Reflections on Fair Trade in Mexico: Maya Vinic Coffee Coop

Courtney Lang September 26, 2013

In July, we took 12 Fair Trade campaign organizers from across the country to Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico to visit Fair Trade farmers, artisans and producers.  We visited five producer groups of whom are associated with the various third party Fair Trade labeling organizations in the US. Over the next few months we’ll be sharing a reflection on each of the groups regarding the state of Fair Trade. 

By:  Carmen Solari, Fair Trade Burlington Network

While storm clouds loomed overhead we made our way through winding roads to meet Antonio and Juan, two members of the Maya Vinic coffee cooperative. With 640 members, 64 of whom are women, exporting over 170 tons of coffee per year, Maya Vinic has come a long way from their humble beginnings in 1999.

The cooperative was formed as a part of the indigenous group Las Abejas, who preferred non-violence as an alternative to the Zapatistas’ more radical (and at times reluctantly violent) approach to reclaiming rights and respect from the Mexican Government. While politically successful, Las Abejas was beginning to feel the financial burden of their activism. Maya Vinic formed as a result, fulfilling the need of the families of Las Abejas for development and income.1237475_10151893943236335_443588787_o (2)

The storm clouds had descended on us and the rain beat fiercely on the roof of the humble one-room building Maya Vinic holds decision making assemblies in twice a year. We listened to the steady downpour as Antonio and Juan told us their story. Originally, Maya Vinic had belonged to a larger Coffee Cooperative, Majomut, but in 2002 they decided to breakaway and register as an independent cooperative. Later that same year, FLO-Cert gave them their fair trade certification, which provided many opportunities that would reveal themselves as their cooperative grew.

Because of the premium that fair trade requires to be set aside for community development, the members of Maya Vinic have decided, among other things, to invest in the education of their sons and daughters, purchase machines for production (used to dry and ferment the beans), create a development plan, and establish a headquarters office in the nearby city of San Cristobal. Through the revenue generated by these improvements, the cooperative has been able to expand production to macademia nuts and honey, as well as open a coffee shop for the locals and tourists of San Cristobal. Perhaps the most beneficial effect of their Fair trade certification is the connections it has given Maya Vinic to market their coffee to larger audiences, allowing them to export to The United States, Switzerland, and Japan. In 2002, Maya Vinic sold seven tons of coffee, since then they have grown to export over 170 tons per year, 80% of which is exported. This money in turn supports the development and improvement of the community, something that wouldn’t have been possible before. By the time we had toured the meeting house, fields, and processing facility, the storm had passed and the rain clouds had cleared, leaving us with the thought that the weather served as a perfect metaphor for hardships and joys Maya Vinic has experienced in their business ventures.

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One Comment

  1. Carmen, Thanks for sharing this story. I only wish more consumers could experience the personal connections that you were able to make. Getting to hear first hand from the hard working folks who make our fair trade products is so powerful. Sandy

    sandy wynne - 5 months ago

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Courtney Lang, National Organizer | Fair Trade Campaigns

Courtney Lang brings over 5 years of community organizing to Fair Trade Towns USA, building both the Local Food and Fair Trade networks in Vermont. As Local Food Coordinator with City Market/Onion River Cooperative, Courtney worked with local producers, institutions and consumers to grow the local food system and organize a strategic model for community engagement through farm tours, workshops, and local food challenges. Like many in the Fair Trade industry, Courtney was inspired to take action in Fair Trade when she witnessed child-labor first hand in Costa Rica. As a founding member of Fair Trade Burlington, she has worked with economic development organizations, businesses, and consumers to build awareness of Fair Trade among Vermonters. She also worked with a Fair Trade USA licensee, Vermont Coffee Company, as Friend Ambassador where she united the story of Fair Trade to every purchase of coffee.