From Plant Buds to Taste Buds

Building Stronger Supply Chains One “Intercambio” at a Time

11/08/2012 - 6:09 PM

This blog comes to us from Angela Reed, Producer Relations Specialist at Fair Trade USA

Try your hand at the following riddle: It’s a type of chain made up of many actors. Some of the actors might be a small coffee farmer, a cooperative representative, a financial lender, a certifying entity, an exporter, the exporter’s importer, the importer’s buyer, and the buyer’s end user (where you and I fit in). Any ideas?

If you guessed supply chain, then congratulations! You are familiar with a term used to express the key business processes involved in a commodity’s complex journey from a single plant bud to our taste buds. The supply chain description above specifically outlines the actors in a Fair Trade Certified coffee supply chain.

Excuse the cliché, but it’s not every day we actually stop to smell the coffee (or roses) and think about how those beans arrived in our coffee cup. It’s also not every day members of an entire supply chain gather together in a single room to discuss the in’s and out’s of their many relationships—a space where buyers can discuss their quality needs with growers, growers express their needs and challenges to their buyers, importers or cooperative representatives can directly question those “responsible” for late payments, and vice versa. In simplified terms, this space creates an even playing field, one that is transparent, and open and inclusive of all actors in the supply chain.

We call these meetings "Intercambios," the Spanish word for "exchanges.” Fair Trade USA and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters are working together to make these kinds of encounters possible, and hopefully more frequent, in order to promote long-term, socially and environmentally responsible supply chains.  In April of this year we hosted one in Peru, the current largest supplier of Fair Trade Certified coffee to the United States, and another one in August in Nicaragua, one of the earliest Fair Trade pioneers.

So, you might be wondering: Just what happens at these "Intercambios"?

During the Intercambio in Peru, more than 250 Fair Trade coffee contracts were signed with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Participants also received a price risk management course jointly organized with the Word Bank, in addition to a full agenda of other discussions and panels over the course of three days. A total of 155 supply chain actors attended the event, representing 49 local, small-scale coffee producer organizations, eight importers, eight traders, 15 NGOs and five financial loaning entities.

In Nicaragua, the Intercambio consisted of meetings with financial lenders which resulted in on-site visits to cooperatives the following days. Participants received trainings on impact monitoring and social reasonability practices. Contracts were also signed, contacts exchanged, and producers later told us how much they valued the opportunity to directly interact with key players in the coffee supply chain, several expressing hope these would not be just a one-time event.

What I liked most was the ease by which we could meet with these actors face to face in an environment of trust, there was no over-attention but it never lacked either.”

You were able to gather the entire supply chain and we were able to understand their work, in return this will help us improve our work as producers.”

A total of 117 supply chain actors attended the Intercambio Nicaragua, representing 17 local, small coffee producer organizations, eight NGOs, four importers, five traders and three financial loaning entities. Several Nicaraguan cooperatives also participated in a cupping session organized by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters following the event, which had participants leaving with an even greater palate for identifying high quality coffee patterns.

Fair Trade USA thanks Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for their partnership and for making these “Intercambios” a reality. We look forward to next years’ and hope to connect more buyers and end-users in the U.S. with producers in the global south, the intercambio way.

For questions or comments on Intercambio agendas or future events, contact

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11/08/2012 - 6:09 PM
11/08/2012 - 5:53 PM