Beyond Fair Trade: Creating New Trade
Fair Trade is an important and worthy certification that is available for large-scale commodities like coffee, tea and cotton grown in developing countries. This certification ensures that people who harvest these crops are given a living wage with safe working conditions and are protected from exploitation by large landholders.
However there is also a great need beyond the fair trade certified commodities. This is for the smallholder farmers and to women and children living in rural locations who have never been able to earn an income.
Harvesting herbs for use in herbal teas and herbal coffees creates new trade that provides much needed income to support their families’ basic needs such as food and health care.
Creating Trade in Central America
One company that is very active in creating new trade is Teeccino Caffé, the makers of Teeccino® Caffeine-free Herbal Coffee, whose founder, Caroline MacDougall has been sourcing herbs in developing countries since the 1970’s.
Caroline designs herbal beverages for top tea companies in the US including The Republic of Tea, Yogi Tea, and Organic India as well as for Teeccino. It was her passion for preserving the rainforest that took her into Central American forests 30 years ago to find ingredients for herbal beverages that would give value to standing forests, thus protecting them from logging.
In 1992, Caroline created Rainforest Tea for The Republic of Tea and worked in remote villages in Veracruz, Mexico to help the villagers harvest allspice leaves and vanilla for export to the US.
It was her first exposure to the plight of rural women whose value in their communities was undermined by their inability to earn income. Often dismissed as “cocineras” or “cooks”, women only began to gain status when they could contribute to their family’s income.
Caroline set to work creating Teeccino Herbal Coffee and her first flavor, Vanilla Nut, used vanilla beans from smallholder farmers in Veracruz. Searching for a tree crop that would protect upper canopy rainforest trees led Caroline to experiment with Ramon nuts, the seed of the fruit of the Brosimum alicastrum tree, a 120 ft tall tree growing in Central American rainforests.
Ramon nuts were a traditional food of the Maya civilization that called Ramon trees, “the corn tree”, because the nutrient-rich Ramon nut flour could be mixed with corn flour making it more nourishing. The Maya also drank Ramon nuts as a roasted beverage long before the Europeans brought coffee trees to be planted in Central America.
Caroline’s excitement about Ramon nuts was double fold. Here was the perfect crop that gave value to a canopy tree comprising 20% of the rainforest, thus protecting it from logging and thereby protecting the forest’s teeming life. Plus its roasted flavor profile was a lovely blend of coffee and chocolate flavor notes that made it the perfect ingredient to feature in a line of herbal coffees!
In 2006, Teeccino launched its line of Maya Herbal Coffees based on certified organic Ramon nuts, wild harvested in the Maya Biosphere Reserve and roasted in Guatemala. The harvest created work for women and children collecting nuts from trees growing close to their homes and also for men who could forage deeper into the forest.
Ramon nuts have provided an additional source of income for these remote villages that depend on a variety of products that they can extract from the forest. Additionally, women have now learned how to cook and prepare them to improve the nutrition for their families.
Creating Trade with Small Holder Farmers in India
In pursuit of organic certification for Teeccino, Caroline ran into a major obstacle. One of Teeccino’s major ingredients, chicory root, an herb that has been grown and roasted for use as a coffee alternative for centuries in Europe, is difficult to grow organically for one simple reason.
But, as luck would have it, Caroline’s work developing Tulsi teas for Organic India took her to India, a country that produces large quantities of conventional chicory.
Caroline met with smallholder farmers from a region of India where land suitable to organic chicory is available.
Organic farming has offered these farmers a way out of debt, but they need economic and agricultural assistance to be able to make the transition away from conventional farming.
The smallholder farmers had to be offered contracts for a certain amount of income for their acreage planted in chicory no matter what their yield might be. Of course, this becomes highly risky for small companies like Teeccino, since a failed crop can mean both substantial financial losses and lack of supply of an essential ingredient.
Fortunately, in the first two years, small amounts of organic chicory were grown successfully for both the farmers and Teeccino. Now, a more ambitious crop is in the ground for harvest in 2009 that hopefully will allow Teeccino to use only organic chicory in 2010.
Creating New Trade Supports Family Education & Health
It is Teeccino’s philosophy that corporate responsibility includes supporting social programs in the communities where its ingredients are harvested.
Teeccino donates 1% of sales from its Maya Herbal Coffees to help Maya communities in Central America where Ramon nuts are harvested. Teeccino’s contributions help support programs that improve the health of Maya children.
Working with The Equilibrium Fund, www.TheEquilibriumFund.org women in rural villages are educated on the harvest and preparation of Ramon nuts to feed their families. One result has been a program run by a women’s cooperative – the Alimentos Nutri-Naturale (Nutritious Natural Foods) to provide Ramon nut baked goods to Guatemalan schoolchildren.
With Vitamin Angels, www.VitaminAngels.com the money raised helps support the organization’s nutritional supplement work preventing childhood blindness and malnutrition in Maya communities in Belize and Guatemala.
Teeccino comes in 10 popular flavors like Vanilla Nut, Mocha, Hazelnut, Chocolate, Chai, Almond Amaretto, Caffé and Java. It is distributed nationwide in natural food and specialty grocery stores. For more information about Teeccino visit the web site www.Teeccino.com.
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