I met Eliover in July when I visited the farm where he works in Colombia. He has worked in coffee since he was a kid picking coffee during the harvest, cleaning weeds, and recently guiding other workers in this farm during harvest time. When we met we talked about the idea of Fair Trade with the other 20 workers with whom he shares a house on the farm. I accompanied them onto a very steep coffee field so I could spend time with them while they were picking coffee.
Eliover is now part of the Fair Trade workers committee that was just formed on the farm to get ready for Fair Trade certification. He is already very enthusiastic about Fair Trade and he looks forward to seeing how this new certification plays a role in improving the lives of his fellow workers. As a member of the committee, he now works with other worker representatives in planning future projects to implement with the Fair Trade premium once the farm gets certified.
I talked with Eliover early yesterday morning. The farm invited me to participate on a Skype call with the Fair Trade workers committee. The committee was meeting to plan a set of projects they could implement even before they get any premium: including water heaters for the showers (it gets very cold early in the morning and late after work in this region), getting access to courses from the local government agency in charge of provide education to workers in Colombia, etc. Being able to work on these projects is already a small but significant first step for the workers. If the farm gets Fair Trade certified, workers will already have a working structure they will be able to use once the Fair Trade premium arrives.
It was nice to talk with Eliover but it was particularly inspiring to hear him talk with others about Fair Trade for the first time. He talked about how consumers will pay a Fair Trade premium for their coffee and that the premium will not be used by the farm to buy fertilizers or other agricultural inputs. Rather, it will go directly to the workers for them to decide which social projects they could implement for the benefit of all of them.
People like Eliover inspire me every day to continue my work to bring the benefits of Fair Trade to coffee pickers and other farm workers in coffee farms around the world. I promised Eliover and the other workers that when/if the farm gets certified, we, at our office, will do our best to help them to sell that coffee in Fair Trade terms. We will also work to ensure consumers learn about the work the farm workers do every day in the fields and how Fair Trade will play a role in improving living conditions for workers, their families and their communities.