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Maya coffee farmers and the fair trade commodity chain (Guatemala).


Description

Historically, Juaneros navigated external cultural, economic and political flows while struggling to maintain their community based identity. Beginning in the late 1800s with Guatemala's forced labor drafts and continuing through the poverty of the early 20th century, community members were forced to seasonally migrate to coastal plantations in search of wages to supplement their subsistence production. This seasonal migration posed potential challenges to the maintenance of community life and left generations of Juaneros without education. Participation in the export commodity market and access to agricultural inputs slowly helped community members transition from these slave-like conditions into a relative prosperity marked by higher rates of education, improved housing, and the possession of consumer goods. Participation in the fair trade coffee market is the contemporary means through which cooperative members interact with non-community members and external forces. This market participation forms the foundation of the contemporary dialectical relationships linking community, regional, national and international processes. This contemporary engagement with external economic, political and cultural flows is distinctly different from that of previous eras because cooperative members' successful participation in the global economy is now predicated on remaining in the community and the continued viability of cooperative practices and ideologies. Cooperative membership and fair trade market participation provide Juaneros with the agency and power that their parents and grandparents lacked. Fair trade advocates argue that this alternative market ameliorates some of the commonly cited negative consequences of capitalism such as inequality, community disintegration, environmental degradation, and loss of local control. However, in order to present an alternative to historically inequitable international trade relations, fair trade must first contribute to the sustainability of coffee growing communities within economic, social and environmental arenas. Therefore, the dissertation evaluates fair trade's contributions within three distinct domains: the income level of producers, their agricultural production practices and the strength of the organization itself. The research demonstrates that fair trade market participation positively impacts each of these factors, however, it also contributes to emerging tensions within the community as a result.