US priest buys high, sells low to help Guatemalan coffee growers
Published: September 9, 2009
SAN LUCAS TOLIMAN, Guatemala (CNS) -- In the 17 years since he started buying coffee from the hundreds of families who farm the hills overlooking Lake Atitlan, Msgr. Gregory Schaffer has seen the coffee industry's highs and lows. The market peaked in the late 1990s and crashed in the early 2000s, causing thousands of farmers to abandon their lands and migrate in search of work. None of that affected the farmers selling to Msgr. Schaffer, a priest of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., who has worked in the San Lucas Mission for nearly 47 years. While small coffee farmers throughout Latin America have struggled to make ends meet growing the world's second-most-traded commodity -- behind petroleum -- the indigenous coffee growers of San Lucas Toliman have received superior prices from Msgr. Schaffer. The $2.10 per pound they are paid is double what they might receive selling to middlemen and about 35 percent more than they would receive by selling both fair-trade and certified-organic beans. "We started this not by looking at the market. We started by asking the farmers what they thought their coffee was worth," said Msgr. Schaffer, 74. "We asked, 'How much do you need to have a decent life?' That's how we set our price."
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