Strategies for Survival: Migration and Fair Trade- Organic Coffee Production in Oaxaca, Mexico (Working Paper #118)

Jessa M. Lewis, University of California – San Diego

Abstract: Coffee growers throughout southern Mexico have been negatively affected by low world coffee prices coupled with a steady scaling-back of government support to the agricultural sector. Considerable anecdotal evidence suggests that a major response to the coffee price plunge starting in 1997 has been increasing migration for employment to the United States from southern coffee regions. Another response among some cooperatives in southern Mexico has been to differentiate their coffee by certifying it as high-quality, organic, and/or socially beneficial (Fair Trade). This thesis examines the links among the coffee crisis, migration, and certified production, drawing on a case study conducted in Summer 2004 by the author in a high-migration, Fair Trade-organic coffee-producing community of Oaxaca, Mexico. International migration from the community has existed to some extent for decades, but its acceleration beginning in the late 1990s can be linked at least in part to the historic drop in coffee prices that affected producers worldwide. Although remittances from migrants are currently helping to finance coffee production in the community, migration brings with it a series of transformations in the community and in the region at large that serve to decrease the economic, social, and cultural viability of coffee production—including certified ‘sustainable’ coffee production. The case study findings raise doubts about the sustainability of the Fair Trade-organic coffee model in the face of migration.

Working Paper #118»