Expanding social justice and cultural empowerment through organic coffee in Oaxaca, Mexico
Union de Comunidades Indigenas de la Region del Istmo or UCIRI for short is an agricultural cooperative founded in Oaxaca, Mexico with the intention of organizing indigenous communities to pool their resources and come together to eliminate the need for middlemen who would take advantage of these communities’ limited connection to regional and national markets. While its track record and model have demonstrated to be successful, a series of recent unexpected events have compromised its operations including the propagation of coffee rust, a devastating earthquake, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, UCIRI has had to use its reserves to help members replant their coffee plantations, diversify crops into cacao and passionfruit, and repair infrastructure in their properties and local villages, all challenging undertakings due to a lack of resources and investment.
UCIRI was founded in 1982 by groups of indigenous farmers from Zapotec, Mazatec, Chontal Mixes, and Chatino indigenous populations, with the support of a group of missionaries. While their initial business has been the harvest and commercialization of coffee, UCIRI has become a driving force in their community by investing in a transport cooperative for members’ use and creating a local credit union as well as health and capacity-building centers to improve the livelihoods of their 1,400 active members and committing to the conservation of over 20 thousand hectares of communal land. Currently the cooperative holds 3,500 hectares under certified organic and fairtrade coffee production which are sold across North America and Europe.
UCIRI’s close work with indigenous communities and their pioneering social initiatives have positioned the organization as a local leader, allowing the company to become instrumental in the spread of organic agriculture in the region, the conservation of local community lands, and the general improvement of its member's wellbeing.
THE INVESTMENTSFinancing from CI Ventures totaling $US 250,000 will allow UCIRI to support its 1,400 members through organic coffee purchases, finance the renovation of older, less productive coffee fields, and fulfill next season’s export contracts.
This investment would allow CIV to support the spread of organic agriculture in Oaxaca, as well as the continuity of improved economic opportunities for local communities, indirectly supporting the conservation of local community-run reserves. It can lead to:
Improve local livelihoods of its 1,411 members after years of hardship due to pests and extreme events – maintaining 3,5000 hectares in organic production
Ensure the 20 thousand hectares put aside for conservation continue to be protected
Field renovations and diversification of crops (passion fruit and cacao)