Re-establishing the human preferenceThe primary reason for being of fair trade

The neoliberal system has relegated man to a mere labourer in a virtual machine created to generate maximum profit, which is uncontrolled and very unequally distributed. Fair trade offers an alternative that puts man back at the centre of the commercial process.

A story of men

It was a 100% human encounter, at the other end of the world, on a coffee plantation, that would push Malongo towards its "corporate destiny" in 1992! An encounter that would determine the policy of the Nice-based coffee merchant in a decisive and lasting manner. When he discovered the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, Jean-Pierre Blanc, Malongo's Director General, was immediately fascinated by the diversity of the landscape before him. Two powerful aspects of nature confronted each other. On one side, a flat, arid country, the strangeness of which outstripped all the fantasies of Mexican deserts that we see in westerns… On the other, luxuriant, contrasting vegetation that married the contours of the imposing mountainous relief.

It was a powerful form of humanity that jumped out at him. He was struck by the density, by the depth and dignity of the people of this atypical population. A mixture of ethnic groups using any number of languages, from Zapotec (an ancient dialect 6,000 years old) to Chontal, taking in Mixes and… Spanish, which is still unknown, however, by the older people! For decades, these peasants had been trudging tough miles each day, facing up to the weather conditions, the steep slopes of a mountain often wet, muddy, to go and harvest their coffee by hand. Beans that they would later sell on to those they called the coyotes, middlemen with little in the way of scruples, scornful, appointed by traders to buy the coffee at indecent prices. An extremely precarious situation, which forbade any access to healthcare or education, which frequently forced them to resort to last ditch solutions: rural exodus, development of illegal crops (coca)…

 

The economic revolution

Fortunately, the providential advent of a Dutch worker priest ten or so years earlier changed their fate. Padre Francisco van der Hoff had to flee Mexico, where his outspoken political activism had put his life in danger. A doctor of political economy and theology, he decided to become a coffee producer and share in the life of the community. Here, he felt the rumblings of the prelude to a violent uprising. Thanks to his knowledge and determination, he persuaded the population that it would be wiser to undertake a veritable economic revolution. The idea? First of all, to form a cooperative (christened UCIRI, Union of Indian Communities of the Isthmus Region). Then, in order to bypass the middlemen and deal directly with western companies who would agree to pay more for a coffee that they would then sell on through the traditional distribution networks, with the complicity of consumers. Finally, to create a label that would certify this approach: Max Havelaar. Despite the anger, the threats and the often violent reprisals of the coyotes, the will of the population did not waver. Quite the reverse. They had to continue along their chosen path, find new partners and constantly broker new deals. When Jean-Pierre Blanc met Francisco van der Hoff, the understanding was immediate. France was not yet involved in this adventure. But this was about to change!

 

And it worked!

Fair trade changed the life of the small producers of the isthmus, from both a material and human point of view. It fostered the development of structures dedicated to healthcare and training (in organic farming, for example), the creation of a bank dedicated to the community, offering reasonable interest rates (2% as opposed to 20% "in the big city") and appropriate repayment plans. It helped to fund diversification projects in order to further strengthen their position. Poverty declined while self-determination and dignity were back. The peasants once again became the masters of their fate, proud to produce a coffee, the quality of which they did not doubt.

Today, Malongo is a major player in fair trade, a company which, with its 20 years' experience, knows its slightest subtleties, and continues to work for its development wherever coffee is produced. The approach is different from one country to another because the men are different. From the light heartedness encountered in Mexico to Laotian serenity, taking in the silent character of the people of Guatemala or the insular singularity of the Santomeans… Getting new fair trade projects off the ground means constantly going out into the world to meet people!

 

In the name of the Tierra Madre

Drastic ecological standards /Although fair trade imposes strict environmental rules, it should be remembered that it is primarily an ancestral, cultural and mystical instinct that drives the peasants of the Third World to look after nature. Demonstrating a sense of responsibility for the land, the water, and the forest does not mean bending to the whims of the developed world. On the contrary, it is something ancient, identity-defining and profound. An elementary code of conduct that has never been lost.

The land is the peasant's heritage

Telling ourselves that we impose stringent standards on small producers, thinking that we control their economic future under the yoke of environmental directives, would be to deeply misapprehend their cultures, so varied are they. Meeting coffee growers on each continent, Malongo has been able to discover to what extent the little peasant farmers of the world have always shunned the use of imported chemical fertilisers. They baulk at nourishing their land with substances of doubtful origin. The land is nurturing, so the Tierra Madre, the Pacha Mama, are venerated! It must be cared for. It is a gift from God, or from nature, from Providence. It is also the ancestral legacy, the tribal treasure that created their line of descent, gave them life and sweat. It is the primary expression of what binds the community together. The survival of families and the hope of a long descendance depend on it.