You could say coffee has been a part of Will Valverde’s life since before it began. On the day he was born, his mother had spent the day picking coffee cherries on a farm in Costa Rica.
“Coffee is part of who I am – so it’s really no surprise that it has led me down the path I have taken,” says Valverde, who now helps farmers in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Timor Leste as a Senior Product Support Officer for Fairtrade ANZ.
His childhood growing up surrounded by Costa Rica’s coffee farmers has fostered in him a strong passion for supporting and empowering local farmers and communities, values that are reflected in Fairtrade ANZ’s mission to bring fairness to global trade.
In his day-to-day role, Valverde works closely with Fairtrade ANZ’s network of growers in the Pacific to help them improve the quality of their coffee and link to the market. “When I go to places like PNG, I find I’m accepted as just ‘one more of them’, not an outsider. The producers there call me ‘amigo’ but still treat me like I belong,” he says.
“I’ve learnt so much from the farmers in PNG, and I’ve done my best to pass down what generations before me discovered about growing and processing coffee in Costa Rica.”
Before joining Fairtrade ANZ, Valverde worked in the area of coffee processing and exporting for a local Costa Rican farming cooperative called CoopAgri. Fairtrade certified cooperatives are made of groups of small-hold farmers, who meet a range of standards around working conditions, environmental management, gender equality and governance.
The products from these certified cooperatives are sold at a Fairtrade Minimum Price, which protects the farmers from volatilities of the market. For the consumer, it means when you purchase a bag of Fairtrade certified coffee beans, for example, you know that you’re getting a quality product and that the growers and people involved in the supply chain are paid a fair price.
In developing countries, such as Costa Rica, these Fairtrade certified cooperatives play a vital role in alleviating poverty, achieving gender equality and maintaining sustainable farming practices.
Having seen firsthand the value in cooperatives in his local community, Valverde was interested in learning more about Fairtrade after CoopAgri’s coffee became certified Fairtrade in 2004. The partnership between the cooperative and Fairtrade allowed Valverde to travel around the world, sharing the impact this fairer system was having for his Costa Rican community.
Eventually, Valverde’s job brought him to New Zealand, where he settled with his wife and young daughter. It’s now been ten years since Valverde made the move to Aotearoa and he’s remained passionate about his work through Fairtrade ANZ.
“Part of the reason I’ve stayed so long is that I feel a real sense of purpose through my job with Fairtrade. In Spanish, Fairtrade is called ‘Comercio Justo’. The idea of working to make the world fair, and just, has always appealed to me,” he says.
“I think this is especially important now because Covid-19 has shown how unfair the world can be. Even though we are all connected by this pandemic, the consequences for my family in CostaRica, and our friends in the Pacific have been enormous.”
To learn more about Fairtrade ANZ’s work with farmers in the Pacific, visit fairtradeanz.org