Equal Exchange has been selling fair trade coffee since 1986, and we first supported them with a loan in 1998. We invested equity in 2009 to launch their fair trade banana importing company Oke USA. Equal Exchange/Oke USA supports fair trade cooperatives and bring their goods to the US market, fostering mutually beneficial relationships and environmental sustainability. Appropriately, Equal Exchange is itself a democratic worker cooperative — one of the largest in the country!
Nicole, Jessie, Emma and Jennie make up the Oke USA team, and Nicole, President of Oke USA, reports that after a few challenging years, Oke USA had a record year in 2013! One ingredient of their success was the introduction of fair trade organic avocados from Mexico. PRAGOR is a small cooperative of avocado growers in Michoacan, Mexico, “the avocado capital of the world.” Some of the trees are 60-some years old and are incredibly valuable as the demand for avocados increases. Says Nicole,
“If you were tuning into the news this winter, you undoubtedly heard about the drug cartel activity and violence in Michoacan. Sadly we learned first-hand about the difficulties facing residents when we visited Pragor last June. Between the multinationals controlling harvest crews and packing sheds, the mafia shaking down producers for protection money, and all the normal challenges inherent in small producers…we understood the need for fair trade.”
Oke started an Equal Exchange branded avocado program, and in a few short months, the program was profitable!
“Best of all, from September to December 2013 Oke’s avocado sales returned $353,000 directly to the hands of small farmers in Michoacan who would have seen only a fraction of that income through traditional business channels.”
Nicole shared a wonderful photograph with us:
Trumpeting kids are pretty wonderful in and of themselves. But these are indigenous youths in Michoacan whom Pragor chose to supply with instruments using some of their earnings. Salvador Romero, the GM of Pragor said,
To see an instrument in the hand of a child instead of a gun is great progress.