Small Farmer Market Knowledge and Specialty Coffee Commodity Chains in Western Highlands Guatemala Dissertation

(2012). Small Farmer Market Knowledge and Specialty Coffee Commodity Chains in Western Highlands Guatemala . 10.25148/etd.FI12050242

thesis or dissertation chair

fiu authors

  • Dowdall, Courtney M


  • For producers motivated by their new status as self-employed, landowning, capitalist coffee growers, specialty coffee presents an opportunity to proactively change the way they participate in the international market. Now responsible for determining their own path, many producers have jumped at the chance to enhance the value of their product and participate in the new “fair trade” market. But recent trends in the international coffee price have led many producers to wonder why their efforts to produce a certified Fair Trade and organic product are not generating the price advantage they had anticipated. My study incorporates data collected in eighteen months of fieldwork, including more than 45 interviews with coffee producers and fair trade roasters, 90 surveys of coffee growers, and ongoing participant observation to understand how fair trade certification, as both a market system and development program, meets the expectations of the coffee growers. By comparing three coffee cooperatives that have engaged the Fair Trade system to disparate ends, the results of this investigation are three case studies that demonstrate how global processes of certification, commodity trade, market interaction, and development aid effect social and cultural change within communities. This study frames several lessons learned in terms of 1. socioeconomic impacts of fair trade, 2. characteristics associated with positive development encounters, and 3. potential for commodity producers to capture value further along their global value chain. Commodity chain comparisons indicate the Fair Trade certified cooperative receives the highest per-pound price, though these findings are complicated by costs associate with certification and producers’ perceptions of an “unjust” system. Fair trade-supported projects are demonstrated as more “successful” in the eyes of recipients, though their attention to detail can just as easily result in “failure”. Finally, survey results reveal just how limited is the market knowledge of producers in each cooperative, though fair trade does, in fact, provide a rare opportunity for producers to learn about consumer demand for coffee quality. Though bittersweet, the fair trade experiences described here present a learning opportunity for a wide range of audiences, from the certified to the certifiers to the concerned public and conscientious consumer.

publication date

  • March 26, 2012


  • Guatemala
  • certification
  • coffee
  • commodity chain
  • cooperative
  • fair trade
  • market-based development

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)