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UMCOR promotes fair trade cup of cocoa

10/29/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NEW YORK (UMNS) - Abel Fernandez wants United Methodists to buy fair trade cocoa products.

Fernandez, who is production and export manager for the National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers, says that buying cocoa produced by the 9,000 small farmers who belong to the organization will improve the lives of the farmers and their communities in the Dominican Republic.

Alison Booth wants United Methodists to buy the cocoa, too - along with other fair trade products such as coffee and tea. As one of the worker-owners of the Canton, Mass.-based Equal Exchange, she has witnessed sales through the company's interfaith program increase to $1.7 million in 2002.

And June Kim, an executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, wants United Methodists to participate in the relief agency's coffee project with Equal Exchange because their purchases help UMCOR earn money to benefit an even larger number of small farmers.

The UMCOR Coffee Project, in collaboration with Equal Exchange, started with a "soft launch" of 250 United Methodist congregations in April 2002, according to Kim, and now has double that participation. To demonstrate how the project has expanded to include other products, she prepared an array of brownies and cakes, using the fair trade organic baking cocoa powder, and served it with cups of the fair trade cocoa, coffee and tea during an Oct. 27 informational session in New York.

Internationally-recognized fair trade standards require paying a fair price to farmers, including a guaranteed minimum when market prices are low; working directly with certified, democratically-run farming cooperatives; and encouraging ecologically sustainable farming practices. Equal Exchange, founded in 1986, uses those practices to offer consumers coffee, tea and cocoa direct from small-scale farmer cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The Dominican farmers group, known as CONACADO, is one of the cooperatives. A major goal of the cooperatives, Fernandez says, is to find alternative options to increase the revenues of its members. One option, for example, is helping farmers ferment their cocoa beans for use in chocolate bars. "By fermenting the beans, we get better quality," he explains.

Ten percent of CONACADO's annual crop yield goes to the fair trade market. The money earned back - around $150,000 - is reinvested in product improvements as well as dealing with community needs, such as health care and education.

"The importance of working in fair trade was demonstrated for our organization five years ago," Fernandez says, describing how the money earned from that market was used to help with the country's rehabilitation after the Dominican Republic was struck by Hurricane Georges.

United Methodists who serve cocoa, coffee or tea at church events or use the products as a fundraising project benefit the farmers both through the direct sales and the return on those sales. When church members make wholesale purchases of coffee, tea and cocoa, UMCOR receives 15 to 20 cents a package from Equal Exchange, Kim explains. That money also goes back to small farmers.

Coffee prices are competitive with other gourmet and organic coffees, according to Booth, although a bit more expensive than poorer quality commercial brands. In 2002, United Methodists bought 11,000 pounds of fair trade coffee through Equal Exchange, she says.

And they are not the only Christians participating in the program. Equal Exchange also has formal partnerships with Lutheran World Relief, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonite Central Committee, and, beginning in November, with Catholic Relief Services.

More information about the UMCOR project can be found at online. Informational brochures with order forms also are available through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries service center by calling toll free at (800) 305-9857 and asking for stock no. 05589.

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