Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair-Trade Markets

Sarah Lyon

The author, drawing from several years of field work in a well-established FLO-certified coop, offers a seemingly balanced analysis of the effects of Fair Trade on Mayan coffee farmers in Guatemala. Besides the usual factors of farmer income and access to credit, the author also studies collaboration in the coop and its organizational capacity, contradictions with certification systems, low producer power in Fair Trade, and producer/consumer relationships portrayed by intermediaries and advertising quite differently from reality.

This ethnographic analysis of fair-trade coffee focuses on La Voz Que Clama en el Desierto-a cooperative in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala-and its relationships with coffee roasters, importers, and certifiers in the United States. The author concludes that while fair trade does benefit small coffee-farming communities, it is more flawed than advocates and scholars have acknowledged. However, fair trade can be understood and modified to be more equitable.