - it was my original intention* to research the dynamics of the trade relationships between producer and importer. However, it's now occurring to me that I may be able to generate more comprehensive and reliable data if I choose to focus on the impact of Fair Trade on the strength of the co-operative organization itself. As my advisor Jim Boyce expresses, finding or generating a measure of overall co-operative strength will be a challenge here. The challenge is to come up with a way of integrating the financial, productive, social, and cultural health of an organization.

This is not a small question. Economists have been privileging financial health - measured in total wealth, profits, and growth of these variables - for as long back as there have been distinct people called "economists." I'm interested in something which is a little harder to define: the strength of an organization and the well-being of its members. Sure, this has to do with assets and profits, but also with health, education, nutrition, and that much-debated notion of "social capital" - or, if you will, solidarity. And in the case of Peru, the situation has been profoundly influenced by five hundred years of oppression of indigenous people, culminating in a partially successful but extremely authoritarian military-led land reform in 1972, and a continuous guerrilla war by Shining Path and MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru) throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Part of co-operative strength, then, may be linked to the reclaiming of indigenous political and cultural autonomy. Question: how do the co-ops interact with local governmental structures? Does Fair Trade, through enhancing both profits and group solidarity, help coffee co-ops achieve a higher degree of political clout?

Stay tuned ...

*Original intention not meant in the spirit of conservative constitutional legal scholarship, but rather in the spirit of my good friend Micha Patri's stellar music group, the Original Intentions. ;-)


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