The deck is stacked against a lot of small coffee cooperatives. They are focusing intently on how to keep yields and quality high while keeping members happy with prices. Cooperative members have various needs that include access to affordable, healthy food; healthcare; and extra money for education for their children. This is where, ideally, supportive non-profit organizations can step in to help. A non-profit like Fabretto—one that is truly based in the community and, as such, knows the needs and solutions from within—is rare.
Counter Culture actually learned about Cinco de Junio, a Nicaraguan small cooperative we've purchased from for the last five years, because of their connection with Fabretto. With a grant supported by the Buffett Foundation and implemented alongside Catholic Relief Services, Fabretto was doing an analysis of community needs in Las Sabanas a number of years ago. They realized that Cinco de Junio's members and their families needed greater agronomic education, and that they could benefit from expanded economic opportunity—since Cinco de Junio was the only game in town. Luckily through their partnership—and, then our partnership—we were able to support Cinco de Junio in exactly this way.
Fabretto was founded in Nicaragua in 1948 when a Salesian missionary named Reverend Rafael Maria Fabretto found numerous impoverished children on his visit to Nicaragua. In its early days, it was a number of children's homes. Today, the organization has seven main educational centers in Nicaragua and focuses on securing livelihoods through education as well as food security efforts. (They also have supporting foundations in two additional countries.) "Padre Fabretto," as they call him in Nicaragua, was so influential that there is often a photo of him in family homes.
Kevin Marinacci, Fabretto's President and Chief Executive Officer for almost 25 years, took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about the work of Fabretto:
Hannah: What is Fabretto doing right now that you consider to be the most successful piece of your work?
Kevin: We believe in education as means to a livelihood, and we have seen this work. Through our SAT program (Rural Secondary Education) families like those in Cinco de Junio are able to connect with external and commercial partners. It's a virtuous cycle—we invest in education and make education relevant to what their livelihood is. So, especially in the high school programs, teaching about sustainable agriculture makes it more likely that producers can then innovate and get out ahead in terms of market viability and trends. I also think that focusing on diversification into crops with chia and honey is important as it provides the opportunity to leave a more resilient rural economy for the students that are part of the cooperative.
H: Could you talk about a key challenge for small cooperatives?
K: I think consolidating the gains they've made and positioning themselves properly is what's needed. It is hard for small cooperatives to say no (both internally and external). They have to start to define who they are as a cooperative, say that ideas are welcome, but communicate clearly that they are taking the premium market route and need people to be on board with what that means. With external partners, they have to be strategic about how they are going to connect with lenders to reinvest in their farms.
H: How is Fabretto involved in the day-to-day operations of Cinco de Junio?
K: We have a staff member of Fabretto who spends time on the ground visiting Cinco de Junio. He helps strategize and links them with opportunities like grants for technical assistance projects submissions for loans with Root Capital.
H: Can you share a hope for the future?
K: I'd love to see Cinco de Junio be so successful that they match our contribution to the education programs dollar-for-dollar or underwrite the investment for education. That would be a home run if they invested in SAT, because it would mean that they believe in the impact of education.
H: Thanks for the chat and for the great work you are doing!
K: We're not experts, by an stretch of the imagination, but we've been privileged to play a role.