In the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, small-scale coffee producers face a level of poverty that keeps many families from accessing basic healthcare, education, clean water and the fundamental business capacity needed to thrive in competitive international markets.
Through Fair Trade, Mexican coffee cooperatives have been able to face these challenges with grace and dignity, ensuring that their members are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and earn community development funds to empower and improve their communities.
To further support the social, environmental and economic development of the small-scale coffee farmers in this historically volatile region, Fair Trade USA is collaborating with Progreso  on a 3-4 year program to help co-ops in Chiapas address some of their biggest challenges: market access, productivity, quality, and access to pre-harvest and export financing. The project was made possible with generous funding from the DOEN Foundation , the W.K. Kellogg Foundation  and the Rabobank Foundation .
This is not the first time Fair Trade USA and Progreso  have come together to support cooperatives around the world. The two organizations are also currently working together on a project to help strengthen coffee co-ops in Aceh , a mountainous region on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
“By collaborating with other like-minded, mission-driven organizations, we can have far greater impact on the farmers and workers we serve,” said Ben Schmerler, Fair Trade USA’s Senior Manager of Coffee & Supply Chain Services. “We’re proud and honored to work with Progreso again in Mexico; it’s a prime example of innovation in action—of thinking outside the box to help small farmers access the tools they need to grow their business and become more competitive in the U.S. market.”
Progreso has long championed improvements in living/working conditions for small-scale farmers across the globe. The group currently works with many coffee and cocoa organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to achieve their mission of assisting and supporting small producer organizations as they work to improve the livelihoods of their members.
For Fair Trade USA , this work is part of their Co-op Link program . Co-op Link is about developing innovative new partnerships to connect and transform the lives of small-scale farmers worldwide. Its goal is to link organizations from all areas of the supply chain to maximize impact for producers and their families, specifically through projects that help cooperatives improve quality, increase productivity, access capital cost-effectively, and become stronger business partners.
A second partnership with Progreso in Chiapas was the perfect fit for Fair Trade USA, as the two groups share a common mission and dedication to the well-being and long-term success of small-scale farming cooperatives across the globe.
“Progreso is enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with Fair Trade USA in a new country,” said Marieke Rodenhuis, Progreso’s Latin American Project Manager. “By strengthening these cooperatives we are creating new possibilities for the small coffee farmers of Chiapas and around the world.”
During a joint visit to the region in March of 2012, Progreso  and Fair Trade USA met with a group of cooperative farmers to hear their ideas about the project. Based on their feedback, farmers will receive comprehensive training in the following areas:
- Fair Trade Certification and Compliance: Strengthen organizational capacities needed to maintain producer certification
- Improving Quality and Productivity: Provide support and technical assistance to farmers as they work to increase volume and improve potential for export of high quality coffee
- Market Access: Encourage direct contact between producer organizations and their (potential) customers, specifically through key international trade events like the Specialty Coffee Association of America  Symposium
- Access to Finance: Focus on strengthening administrative capacity and financial organization of the participating co-ops, as well as gaining access to short and long term financing
Nine coffee cooperatives in the region will participate in the program:
- FIECH, Ángel Albino Corzo
- Unión de Ejidos San Fernando, San Fernando de Chiapas.
- Majomut, San Cristóbal de las Casas
- OPCAAC, Jaltenango
- ORPAE, Jaltenango
- Cesmach, Jaltenango
- Triunfo Verde, Jaltenango
- Comon Yaj Noptic, La Concordia
- Ramal Santa Cruz, Independencia
The plan also helps put at least five additional cooperatives on the path to earning Fair Trade certification, in hopes that even more coffee farmers in Mexico can begin to access the transformative opportunities and benefits that stem from participation in Fair Trade.
“We are an organization that seeks to enable the personal development of men and women, by working together and organizing. Our work is based in solidarity and respect for the environment and focused on the production of high quality products and services”-- FIECH’s mission statement, participating cooperative