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Nova Resende region

Investing cooperatively for the future

Geraldo da Silva and the members of the Coopervitae have some important decisions to make.

They have money in the bank and when this year's Fair Trade premium is deposited into their account, they'll have a lot more. The big question is: where and how to spend it?

It is an annual dilemma for co-ops and one that always provokes debate. The members of this organization in Petunia, a small town deep in Minas Gerais coffee country, have already taken the unanimous decision to keep funding the collection and transport of bagged coffee from rural farms to the co-op's warehouses. That eliminates onerous freight costs for small producers.

Now they must decide where to spend the rest of a fund that could reach 47,000 reais ($29,120 USD) when this year's premium is added.

Da Silva said farmers who gathered at the monthly meetings have identified three potential recipients: a computer center right here in Petunia; a cancer hospital under construction in the nearby town of Passos; and an AIDS hospice in the neighboring state of São Paulo.

"There's no shortage of problems," da Silva said. "But we're going to visit these three places before making a decision."

Coopervitae – it means cooperative of life – also goes by the name Organic Farmers Co-operative of the Nova Resende Region. It was formed at the end of the 1990s as an association of organic farmers; it turned into a fully fledged co-op in 2001 and was Certified as Fair Trade in April of 2006.

Today it has more than 150 members, and the average plot size is around 6 hectares, according to da Silva, the president of the association since 1999.

The co-op took in about 37,000 reais in premiums over the last two years and has invested much of it in equipping a small office that overlooks the main square and local church.

Members voted to purchase scales, a roasting machine, a testing table and a device to measure the humidity of harvested beans. They also bought a computer and printer for the office and a motorbike for visiting the more inaccessible areas of this hilly region.

Da Silva said they were trying to balance sponsoring works projects like the hospital and computer center with helping the co-op's members.

"We are going to study what the producers need," he said. "The wealth of our co-op is its farmers. If we don't look after them then we won't have any coffee."

Cultivating Fair Trade Certified coffee in the hilly region of Nova Resende

© Café Bom Dia