Fair Trade Co-op Visit: Union Majomut, San Cristobal

Another coffee co-operative that I hoped to visit in San Cristobal was Union Majomut (Union de Ejidos Comunidades Cafeticultores Beneficio Mojmut). I’d got their information from Fransisco while visiting UCIRI.

I arranged a visit to their main office in San Cristobal and spent a little time with Fernando, Roberto (el Presidente) and Lennart, a volunteer from Germany who (like most Germans it seems) speaks English and was a great help with some of the translation. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see much of their office as it was getting late in the day. But we did have a good conversation and I got to learn about the co-op.

The story of Majomut is different from Maya Vinic. In my first few minutes there some of the differences were obvious. The office was larger and much more modern. It was larger and seemed to be more typical of a North American office than what I had seen at UCIRI and Maya Vinic. Roberto and Fernando met me in their boardroom/meeting room upstairs, and we sat down together for what appeared to a formal conversation. It was hard to tell but perhaps their approach to business is just a little more professional in general.

There are more than 1,000 families from 35 communities (both Tzetzal and Tzotzil) located in the Los Altos de Chiapas region. Membership has remained fairly steady over the years. Originally set up in 1981 they began operations in 1983. They produce organic and Fair Trade coffee (since 1994) and over the years have diversified into other food production (vegetables for subsistence and food security), women’s collectives, community training and micro-credit financing.

The village of Majomut is close to Acteal, north of San Cristobal. The warehouse is located here and they have also built a training centre that was partly funded by the social premium that Fair Trade sales provide. Like many other coffee co-operatives, Majomut exports its coffee as ‘green beans’ rather a roasted & packaged product. The higher quality beans are exported and roasted coffee is produced mostly for the the local market in Chiapas.

Before I left, I asked Roberto and Fernando what some of the typical challanges are for Majomut. For them, to maintain organic certification is an ongoing challenge as they need to keep educating their farmers about the required standards and guarding against the use of chemicals and fertilisers on the crops. Another issue this year has been the price of coffee and the constant flux of coffee prices is always something they have to be careful of. Also unknown for 2012 is the recent move by Fairtrade USA to change the way they certify Fair Trade products when it leaves the FLO/Fairtrade International system at the end of this year. Majomut exports 30% of its coffee to the USA and it remains to be seen what this move by FTUSA will mean for them in the year ahead.