The CESMACH farmers are located in the Sierra Madre mountains in the southwestern part of the Mexican state of Chiapas. They farm within the buffer zone of El Triunfo, a U.N. designated biosphere, rich in flora and fauna, containing many endangered and protected species. Within the nucleus of the biosphere, agricultural activities are not permitted but organic farming, with a strict set of standards, is allowed in the buffer zone, which separates the biosphere from the surrounding region.
Equal Exchange has been working with the CESMACH co-operative since 2005 when we offered to buy 10 containers of their coffee – 60% of their total production. Since that year, our relationship has been steadily growing. In 2008, we brought our first group of visitors, representatives of food co-ops across the United States, to visit the farmers. It was during this visit, that the founders of CESMACH told us the enthralling story of how they transformed themselves from individual farmers to a strong and visionary co-operative business selling high quality, organic coffee. “It’s been a very long road to get here, and when we started it was just a dream,” Victorico Velasquez Morales, a founding member and former CESMACH president told our group.
CESMACH has had tremendous success selling its members’ coffee into the specialty coffee market, thereby keeping the communities unified and raising their members’ standard of living. Still, the farmers live in highly marginalized communities and they face many critical social and economic challenges. Coffee is the only source of income for most farmers in this region and they are economically dependent on their individual plots which average only five acres. Consequently, the CESMACH farmers have decided not only to become the supplier of the highest quality, organic coffee in the region, but to create and implement a variety of social development and environmental projects which will benefit its members and the fragile Biosphere in which they live.
Three years ago, the co-operative leadership began actively working with the women members and the wives of members to implement small individual patio gardens and collective chicken farms in order to both diversify their families’ diets and to generate additional income. This project includes - 167 organic gardens; 279 mixed fruit-tree gardens; 40 rustic family plant nurseries to encourage the recovery of native crops; 30 collective chicken coops; and the nurturing of both hope and skill.