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.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Huaycos, waterfalls and bus rides

I am writing from the offices of the Pangoa coffee co-operative, in the little town of San Martin de Pangoa in the central jungle. It is located in a pretty little valley surrounded by mountains. Tomorrow I´m going to go out and spend some time in the chacras (fields) where the coffee, cacao, honey, fruit, and other products are cultivated. But today I sat inside and listened to the co-op´s budget. It was an endurance test, but also an educational experience: I´d never really thought about an agricultural organization in this much detail before. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of elements that go into cultivating, processing and marketing a co-op. A big one is transport: the members mostly don´t have cars, and so the co-op is entrusted with the task of driving the many miles on rocky dirt roads required to collect the members´ coffee. The resulting wear and tear on the trucks makes the maintenance budget for transport enormous, not to mention the gas bill.

Infrastructure. You don´t think about it much until it stops working for you. Another example with the roads: I just went to a conference in Tingo Maria, a town about three hundred miles north in the jungle. The road that goes from Tingo Maria towards Lima climbs up into the Andes to a town called Huanuco. The road between Huanuco and Tingo Maria is extremely prone to washouts, or "huaycos." On my way to the conference, we were delayed two hours because of a huayco. The day I planned to leave, the road was washed out entirely and wouldn´t be available until at least the next day. Along with a fellow gringo named Steve, who had a plane to catch, I caught a taxi to the beginning of the huayco and walked across it with my backpack and computer. There were six mudslides encompassing about a kilometer of road, bracketed on either side by about a hundred trucks lined up going to and from Tingo Maria. Some of those trucks carried perishable items, like pineapples.

Tingo Maria has a bad reputation as a coca town, but it´s actually safe and friendly, and is located in a beautiful setting, with a national park, caves and waterfalls. I´ll post some pictures.

Tonight (at least in theory - the co-op managers are still meeting), Esperanza, Pangoa´s general manager, and I will go over the first draft of my survey. Fingers crossed!


Anonymous David K said...

Noah- reading about your adventures is inspiring and embroadening.I'm proud to know someone who is working to make the changes that you are. I look forward to seeing you when you get back.

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

Agreed--and I do hope that you'll be able to post some pictures.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Shawn said...

Damn mudslides. Cool site, man. Hope to see photos, too.

6:36 AM  
Anonymous lisa silb said...

hey noah,

cool stuff. congrats on the fulbright! so hey, i am living in (xela) quetzaltenango, guatemala and have some dear friends who have started a fair trade organic coffee non-profit in xela. check them out:

and if you are interested in coming to check out what is going on with fair trade coffee in guate, drop a line...a.resilientbliss at gmail


6:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

holy crap you're in peru! on a fullbright! WTF!?!?

i'm starting gradschool next month. i miss you.
love you. love life. keep rocking the world. so proud of you.

6:19 PM  

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