They’ve got the cashews. We’ve got the market. And then… nature intervenes. Part I

Small Farmers, Big Change
May 18, 2013

Part I: They’ve got the cashews. We’ve got the market. It’s a perfect match…

Coffee. Tea. Chocolate. Bananas. Almonds. Olive Oil. Geobars.
Last year we decided to add cashew nuts into the mix of new products we sell to food co-ops and consumers. You could sense the excitement in the meeting rooms of Equal Exchange from the moment the decision was made.
For over twenty five years, food co-ops have been some of our strongest allies. They helped Equal Exchange launch the fair trade movement when we were just starting out, bringing Nicaraguan coffee from small farmer co-operatives into the U.S. for the first time.
Much has changed in these past 25 years. Today, many consumers know; at least in rough terms; what fair trade is about. The idea of knowing where your coffee – chocolate, tea, even bananas, comes from – is not an unfamiliar concept to shoppers at food co-ops and we have many to thank for this revolution in the food system and how we choose our food products.
But nuts? Dried fruit? Trail mix? Even though these products can all be purchased in packages and in bulk at our local food co-ops, how many of us know anything about them; where they come from, who grows them, and under what conditions.
Do you?

Ever since the U.S. fair trade certifying agency, Transfair USA, (now called Fair Trade USA) went rogue, walking away with the intellectual property of the fair trade movement (and stealing the name “Fair Trade” along with it), Equal Exchange has renewed our efforts to keep Fair Trade authentic. We’re doing this not only by educating consumers about what’s happening in the world of fair trade, but also by redoubling our efforts to support small farmer co-operatives and strengthen small farmer supply chains from farmers to consumers.
One way to do this is through the delivery of more fair trade products direct to food co-ops from small farmer organizations.
Enter cashew nuts. It’s 2012. We’ve discovered our first source of high quality, organic, DELICIOUS cashew nuts from a small farmer co-op in El Salvador. Check, check, check, and check. Add to all that perfection, something else: the co-op members of Aprainores have a very moving story. These farmers all participated in El Salvador’s 12-year civil war to fight against structural poverty, grave injustices, and tremendous repression. When the war ended, each of these combatants was given a few acres of land in the south of the country on an old cashew plantation. One portion of the plantation, where 20 farmers now live, is located on the island of Montecristo, a beautiful nature reserve filled with mangrove estuaries and endangered bird species. By buying these cashews, consumers are not only getting some of the best tasting nuts we’ve sampled, but are also helping to ensure that these farmers improve the quality of their lives and continue to protect the fragile ecosystem that they are stewarding. Another check.
Truly, what could be better?
Well, for me, there’s another level of excitement: I used to live and work in El Salvador; I know this part of the country intimately; I even met with these farmers many years ago when the organization I worked for was offering co-op development trainings to newly formed co-ops. It’s been years since I’ve known anything about what has happened to them and now Equal Exchange is in a position to support them by selling their cashews into the U.S. market. CHECK.CHECK.CHECK.
We received our first shipment this past February. The food co-ops and the consumers love them. (Actually, the staff loves them so much that we had to be careful or they might never have made it to market.) We sold more than we imagined possible. The excitement builds. For the first time, a consumer can buy organic cashew nuts on Fair Trade terms, get amazing quality and flavor, AND know the whole story behind the product. Click here for their full story and photos of the APRAINORES farmers.
Next: Part II: Nature intervenes.
Photos courtesy of Equal Exchange. Photographer:  Julia Hechtman