farm workers versus small farmers?

When I traveled to Costa Rica last week, I met several coffee farm workers.  Many of the farm workers in Costa Rica come from Nicaragua.  I was told that of the close to 5 million people living in Costa Rica, around 800,000 are Nicaraguans. Many of them work in coffee, sugar cane, bananas and many other agricultural products that end up in the U.S. market.

Most of the workers I met were from Nicaragua.  I met Lorenzo (picture below) when he was working on the field, spraying herbicide.  He has worked in coffee as a farm worker in Costa Rica for four years.  However, this was not his first experience in coffee.  He learned about coffee production back home.

Lorenzo is from Matagalpa, Nicaragua, and his father is a small-scale coffee farmer in Matagalpa with 2 hectares of coffee production.  Lorenzo’s father is a typical small-scale farmer from Nicaragua.  Lorenzo’s father plot of land was not big enough for Lorenzo and his siblings to live off once they grew up so Lorenzo is not a small-scale farmer in Nicaragua.  Yet, he is still involved in coffee as a farm worker in Costa Rica.

Lorenzo was intrigued by the idea of Fair Trade – both for him and for his father.  He liked the idea of having better working conditions and a Fair Trade premium that workers could use for social projects decided democratically by the workers themselves.  He did not know if his father was already working in Fair Trade but he thought that it could be a great idea (there are several Fair Trade farmer groups in Matagalpa, Nicaragua).  I asked if he thought there were many more like him (sons/daughters of small-scale coffee farmers who are now farm workers). He expressed that he thought there were many.

Some people say that Fair Trade should not include farm workers since their realities are very different than the reality of small-scale farmers.  I see part of that point.  However, I also see the similarities.  Many of them come from the same families and communities, and their destiny depends on similar factors.  They could take advantage of similar opportunities and Fair Trade could help both groups to improve lives in coffee farming communities.



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