Looking out the window of Our Princess (the name scrawled across the windscreen of our bus), I have a strange feeling. At these incredible heights, the mountains’ colours are drenched in bright light, and the space between earth and sky begins to dissolve into a sea of clouds. Extremely picturesque, but hardly the right environment for coyotes, one would assume.
Miguel greets us with a refreshingly light-hearted smile, and takes us on a tour of his three-hectare coffee plantation on the edge of the city of Vilcabamba. Throughout the tour, he never tires of explaining how important the support provided by Oikocredit is for himself and the other 60 members of his co-op. Oikocredit, via the FAPECAFES organization, finances a total of 1,200 small-scale farms that produce coffee in accordance with organic and Fair Trade standards. Funds from Oikocredit investors thus help to keep the ‘Coyoteros’ from Miguel’s plantation.
Coyoteros is the Ecuadorian name for the middlemen who exploit farmers like Miguel for their own profit. Clever and wily, the Coyoteros take advantage of the dependence of small-scale farmers, for whom money often threatens to become very tight several months after the previous coffee harvest. These middlemen thus have the dubious reputation, like coyotes, of hunting prey that cannot fight back. At first sight, this comparison may appear somewhat exaggerated, but there is an element of truth to it. As small-scale farmers are in desperate need of new money for themselves and their families, the Coyoteros lure them with promises of monetary advances even before the next harvest. However, the money they offer is far below current global market prices.
This is where Oikocredit comes into play. They provide credit to FAPECAFES, an organisation of small-scale farmers, allowing it to pay advances to its members. This allows farmers like Miguel to stay afloat even before harvest time. FAPECAFES is entirely run by the coffee farmers themselves, and—in sharp contrast to the Coyoteros—has their best interests at heart. This is obvious not just from the comparatively high purchasing price, but also from the many community projects financed by a Fair Trade fund. For example, the cooperative provides financial support to members who had to give up coffee farming due to old age. It also pays for an antidote to the venomous snakes that like to live on coffee plantations.
As Miguel invited us to a mug of coffee from his own production, he told us about a difficult time in his life. A few years ago, he and the other members of his co-op were given coffee seeds from an Ecuadorian governmental coffee cultivation programme. After three long years of hard work and money spent nurturing the plants, the sobering truth emerged. The plants were susceptible to fungus infestation, and yielded only a fraction of the expected harvest. Comparatively high investment was met with an extremely small profit. The future looked correspondingly bleak. Smiling, Miguel said: “Oikocredit saved us, because they gave us money at a time when we needed it the most. We are incredibly thankful, and we won’t disappoint you.”
Written by: Tim Pauls
Tim Pauls is a volunteer Member of the Board in the Lower Saxony/Bremen Oikocredit support society. After completing his degree in agricultural science in Göttingen, he spent time in Latin America, Asia, and Africa promoting global justice and sustainable development. Tim Pauls currently spends his time teaching at a vocational school, where he brings introduces young people to concepts of sustainable living and doing business.
Study Tour 2016 blogs were originally posted to the Oikocredit Germany website.