BOGOTÁ, Columbia – Founded in 1995, Asociación Anei (ASOANEI, or just Anei) is a coffee producer cooperative of community growers around Colombia. Its focus is on promoting community growth and improvement while putting economic security in the hands of its members. Comprising more than 700 families, Anei balances growth and sustainability utilizing the cooperative business model to ensure fair trade coffee and organic farming practices, cultural preservation, and community development.
The cooperative organization model is one in which employees are viewed as member-owners with one vote per member. There are multiple types of cooperatives, such as consumer and worker cooperatives. Because they are locally-owned, cooperatives allow communities to pool wealth to compete with large, capital-heavy competitors, but also ensure any wealth generated is kept in the community.
Most importantly, because of a democratic membership system, cooperative models “create quality, empowering jobs for community members,” according to Community-Wealth.org.
Anei was founded by a woman named Aurora Izquierdo, who went to Bogotá, the Colombian capital, to attain a higher education before returning to the community to advance sustainable agriculture. Gender equality is a fundamental aspect of Anei’s mission and success. Café Femenino, the organization’s gender equality program, provides training and technology for female producers, and promotes “communitarian wellness through teamwork,” per the organization’s 2016 newsletter. In total during 2016, there were 112 female producers in the organization.
Anei views Fair Trade coffee as the development of a community network of interaction and contribution between producer, intermediary, and consumer. The underlying concept of fair trade – economic justice – is embedded in the Arhuaco spiritual beliefs. According to Julia Leitner of coffee importer Sustainable Harvest, Arhuacos constitute much of the membership of the organization and believe it is their role “to take care of everyone and everything to maintain balance throughout the world”. Officially, the organization is Fair Trade-certified, along with USDA Organic, Euro Organic, and a host of other certifications.
Membership is largely composed of indigenous Colombians, including approximately 30,000 members of the Arhuaco group, who carry with them traditional spiritual beliefs. These beliefs are integrated into the organization’s social and environmental responsibility statements. Anei incorporates spirituality by asking for mother earth’s blessing, and by performing rituals. In addition, the organization has developed an organic fertilizer to improve and revitalize soil quality, and has many other standardized conservation strategies.
Anei members are primarily in the rural north of Colombia, where economic opportunities are scarce. Anei partners with both municipal and departmental (similar to a state) governments in Colombia to improve life for their communities through local infrastructure improvements. Another way in which Anei focuses on its communities is by promoting educational opportunities, both in-house by teaching members, as well as institutionally by providing funding for students. One coffee farmer who joined the cooperative in 2005, Nixon Clavijo Rangel, learned how to improve his farming technique from the cooperative.
Fellow members taught Nixon composting and processing techniques, which benefits the environment as well as his production output. Nixon has since attained a teaching and training position in the organization and promoted the electrification of his local high school. The organization has so far provided 33 students with university grants, as well as providing opportunities to work with governmental and nongovernmental entities to further community development.
By balancing people-oriented policies with environmentally-sustainable practices, Anei continues to thrive. Using fair trade coffee partnerships and a transparent, democratic coffee cooperative model, the member-owned, community-centred organization brings community economic empowerment to coffee producers in rural Colombia.
– Lucas Woodling