Overthrow
July-August 1983

Nicaraguan Coffee Now Available in USA
By Paul DeRienzo & Fire

BULLETIN… a world-wide boycott has been called against El Salvadoran & Guatemalan coffee… it is the major source of income for these fascist governments… 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 pesticides.

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 country’s 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, Nicaragua’s 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 food experts.

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 exploitation.

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 won’t. 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 World countries.

The food-oriented amos believe that the handicraft approach, despite altruistic intentions, neglects the fact that people are starving to death. According to Bridgehead’s philosophy, the food industry must-be developed first.

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 role.

"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 Nicaragua’s 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 market.

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