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, Limeña 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.

Friday, September 29, 2006

saludos de Lima!

Greetings from Lima!

It has been quite a three days - I have landed in the midst of a hard-working, committed group of people, in a vast, sprawling city. It's 7:20 in the evening and I'm at the offices of the Junta Nacional de Café - yep, still at work. Why am I still at work? Well, three reasons - there's a lot to do, the Internet's fast, and I've got to buttonhole the Executive Secretary and my advisor, Lorenzo Castillo, before the weekend comes and he goes to Switzerland for the week to battle with the corporate giants who are trying to establish a fake Fair Trade called 4C, or "Common Code for the Coffee Community." He's in a meeting now.

Those of you who are interested in coffee and social justice may have heard something about this 4C business. Don't believe the hype. From reading their documents between the lines, the 4C looks to me for all the world like a supreme example of Orwellian double-talk - an endless rigmarole of meetings, evaluation forms, declarations, panels, and "forums," the point of which is to generate additional piles of paperwork featuring a lot of vague, toothless jawboning about "sustainability," "participation," "communications strategies," "tripartite multi-stakeholder approaches," and the like, all of which is supposed to support a so-called "Code Matrix" the content of which is given exactly zero mention. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Participants involve - yes, you guessed it: Kraft, Nestlé, Sara Lee, and Tchibo (a huge importer). Also Oxfam, for some reason. I guess they think they can mitigate an otherwise unmitigated disaster? Who knows.

Last night a congresswoman came to meet with the Junta, and I sat in on the meeting. Interesting stuff. Lorenzo gave a fantastic presentation, in fact one of the best that I have ever seen. This is a man who works about twelve hours a day representing one of the most progressive national agricultural associations in the world. He is completely plugged into organic and Fair Trade channels, and has a deep understanding of the extreme poverty most coffee growers face. He is an extremely articulate, as well as warm and friendly man, besides. You can tell I'm excited to have him as my in-country advisor.

Details, details. Here are some good ones.

-At one point there was a law that set aside a portion of the proceeds from agricultural exports, including coffee, and invested that portion in local agricultural extension services. It was abolished under Fujimori, himself an agricultural economist, in the 1990s. Since then the problem of under-investment in agricultural regions has gotten worse. Hooray for neo-liberalism!

-Here in Peru, chemical-intensive agriculture gets favorable tax treatment over non-chemical, including organic, agriculture. In other words, Peruvian agricultural policy is exactly backwards. Lorenzo believes that this policy is designed to punish the growing methods of the indigenous people, and I am well inclined to believe him. An unholy alliance of modernism and racism.

-70% of Peruvian coffee trees are over 20 years old. This means their productivity is on the decline. There is a clear relationship in high Amazonian agriculture: less coffee means more coca. More coffee means less coca. Without investment, the sector will find itself back in the 1990s, when the high jungle was under constant threat of violence from both the government and the drug kingpins.

Well, the weekend's upon us. Time to go out and enjoy the Lima nightlife, full of peñas and pisco sours! More to come.


Anonymous joebella said...

Noah, you are doing some good and important work. I look forward to your continued reports

5:42 AM  
Blogger Noah H. Enelow said...

thanks dude! it´s fun too. - noah

5:57 PM  

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