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By Casey McKeel
After traveling 14 hours up into the mountains of Aceh Province, we were warmly welcomed at Permata Gayo’s General Assembly.
Our delegation – made up of Florent from Cooperative Coffees, Matt from Just Coffee in Wisconsin, Fabien and Natasha from Boreal Coffee in Switzerland, Tobias from Coffee Fabrique in Austria, Justin from TraidAid in New Zealand, and Joey from Just Us in Canada – was able to witness Permata’s cooperative structure in action.
One of our biggest goals at Thread Coffee is transparency. We want to ensure that our mission to create a model based on participatory democracy and self-management extends from bean to cup. That means making sure that the cooperatives we work with share these goals. After spending two days with Permata Gayo, I feel they indeed do. Their General Assembly was full of participation, as well as passionate debate. When there was a break down in process, members spoke up to ensure things moved forward in a just manner. And their voices were heard. At this meeting, the cooperative elected a new board (which happens every three years), as well as created a committee to decide what to do with the “fair trade social premium” they receive. One by one, the delegates from each of the 36 communities in the cooperative were called forward to cast their vote.
A challenge in this industry is that some cooperatives operate in a way that the leadership has all of the power and makes the decisions for the membership – however, witnessing this process assured me that Permata Gayo was working for something different. Sumatran cooperatives in particular have a very interesting structure, which it took a while to understand (more on this tomorrow). It’s larelgy based on their culture, but requires extra effort in order to ensure transparency and democracy.
In the next post, I’ll look more at the farmers we visited and the journey the coffee takes from the tree to port. But in the meant time, check out some photos!