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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cooperative solutions : how the Fair Trade and organic coffee markets support forested ecosystems on Nicaraguan coffee farms Zelmer, Michael M.


Widespread deforestation throughout Latin America has accentuated the importance of forested coffee farms as bastions of biodiversity that in many respects mimic tropical forests. However, a trend towards producing coffee within highly productive, chemically intensive monocultures has increasingly left these important ecosystems within the hands of small-scale farmers and indigenous communities, who are typically unable to capture much of the value of their coffee because of power asymmetry within their trading relationships. Notable exceptions are farmers who belong to cooperatives, which enable farmers to enhance their power and access the high-value Fair Trade and organic markets. In exchange for high prices, these markets require that farmers meet a variety of certification criteria that, among other things, affect how small coffee farms are managed. This thesis examines the means and processes through which the production of coffee for the organic and Fair Trade markets affects forested ecosystems on small-scale farms in Pancasan and El Coyolar, Nicaragua. In particular, it emphasizes the role of cooperatives as the institution through which standards are met, information is exchanged, decisions are made, access to global markets is facilitated, and a 'new' product with more resilient social and environmental benefits is achieved. While these markets do indeed require farmers to meet certification standards, it is the cooperatives and their allies that develop the capacity necessary for farmers to do so. Moreover, cooperative membership enables farmers to access resources that are embedded within networks they would not otherwise be able to access, and which are significant to both their livelihoods and the forested ecosystems they manage.

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