A fair trade

Making a difference one cup at a time:
Fair trade support in Bolivia

“Before we didn’t have much income, and all the producers were selling for a lower price than they wanted. Now that we have a co-op [COAINE], things have improved because they directly handle exporting, which doesn’t require any money up front from the producers.” - Martin Condori, coffee producer from Munecas, Bolivia

The thin mountain air in El Alto, Bolivia, makes the arduous task of loading 60 kilogram bags of coffee by hand into a truck even more challenging than at lower elevations, but it doesn’t slow the momentum of the workers packing up the vehicle. With every bean loaded, another drop of fair trade Bolivian coffee is making its way to the Canadian market. 

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, so finding practical and equitable income generating solutions is integral to building dynamic rural economies. While more than 22,000 Bolivian families are producing coffee, only a very small portion of them are able to enter international markets; the United Nations has identified lack of access to markets as a key factor that keeps 82 per cent of rural Bolivians below the poverty line. There are major hurdles for coffee producers to overcome that prevent them from successfully exporting their beans, including capacity development, market linkages, and access to capital. 

Following a capital needs assessment and feasibility study undertaken by Crossroader Ken McCarty, a new financial product called the Crédito Justo (Fair Loan) was established by Crossroads partner FONCRESOL to meet the needs of rural producers who struggle to cover shipping costs up front. A program was piloted in 2010 to offer a short-term $50,000 loan arrangement which enables Bolivian small-scale fair trade cooperatives to access financing. Following the success of the first overseas shipment and the repayment of the loan, it was time to look towards building trade relationships with foreign buyers.  When McCarty, who is currently corporate social responsibility coordinator at Kal Tire, returned to Canada, he continued to support the project by establishing relationships with Canadian coffee micro-roasters. With FONCRESOL providing a revolving Fair Loan for shipping costs, COAINE and Crossroads worked together to prepare a South-North/North-South trade mission to assist COAINE producers enter the Canadian coffee market.

Several Canadian coffee micro-roasters are given the opportunity to meet local farmers and their families at their homes and coffee plantations. It’s a chance to observe the washing, pulping, fermenting and drying processes, and evaluate the taste and aroma characteristics of the coffee beans.  Following this trade mission, Crossroads volunteer Tara Scanlan worked with COAINE to draw up and sign a contract to ship the first container of COAINE coffee to Canada. Subsequent Crossroads volunteers have since hosted two more groups of Canadian coffee roasters, resulting in the purchase of an additional two containers of coffee beans, and a total of 49,400kg beans. “It may be a small drop of coffee in an immense coffee pot, but I know my work is contributing towards positive, sustainable change in Bolivia and that my efforts will be supported by other volunteers once I return to Canada,” says Crossroader Joni Ward. Bolivian farmers and their families are accessing sustainable new opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty, and Canadian micro-roasters are meeting customer demand and developing a growing market.


“It had always been my goal to buy direct from the producer but dialogue was difficult. This link with Crossroads International sped up the process by two or three years.”

Deryl Reid, owner of Green Bean Coffee


Crossroads International gratefully acknowledges the support of: