Nicaraguan Coffee Now Available in USA
By Paul DeRienzo & Fire
a world-wide boycott has been called against El Salvadoran
& Guatemalan coffee
it is the major source of income for these
a similar boycott against Honduras is pending
due to negotiations between alternative marketing cooperatives in North
America & Europe and workers coffee cooperatives in Honduras
If you want more choice in the coffee you drink, coffee with "the taste
of justice" is now available.
It is brought to you from the Somoza & toxic pesticide-free mountains
of Nicaragua, routed through the Netherlands, and distributed by alternative
marketing organizations here in the U.S.
Nicaragua is one of the few countries in the world to give greater emphasis
to nonpesticide methods of controlling agricultural pests. It is among
a growing number of third world nations practicing "Integrated Pest Management";
the use of non-toxic herbal pesticides, natural insect predators like
the Praying Mantis and resistant seeds instead of pernicious chemical
This is in direct contrast to the practice of many industrialized countries
which have dramatically increased their food production through the indiscriminant
use of highly toxic pesticides on crops that are bred genetically "superior"
for high yields yet are not resistant to disease. The result of this "green
revolution" has been more hunger (see box).
Nicaraguan Coffee Production
Nicaragua is an agricultural exporting country; their main exports are
coffee, bananas, cotton and sugar. Coffee is the countrys main source
of foreign exchange.
Production is organized into a private sector formed by small, medium
and large producers. The private producers represents about 90% of production;
the rest of the production, organized into cooperatives and state farms,
is under the administration of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform.
The production of coffee has been brought under central government control
in order to achieve revolutionary goals through the state marketing enterprise,
"Empresa Nicaraguense Del Cafe" (ENCAFE), which is the only organization
authorized by law to market Nicaraguan coffee locally and internationally.
Recent attacks by U.S. supported and trained guerrillas, known as contras,
have prompted the Nicaraguan government to strengthen the defense of agricultural
production. "The contras usually avoid direct clashes with the army,"
said Captain Rodrigo Gonzalez, the Sandinista officer in charge of the
Jualapa region in the department of Nuevo Segovia, a rich coffee producing
area. "Their idea is economic sabotage, to frighten people away from working
in the fields. So we have to guarantee their safety in order to guarantee
production." In fact, both peasants and young volunteers carry AK-47 assault
rifles with them as they pick coffee beans.
The marketing of Nicaraguan, agricultural products has run into stiff
opposition by the United States, Nicaraguas largest customer. Under
pressure from the White House, the huge multinational Castle and Cooke
broke a five-year contract they had signed with the Sandinista government
to market bananas in the U.S.
The Sandinistas then contacted the much smaller Pandol Co. in California,
who accepted the contract. Today, Pandol sells 90,000 tons of Nicaraguan
bananas a week, one third of U.S. banana consumption.
In retaliation, Castle and Cooke, upset with the loss of hundreds of
thousands of dollars in profits, passed around a rumor that Nicaraguan
bananas were sprayed with dangerous pesticides to a greater extent than
bananas from other sources. In fact, the opposite is true, according to
Alternative Marketing Organizations
In North America the movement to facilitate the distribution of coffee
and other products from those nations where workers have some control
over production has been growing. In November of 198 1, four Toronto residents
established Bridgehead Trading Co., an alternative marketing organization,
(called amos in Europe).
Amos began importing coffee from Nicaragua and Tanzania, spices from
Grenada as well as tea from worker-owned and controlled estates in Sri
Lanka. These estates have their own schools and health care and support
6 homes for disabled youth with their "profits". Cashews, sesame seeds,
coconuts, and cocoa should soon be available throughout the U.S.
The products are distributed through local co-op networks in the U.S.
and Canada. Organizers feel that by circumventing the stranglehold of
multinationals they are encouraging self-reliance among poor nations.
Amos began in Europe as the pre-war colonial system began to collapse.
One of the oldest was started in Holland and began to market coffee from
former colonies as part of a movement to educate people about colonial
There is a group of about 25 amos in eight European countries plus Australia
and New Zealand. Several groups in the United States and one in Canada
peddle handicrafts in the same way, but according to Bridgehead general
manager Peter Davies, "We deliberately decided not to go into handicrafts
for political reasons. People buy crafts impulsively when times are good,
and when times are tough, they wont. We said that food is the key.
People are always going to need food, and they are so conditioned to drink
tea and coffee, that they will no matter what the economic conditions."
Some of the handicraft-oriented amos such as GEPA in West Germany do
as much as $4 million worth of business annually. These amos hope to give
business to craftsmen who play a key role in the economy of many Third
The food-oriented amos believe that the handicraft approach, despite
altruistic intentions, neglects the fact that people are starving to death.
According to Bridgeheads philosophy, the food industry must-be developed
Meyer Brownstone, the Canadian national chairman of OXFAM and a professor
of political science at the University of Toronto feels that the real
importance of alternative marketing organizations lies in their educational
"If you sell coffee from Nicaragua you can tell people about the conditions
there and thus create more understanding. The importance of Bridgehead
is that it is the real link between Canada and the Third World".
In the United States the alternative marketing organization concept is
beginning to grab hold among people influenced by Frances Moore Lappe,
author of "Diet for a Small Planet", and others.
Based in Ft. Wayne Indiana the Co-op Coffee Trading Project has, according
to a spokesperson, sold their first ton of coffee before it arrived and
a second ton is on order. The coffee presently being purchased from Nicaragua
must be shipped to Holland to another amo to be roasted, ground and vacuum
packed because Nicaragua does not have the necessary facilities denied
them by the logic of colonial and neo-colonial domination.
The Co-op Coffee Trading Project is an offshoot of the "Friends of the
Third World" a non-profit organization which markets handicrafts from
poor persons including Native Americans and residents of Appalachia.
Coffee is their first attempt to market a food product. They say that
this will allow the food exporter to deal directly with consumers and
avoid the multinational middlemen. According to the spokesperson profits
from this trading venture will be used towards the construction of Nicaraguas
first coffee processing plant.
Past experience in which a coffee processing plant was built in Tanzania
with the help of European amos show that the producing country can retain
45% of profits rather than the 15% retained when middlemen such as Nestles
and General Foods handle the processing.
A spokesperson for the Coffee Trading Project stressed that this venture
is primarily an educational example of the problems facing poor nations
that attempt to become self-sufficient. Coffee will be used as a tool
to discuss world poverty and the fact that poor countries could supply
food first rather than cash crop economies forced on them by the world
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