For my first blog post I wanted to share with you an experience I had during the summer of 2015 while I was doing an internship in one of the biggest coffee buyer-seller companies in the world. I was in Tapachula, Mexico the capital of the state of Chiapas, one of the states that produce the most coffee in the country (35% of the total coffee in Mexico is produced in Chiapas). I was working closely with the cooperative affiliated to the company that is in charge of all the certifications for the company´s coffee such as USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance certification, Fair Trade, amongst others. Just so you have a better sense of where and how I was working, the cooperative was comprised of no more than 10 people who managed millions of plants and thousands of producers all over the state that produced high quality coffee so the company can sell it accordingly to the market price in Chicago. I must mention that this company sells coffee to Starbucks, Nespresso and many other big coffee companies all over the world. Basically, I got to see how everything is managed and how everything runs from the bottom up. I personally did not want an internship where I had to be in front of a computer in an office with a precise schedule. I got to see how plants were grown and how this small cooperative managed millions of plants, millions of tons of coffee beans and thousands of producers at the same time.
I wanted to write about this experience to create awareness and to show people that big companies sometimes take advantage of small producers and manage to sell their coffee as organic or sustainable when it is not actually the case. When you are such a big company with so much power sometimes being “sustainable” or being “environmental-friendly” is not quite what environmentalist and green people think it is. When you have this much production (not only in Chiapas but all over the world) and have to meet the quality and the quantity demands of the different specific clients, being sustainable is not your priority. This two-month internship really opened my view on what is considered sustainable and what is just “green washing”. What really impressed me was the fact that a lot of the coffee that we think is grown organically and without any chemicals, the truth is that not all coffee grows like that and sometimes the company manipulates the producers, the prices, and the quantities so they can be more profitable and use the “green-organic” label in their favor. An example for this, is when not all the coffee produced one year is organic but at the end when the company sells it in the market, they say it is all-organic when normally only 60-70% of the total production was actually organic. When you manage these extremely high quantities of coffee it is hard for people to check for these things. There are people in charge of doing different inspections, so it is not due to lack of examination or anything related to that. The big companies know when the inspections are going to be and therefore manipulate the different examinations so they can have their different certifications and sell their coffee as “sustainable” or “environmental-friendly”.
I know it is a controversial topic and I honestly had one of the best moments in my life learning all this in Mexico. But I really wanted to share this experience so people can realize and understand that not everything is as it seems and that outside from the US people are very selfish and business is not always done in a transparent and honest way. I do not want to sound pessimistic about coffee production in Mexico and I do not have anything against the big coffee companies in Mexico but I was really impressed how the companies with power and with money can manipulate and do things that are not “sustainable” in any sense. My question is: why can’t these companies implement new techniques (such as agroforestry, shaded coffee, CO2 coffee project, etc…) to try and actually be sustainable? Is it to expensive? I don’t believe so… I believe it is because they are afraid of changing their traditional methods and are stuck with their old values. So, I guess my conclusion for this experience is always be alert and always try to learn all the different perspectives in the different issues. Try to make your own conclusions and do not let anyone tell you something is true or real until you decide it is.