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José E. Juárez

In his youth, José Juárez worked alongside his father farming their small plot of land. Although life was hard he loved agricultural work and at age 18 enrolled in the National Agricultural School in Chapingo and became an agricultural engineer. When he was 21-years-old, Juárez went to Chiapas as part of his practicum experience, where he initiated contacts with the indigenous farmers who would later become members of Unión de Ejidos de La Selva. He quickly learned their customs and ways of thinking and fell in love with their struggle to improve their lives. He stimulated their interest in reading and writing so that they could become owners of their own destiny as entrepreneurs. He is a Member of the Tjolobal and Tzetal Organic Coffee Growers Cooperative, Chiapas, Mexico.

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Unión de Ejidos de La Selva
Model
For-profit Social Enterprise
Headquarters
Mexico
Areas of Impact
Latin America, Mexico

Unión de Ejidos de La Selva

Unión de Ejidos de La Selva is a union of 1,300 coffee-producing indigenous families in 42 communities in Chiapas. What distinguishes it from other cooperatives and associations is its commercialization strategy. In addition to foregoing the use of intermediaries to sell its coffee nationally and internationally, it sells its finished product directly to the consumer. Over 15 years ago the union pioneered efforts in Mexico that predated Starbuck's, opening La Selva Coffee Shops in the country’s major cities and in Europe.

By controlling the entire chain of coffee production Unión de Ejidos de La Selva has been able to take advantage of the full urban consumer value of coffee and use it to improve farmer income and self-sufficiency. All profits are distributed among its members and used to address social needs identified within their own communities. Investments go to ensuring better soil management and environmental practices, including certified organic techniques that limit erosion and water pollution.

Unión de Ejidos de La Selva’s innovative approaches have allowed it to survive the international collapse of the coffee market as well as the insurrections of the Zapatista movement that spread through Chiapas and significantly affected rural communities. Part of its strategy is to identify multiple markets and establish commercial links with small and medium coffee roasters in Europe and the US. Although sales volumes are limited using this strategy, it permits the establishment of personalized, stable and trusting relationships.

“If you sell 1,000 kilos of coffee to a huge buyer that needed 150,000 kilos, you are nobody,” explains José Juárez. “However, if you sell it to a buyer who sells 2,500 kilos a year, then you become someone he relies on.”