REPORT #74 June 1999
LACANDON JUNGLE MAYA CO-OPERATIVE SERVES AS ROLE MODEL FOR BELIZE


Produced by the Belize Development Trust
There is a co-operative of jungle shaded organic grown coffee beans over the border in Mexico. It is now 14 years old and has 1,350 small milpero farmers. Mostly they grow traditional milpa foods, like corn, beans and bananas. The coffee is a sideline for most farmers, but it is getting financially bigger. Much bigger!

The co-operative called La Selva is based around Las Margaritas, Mexico. The Maya grow coffee organically, under the shade of the jungle canopy. Organic shade grown coffee is of the highest quality. Mexico grows more organic coffee than any country. And this co-operative is the envy of coffee producers far and wide.

What makes this co-operative different, is the marketing. They decided to open their own coffee shop chain. It was not the first order of business of course. A chain of coffee shops was hardly the original intention. The first coffee shop in San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas was sort of an afterthought. The primary business was back then, and still is for the present, a high-end brand name in Europe and the USA.

A pound of top-shelf decaffeinated "Ecoselva" runs about $10 USA. Now, throughout Mexico they are sold in brand name cafes, with blond and wood distinctive architecture and a green-monkey logo. Even the Spaniards of Barcelona in Europe, noted for their pickiness, praise this Mayan enterprise.

These country milperos are now studying coffee consumption patterns via the internet in the USA. The idea is to parley their brand name into a chain of FRANCHISED coffee shops, like they are doing successfully in Mexico and to a lesser degree in Europe. From the ground in the jungle, to the consumer at a cafe; all earnings from their coffee are going to contribute something to the original farmer's take home pay.

This is La Selva Co-operative started in 1985. Nowadays, the world price for their beans is $141 USA for a 100 pound bag. That is $25 better than last year and $50 higher than other coffee growers in Mexico are getting.

Because they are marketing, organically grown, environmentally protective of the jungle rain forest, and themselves as small milpa, hilly jungle native indian farmers; the eco-conscious crowd are supporting them. It is a small marketing niche. Their only goal to sell all the coffee that they can grow locally and control the process and earnings from each stage of the process from the jungle, to the coffee drinker.

As Resetin Perez Velazco, 45 says, as he inspects the milpas. We've made lots of mistakes, lost lots of money; but despite all; managed to study ways to protect our environment from outside exploitation, cut out the greedy middleman and preserve the canopy of the rain forest in ways we understand and the government acknowledges with a dollar value figure. Belize is not conducive to coffee growing, but this same success story can be repeated in many crops. Cacao is one. Bananas another. Citrus another. The process here, is to move from a small farmer producing co-operative, to processing, shipping and marketing in those industrialized nations of the world with a brand name finished product.

Marie Sharpe Belizean hot sauce was a partial story similar, except it got sold out to Louisiana. Nowadays, you cannot tell the difference between a Marie Sharpe source, or one from Antigua or Grenada. To me, it is all the same stuff, in the same bottles with only the labels being different. Wrong way to go!

Today, my preferred hot sauce is not Marie Sharpe's which originally was from Belize, but now made of what, who knows? But my favorite is Trinidad Habanero Pepper Sauce. That sucker is nice and hot, not like that Louisiana pseudo Belize source. If you really want to make it even hotter, guaranteed to make sweat break out on even the most acclimatized hot pepper sauce user; just mix it with a radish that is about 10 inches long, grows in the tropics with flowers on top and when fresh mixed with anything, will light up the fire mon! Good for flu and colds!

The moral of this story, is that producer co-operatives, have to get all the way to retailing their product in the consuming nations. Do the whole chain from Belize to USA, or Germany, including the retail store. Something to think about! A chain of Belizean Co-operative seafood lobster restaurants in the USA anyone?

The government, or their University didn't help the Lacadon Maya with this either. Strictly learn as you go, mistakes, warts and pimples. Maybe teaching yourself is the best way?

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