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Coffee and Community

Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets

By Sarah Lyon

Publication Year: 2010

We are told that simply by sipping our morning cup of organic, fair-trade coffee we are encouraging environmentally friendly agricultural methods, community development, fair prices, and shortened commodity chains. But what is the reality for producers, intermediaries, and consumers? This ethnographic analysis of fair-trade coffee analyzes the collective action and combined efforts of fair-trade network participants to construct a new economic reality. Focusing on La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto-a cooperative in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala-and its relationships with coffee roasters, importers, and certifiers in the United States, Coffee and Community argues that while fair trade does benefit small coffee-farming communities, it is more flawed than advocates and scholars have acknowledged. However, through detailed ethnographic fieldwork with the farmers and by following the product, fair trade can be understood and modified to be more equitable. This book will be of interest to students and academics in anthropology, ethnology, Latin American studies, and labor studies, as well as economists, social scientists, policy makers, fair-trade advocates, and anyone interested in globalization and the realities of fair trade.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

In fall 2005, several months after completing my Ph.D., I attended a Wenner-Gren conference for young researchers at which the foundation’s president, Leslie Aiello, sagely reminded...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-21

Fair trade is a form of alternative trade that seeks to improve the position of disempowered small-scale farmers through trade as a means of development. The movement, which promotes labeling, certification...

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2: The Historical Convergence of Local Livelihoods, the Global Economy, and International Politics

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pp. 23-53

A robust understanding of the cultural politics of fair-trade coffee and its attendant economic, social, and environmental processes is best gained through long-term ethnographic research among the principal actors. However...

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3: “Trade Not Aid”: Assessing Fair Trade’s Economic Impact on Cooperative Members and Their Families

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pp. 55-79

Guatemala is one of the most impoverished nations in the Western Hemisphere and, like many Latin American nations, a region of stark financial inequalities. Approximately 75 percent of Guatemalans live...

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4: Obligatory Burdens: Collaboration and Discord Within the Cooperative

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pp. 81-121

In April 2002 the cooperative held a general assembly meeting in the empty coffee warehouse that the group had recently built with members’ voluntary labor and the funds remaining...

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5: The Political Economy of Organic and Shade-Grown Coffee Certification, Local Livelihoods, and Identities

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pp. 123-150

In the United States, a casual perusal of the fair-trade coffee offerings at the local supermarket or coffee shop will quickly reveal the extent to which fair trade and organic coffee certifications...

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6: Managing the Maya: Power in the Fair-trade Market

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pp. 151-178

The cooperative’s beneficio is at the center of the flurry of activity accompanying the annual coffee harvest in San Juan; it is where members work rotating shifts and gather each afternoon to weigh their coffee...

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7: Marketing the Maya: Fair Trade’s Producer/Consumer Relationships

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pp. 179-206

Beginning in May and lasting through October, Guatemala’s rainy season was so ferocious that it forced me to rearrange my daily activities. I am not an overly religious person; however, while making a late...

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8: Conclusion: A Fairer Future

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pp. 207-213

When I first began this research, nearly a decade ago, few people I encountered were familiar with fair trade. I was forced to continuously explain the then-novel idea to my friends, family members, and colleagues. Today this...


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pp. 215-226

Works Cited

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pp. 227-257


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pp. 259-266

E-ISBN-13: 9781607320586
E-ISBN-10: 1607320584
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320579
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320576

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 16
Publication Year: 2010