Fondo Paez, Colombia

ColombiaThe Paez (who also call themselves Nasa, or "the people") is the largest indigenous group in Colombia. Their lands are located in the Cordillera Central – around the mountains of the Cauca.  Fondo Paez was founded in 1992, with the primary goal of rescuing and reinforcing traditional agricultural knowledge and indigenous culture which had been almost lost due to internal conflict and oppression.  The main cash crop of this region is predominantly coffee. Harvest season is May to July, and cultivation of coffee crops takes place at 1300 - 1900 meters above sea level. This cooparative is made up of 550 producer members (of which 285 are certified Organic) and has been FLO certified since 2005.

Although Fondo Paez processes, markets, and exports its coffee through the Colombian Specialty Coffee Federation, the cooperative is completely independent in their internal decision-making process. It is governed democratically and is extraordinarily well organized. Surprisingly, Fair Trade is still not widespread in Colombia. Cooperative Coffees was instrumental in demonstrating to FLO International that a Fair Trade market existed in north america for Fondo Paez coffee.
Fondo Paez provides technical assistance for quality control and organic production to its cooperative members. It works with primary cooperatives to collect coffee and transport it to a nearby beneficio (coffee mill) to be processed. The cooperative retains ownership of the coffee until it reaches the port. The coffee farmers are equal owners in the organization and receive not only the social benefits provided by Fondo Paez, but also retain a much higher percentage of coffee profits.

Paez2Fondo Paez is completely committed to the self-sufficiency of their people and have a holistic approach to farming. This is most evident on their farms. Coffee is only one of many crops that are incorporated into a diverse agro-forestry system. Food crops for their own consumption, feed crops for the farm animals, and nitrogen fixing plants for the soil are given equal importance to their cash crops, these include: coffee, sisal, beans, and different tropical fruits.

The members of Fondo Paez have created a sustainable vision for their indigenous communities. This vision is remarkable in and of itself, but the work and successes of this organization are truly extraordinary when viewed within the context of Colombian politics and globalization. From Spanish conquest centuries ago to the armed conflict raging in their territory for the past 40 years, the Paez people have struggled for their lives, their land, and their right to self-determination.