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'What Good Will Two More Trees Do?' The Political Economy of Sustainable Coffee Certification, Local Livelihoods and Identities

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In recent years the North American sustainable coffee market, consisting of Fair Trade, organic and shade-grown certified varieties, has steadily increased. This paper explores the local history and daily practice of sustainable coffee cultivation among a group of Guatemalan small coffee growers and investigates the extent to which these are accurately reflected in certification standards and marketing. Their participation in the organic coffee market generates three sources of tension: first, the tension between a place- and time-bound indigeneity, and the reality of the growers' sophisticated organic production and processing strategies. Second, the tension between the regional history of organic production as liberatory practice, and the organic consumer movement whose meanings and practices historically have been defined in North America and Europe. Finally, a tension exists between certification standards developed primarily in the interest of tropical conservation and the ways that producers' understandings of their landscape and environment are shaped by how they produce their livelihoods. The paper explores each of these in turn and in doing so illuminates how the sustainable coffee market is capable of moulding political-economic forces and distant places while reshaping livelihoods and processes of cultural identification.
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Keywords: Conservation; Guatemala; coffee; organic

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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