Cristina has sent in this blog post from Costa Rica along with a video interview...
Having been to Costa Rica before but new to the Fair Trade movement, I had no idea what to expect when I signed up to join a Fair Trade Towns USA trip to visit coffee and sugar producers in the central area of this Central American country. Boy was I pleasantly surprised to learn that not only were my native Spanish speaking skills a boon to the group (I was born in Cuba and grew up in the U.S.) but that I would be meeting so many awesome people and learning mega amounts of information. What follows are personal stories of some of the people I’ve met: coffee and sugar producers, CoopeAgri personnel, cooperative workers, and board directors.
We flew into San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, and after one day of orientation by our group leaders traveled south to our first tour destination, CoopeAgri in Perez Zeledon. There we met with their board of directors, seven men and one woman, all producers and workers. Interestingly when this cooperative started in 1962 there were 391 members and only 10 were women (2.5%), today there are 17,000 members and 5,780 (34%). Alba Nidia Rojas Borrego is the first and only woman elected by the regional delegates to be a director for four consecutive two year terms. She is passionate, spirited and committed to the progress of Costa Rican women.
Alba Nidia comes from a small mountain town in the Perez Zeledon region and has been a coffee producer for the past thirty years. I was able to interview her and learned about her path to success and the benefits of participating in Fair Trade the past four years. She grew up in the sixties when women weren’t allowed to attend school beyond elementary grades. When she was 18 she worked for a teacher in San Isidro as a domestic employee. She had always wanted to attend high school so with the encouragement and financial support of that teacher she secretely, without her parents’ permission, was able to graduate from high school by attending night school. This degree allowed her to enter a CoopeAgri training program for producers and workers aspiring to become board directors. Last year together with forty women she spearheaded the formation of a women’s catering cooperative for women whose caretaking of elderly parents and/or children only allows them to work part time.
Will Valverde manages International sales of Fair Trade coffee and sugar for CoopeAgri. Fluent in English and very articulate he was able to guide us through the multiple layers of cooperative services offered by CoopeAgri. His steadfast commitment to Fair Trade and its benefits for the community was transparent throughout our two days with him. He was always willing and able to answer our many questions and clarify linguistic misunderstandings. His pleasant personality and sweet disposition were greatly appreciated.
José Luis Mora is a worker at CoopeAgri’s research sugar cane project under the direction of Agricultural Engineer Willie Valverde, no relation to the previous Will Valverde. José Luis manages the irrigation system at this site. He explained to me how important keeping the seedlings moist is during the long dry season in this area.
We’re only three days into our trip so we look forward to more interesting experiences. Next up is a bus ride to the Boruca Indian Village where we’ll meet Fair Trade artisans. Then we’ll reboard the bus and drive to Tarrazu to experience another Fair Trade Coffee Cooperative. Check in for another edition of this blog.