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Co-operative or coyote? Producers’ choice between intermediary purchasers and Fairtrade and organic co-operatives in Chiapas


Coffee producers in many parts of the world have the option of either becoming a member of and selling their coffee to a Fairtrade and organic co-operative, or selling it to a “coyote”, the Central American nickname for intermediary purchaser. This study investigates why different producers make different choices, looking at both material and immaterial costs and benefits of the two choices. A qualitative study from Chiapas (Mexico) finds that a main reason for not choosing the co-operatives is the production requirements that follow organic certification. A survey on production costs confirms that members of an organic co-operative have more work hours than non-members in the same area. A probit analysis indicates that both coffee plot size and number of working household members influence the producers’ decision on sales channel. However, the study also finds that aspects not related to the organic production requirements can affect the choice, such as the level of trust in co-operative leadership, and the co-operatives’ payment systems.

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  1. An agreement between coffee producer and consumer countries first signed in 1962, aimed at keeping coffee prices stable by using export quotas that government bodies in each producer country were responsible for maintaining.

  2. In 2013 the minimum price was 1.40 USD/lb for washed Arabica coffee and the premium 0.20 USD/lb. According to ICO statistics this is roughly the same as the average price for “Other Mild Arabica” coffee for 2013 (ICO 2014).

  3. The question is about choosing membership or not, and not about members side-selling to intermediaries, although the two aspects are closely linked.

  4. The Mexican certifier organisation Certimex held a workshop in San Cristobal and Tuxtla Guiterrez in May 2007. Representatives from all the organic co-operatives in Northern Chiapas participated.The representatives, one or two from each organisation, were mostly part of the technical staff, and all of them spoke Spanish and were able to read and write. The organisers from Certimex allowed me to hand out a questionnaire, which most of the participants completed.

  5. Unión Regional de Ejidatarios Agropecuarios, Forestales y de Agroindustria de los pueblos Zoque y Tzotzil del estado de Chiapas.


  7. It turned out to be difficult to find producers with more than two hectares, and only one producer was found with more than five hectares. The average coffee plot size for the sample is 1.24.

  8. A pilot for the survey was done in the late spring of 2007. The survey itself was done during the summer and autumn of 2007.



Certificadora Mexicana de Productos y Procesos Ecológicos


Fairtrade International


Inter-American Institute for global change research


Partido de la Revolución Democrática


Unión Regional de Ejidatarios Agropecuarios, Forestales y de Agroindustria de los pueblos Zoque y Tzotzil del Estado de Chiapas


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I wish to thank Stewart Diemont, Angel Alvarez Martínez, Pedro Ramirez Lopez, and Certimex for help with data collection. I would also like to thank Kjetil Bjorvatn, Erik Sørensen, Gudbrand Lien, and Sophie Spencer for helpful comments. The survey reported in this study was financed by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI). I would also like to thank El Colegio de la Frontera Sur for hosting me during 10 months.

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Correspondence to Anna Birgitte Milford.

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Milford, A.B. Co-operative or coyote? Producers’ choice between intermediary purchasers and Fairtrade and organic co-operatives in Chiapas. Agric Hum Values 31, 577–591 (2014).

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  • Fairtrade
  • Organic production
  • Farmer cooperatives
  • Coffee
  • Mexico