We might be excited reaching the top of the volcano Momotombito. We might raise our hands in the air and dance at the accomplishment, thinking that we have achieved the highest summit. But then, when we dance in jubilation, we see that an even bigger volcano, Momotombo, looms above us. There is a higher mountain for us to climb, where the view is even more spectacular. But in order to climb up Momotombo, we must first climb down Momotombito. (From the January 2011 Cooperativism Workshop, San Juan del Rio Coco.)
Thus began Rene Mendoza in talking to the audience about the coming “golden decade” for coffee producers, a time when the already-high demand for the coffee harvests will become even greater and potentially more profitable.
I mentioned here last November that Winds of Peace had undertaken a study on rural cooperatives in Nicaragua, in an effort to better understand the opportunities that exist for these organizations, as well as the obstacles which can impede their success. Researchers Rene Mendoza and Edgar Fernandez completed a very telling study on the practices and results of rural coffee cooperatives, which we will post on this website shortly; be watching for it.
One of the actions prompted by the study has been the development of an important workshop involving producers, supporters, second-tier organizations, buyers and lenders. In a unique assembly for three days, these participants met in San Juan del Rio Coco to share their stories, explore their issues and begin the process of strategizing their collective futures. Facilitated by Rene Mendoza, the exchange offered a rare opportunity for the various actors in the growing-marketing-selling cycle to be together for the purpose of discovering their mutual self-interests and how they might maximize success for each other in a period when the demand for coffees of all types is on the rise, a “golden decade of coffee.”
Three days is a long time for any people to absent themselves from their livelihoods, but perhaps especially so for the rural poor who have so little margin for error and daily face falling behind. But this group demonstrated not only a willingness to attend, but an appetite for the learning, even to the point where several participants lobbied for a fourth day of discussion! Such is the level of interest and intensity they have displayed toward this chance to learn, understand and strategize. It’s a powerful process to observe and it generates energy for everyone who is part of it, including those of us from WPF.
Part of the uniqueness of this workshop is that is has brought together small, rural players from disparate parts of this economic process, encouraging a collaboration among participants who are frequently marginalized from the core activities and benefits. They seemed to relish the chance to speak together, to be together. Their participation served as a recognition of sorts, an acknowledgement of their importance to the process under scrutiny, the value of their independent voices. They were even hungry for more details about the genesis of Winds of Peace Foundation, its roots within Foldcraft Co. and what employee ownership of that firm was like. Throughout the workshop, the themes of holism, participation and ownership- those universal needs of working people everywhere- were once again at the center of attention. There is both a hunger and a growing awareness developing in the minds and hearts of these entrepreneurs who seek greater control of their futures.
This process is unusual enough and perhaps will be successful enough to warrant replication in other parts of the country; we’ll be monitoring the outcomes closely. Other groups have inquired about being able to participate. And currently there is a second part to the workshop scheduled for the first week in April. All the same participants have been invited back and, once again, WPF will be present to observe, listen, understand and even offer some insights when invited to do so. It’s a rare opportunity to be privy to the conversations and rather personal testimonies offered by many of the attendees about a critical and complex part of their lives. I hope we might play some small part in creating the kind of epiphany that they so desperately need….