Small family farms in Central America struggle against multinational agribusiness, the ups and downs of commodity prices, local coyotes (middlemen), and weather extremes. When prices periodically dive, thousands of small farmers are forced to emigrate to the United States for work. Worse, many of these migrants lose their smallholdings and have nothing to return to.
Farm and local marketing cooperatives help to solve this problem. The path leading from the small farms to your coffee cup is long, and filled with powerful intermediaries. Little of the money that you spend on coffee reaches farmers. The co-ops cut out the long line of coyotes. According to a Guatemalan co-op, "A farmer who sells his coffee to a local coyote received about 33 cents per pound in last year’s harvest; a co-op member can sell his coffee to the co-op and earn 80 cents per pound."
What can you do to help stem the tide of immigration? Simply buy fair trade coffee, chocolate, and tea. These products are labeled "Fair Trade" and are available in many supermarkets and coffee shops. You can go to transfairusa.org, the certifying organization, for a list of suppliers in your area.