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Cafe Direct - Food Heroes across the world

Posted by Kat Hobbs Activist Support Officer, London and south east

18th Oct 2012

I'm in the Cafédirect offices in East London to meet Alvaro Gomez, the general manager of a of a coffee growing cooperative in Costa Rica and one of the directors of Cafédirect.  

The first ever Fair-trade registered coffee organisation, Cafédirect started with a few bags of coffee beans shipped over to the UK and sold by grassroots and church groups. In 1989, an international coffee agreement which had fixed global prices according to the cost of production, collapsed.  Middlemen swooped in to buy up the coffee and the lives of millions of smallholder farmers around the world was in jeopardy as they were left with no choice, but to sell their harvests at rock bottom prices.

In response, three coffee growing communities shipped a container of coffee, loaned on trust, to the UK. The beans were roasted and sold, by Cafédirect, through church halls, charity shops and at local events. Twenty years on, while the delicious smell of coffee wafts around the office, Alvaro tells me about his work with the COOCAFE coffee growers' cooperative and with Cafédirect.  The COOCAFE cooperative sent one of the original containers of coffee over to the UK, and has been involved in Cafédirect from the start.

Alvaro is obviously passionate about his work, and two years ago was nominated by his colleagues to join the Cafédirect board of directors. The COOCAFE cooperative he works with helps farmers get a fair deal when selling their produce, and also helps to link up farming communities so they can share knowledge and skills. Instead of bringing in experts from outside, it focuses on communities being able to find and share their own solutions. Working with Cafédirect, they've run projects tackling some big issues like climate change. They've run projects to raise awareness of the urgency of tackling climate change, as well as practical projects to help farmers adapt to the often devastating effects of the changing climate.

As our interview draws to a close, I ask Alvaro what he sees as the most important thing people can take away from Cafédirect's work. He thinks for a moment, and then describes the way that Cafédirect goes over and above fair trade standards to support farming communities. It not only raises awareness among consumers of the importance of fair trade, but asks them to show solidarity with farmers and growers across the world as they face the new challenges of climate change. As I step out of the office and back into the grey rain of East London, I'm pleased to have met such passionate and practical Food Heroes- and to have had the chance to sample their wonderful coffee!

Blog post written by Kat Hobbs

Activist Support Officer, London and south east

More by Kat Hobbs