The Power of Fair Trade Coffee in La Revancha, Nicaragua

If you’ve ever been sipping on a cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee and wondered, “Where does my money actually go when I buy a cup of Fair Trade coffee,” then this one’s for you. Nestled high at the top of a mountain in the tiny farming community of La Dalia, Nicaragua, rests Finca La Revancha. 

La Revancha is a family-owned coffee estate, with about 90 permanent workers, although this number grows drastically during the harvest season. They’ve been working hard to meet the rigorous Fair Trade standards in order to become Central America's first Fair Trade Certified coffee estate. 

One of the main requirements that the farmers had to meet to become certified was to form a committee of workers called the Fair Trade Committee. This is a group of democratically-elected farm workers, who are responsible for the management of the Fair Trade Community Development Fund. For anyone new to Fair Trade, this Community Development Fund is a key defining factor of what makes Fair Trade unique.

For every pound of coffee sold, the buyer pays an additional .20 cents that goes into a separate community fund. In 2012, Fair Trade USA certified 163 million pounds of coffee, helping coffee farmers and workers across the globe earn $32 million in Community Development Funds for social and productive investment. Some of the main areas that farmers and workers tend to invest this money is in things like education, healthcare, micro loan programs and transportation.

At La Revancha, the Fair Trade Committee recently conducted a “needs assessment,” to determine which pressing issues in their community they might be able to address with their first Community Development Funds. Not knowing how much Fair Trade coffee their farm will sell in the upcoming harvest, they forecasted conservatively, making a plan for what they could do if one single container of coffee was purchased. 

The farm workers of La Revancha are very poor. Few have electricity, running water, or toilets, and many of their homes are lean-tos made of a dirt floor and scrap metal. They are also kind, humble, and generous beyond belief.

If just one single buyer were to purchase one single container of Fair Trade coffee from La Revancha, the workers would receive $8,000 in premiums for their community projects. And here is how they plan to spend that money:

22 bathrooms

In addition to the new latrines built on the farm to comply with the Fair Trade standards, the workers determined that improving sanitation in their surrounding communities was also a top priority. Hundreds of people in the area do not have access to a toilet. However, once these new latrines are built they will benefit 135 people from over 22 local families. In addition, there will also be trainings on sanitation to help people learn best practices around things like disease prevention. 

Doctors for 900 people

The second project will be to organize visits from three different specialized doctors—one for adult medicine, a pediatrician, and a gynecologist—to come visit the farm for several days in the coming winter. Individual workers and their families (over 900 people) will have access to medical exams, basic medications and procedures—many for the first time ever. Additionally, since these visits will be paid for by the Community Development Funds every single visit, bottle of medication and procedure will be completely free of charge for the community members. 

Food for the elderly

The final project that the workers of La Revancha will implement with the rest of their $8,000 is something we haven’t really seen before in Fair Trade. They choose this project based off the data they received in their needs assessment. They plan to fund a program that delivers hot meals to elderly people in the community who have no families and live in extreme poverty. These meals will not only nourish the people who need them most but will also serve as a connection for the elderly folk back to their community. 

As you can see, the amount of impact that is generated from the sale of one container of Fair Trade coffee goes further than most people could ever imagine. Just take a second to think about what could be done if they sold two containers? Or even, three?

One of the most powerful aspects to the Fair Trade model is that the farmers and workers get to decide how their Community Development Funds are spent. The difference that this seemingly simple factors makes is actually pretty unbelievable. If someone who grew up in a different culture walked into the La Revancha community they might never have chosen the three projects above as the most pressing issues to start working on. And that power, that simple right to make their own decisions about what is best for their own community is where the power of Fair Trade truly lies. 

So think about that cup of coffee in your hands, and everyone who touched it before it arrived at your grocery store, restaurant or café. The power you have, simply by choosing Fair Trade, to significantly improve the lives of farmers and farmworkers like the people of La Revancha is literally tangible. The power you have to make all the difference in the world belongs only to you.