Twenty years ago, Oaxacan coffee grower Salomón García Moreno realized that all small farmers had to sell their products to intermediaries, who regularly bought them at below-market prices.
“There are middlemen for all Mexican products: sorghum, corn, beans, coffee. You find them everywhere. There are intermediaries for everything,” says Salomón, who has found a solution to the problem. “What did we do? We organized the coffee producers”.
Salomón sums the situation up as follows, “The only way to beat the market is to be united. A single farmer is powerless. If a farmer tries to go it alone, he’ll be eaten alive. Salomón, who was born in the “Town below the Clouds” or Santiago Xanica, located in the Zapotec region in the municipality of Miahuatlán, heads the National Union of Agricultural Workers of Oaxaca (UNTAO), a social enterprise that uses its dry mill for the collection, processing and export of coffee produced by 10,000 farming families from all over the state.
UNTAO’s headquarters are located on the outskirts of the city of Oaxaca. Various communities send their parchment coffee in jute or sisal sacks to the mill, where it is sampled, cleaned, sorted, sold and readied for export. But unlike most places, at UNTAO, Salomón and his team include the farmer in the process, train him and even give him some of his own coffee to try after it has been roasted and tasted. The farmer usually does not know what happens so his grain once it is sold to the middleman, placing him in an extremely vulnerable position.
“UNTAO is a social enterprise and serves as an ally in the marketing chain, because it is not an intermediary,” explains Salomón. “We always look for the common benefit, we’re supportive. Farmers come in here and say, “Buy my coffee,” and we say, “We’re not going to do that. Bring us a sample of your coffee so we can physically analyze it”. The philosophy behind this is that there should not be poor farmers and rich intermediaries and roasters; everyone should benefit.
They have gradually achieved this goal. A kilo of conventional coffee in the field is worth 25 or even 35 pesos a kilo, but in the previous harvest, they managed to position it at 48 pesos, a 60 percent increase, thanks to a direct, supportive relationship between the producer and the end customer.
Salomón and his team know that once farmers learn how to taste coffee and become aware of the quality of their product, they will be able to earn a decent income.
He ends with this reflection, “The dream is to reach the market directly through fair trade practices. As farmers, we want to do away with middlemen or coyotes as they are known in the communities”.