Our Story Pt. 1: Copper and Coffee
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
How many of you know that the story behind our organization starts deep in the cloud forests alongside a community of audacious coffee cultivators, and our purpose was founded among cloudy peaks at the heights of the Andes?
It all starts with Cloud Forest Coffee, which as many of you know is a distinctive bean, maybe the best? Since we live in a town of coffee devotees and aficionados, that’s a bold claim. But what I can say in all truth is that it is one of the most ethically sourced and impactful coffee brands you can buy. This is partly to do with its connection to our education project in Piñán, Ecuador. But let’s look at its source, the grassroots anti-mining, community-building and ecological resistance movements where the beans originate.
The year was 2017. Francis Bueckert, myself and a couple other friends were headed down to Ecuador with two major goals in mind: to check in on Cloud Forest’s coffee source in the beautiful, remote Intag Valley- and to make the legendary trek up into the cloud-forests and high, paramo landscapes of Piñán, a remote and endemic ecosystem at the centre of an isolated mountain range in the Northern Andes.
Very quickly, a bit of background context: Francis and I both studied International Development in Ecuador, years ago. He became connected with the coffee cooperative AACRI in the Intag valley. AACRI (Associacion Agroartesenal de Cafecultores del Rio Intag) is a cooperative of small farmers of the region that have banded together to try and create a viable economy growing and selling coffee as an alternative to large-scale foreign mining. The road hasn’t been easy for these farmers. The mining industry has been violently forcing its way into the fertile and ultra bio-diverse region for several decades.
The first intrusion came from a Canadian mining mega-corp in the early 90s. At the time they were called Ascendant Copper, but have since changed their name to Copper Mesa- likely due to the bad publicity they’d been putting on.
After the company first had their entry to the valley denied by the local communities for mineral exploration, the company turned and hired a band of mercenaries. Disguised as Ecuadorean police they entered the community, unloading death threats, pepper spray and live ammunition. This attempt was thwarted only by a full and fiery community resistance from the women, men and children. using roadblocks and their own bodies, they eventually deterred the militarized advancement of this company along the narrow cliff-side roads entering the valley.
After this first successful resistance, a mercenary group was yest again paid to sneak into the geographically insular region through the southern mountain passes, bringing mineral testing equipment and automatic weapons along with them. However, the communities soon got wind of this, and with their local familiarity of the hills and dense jungle forests, ambushed the mercenary camp at night brandishing farm tools, machetes and the convincing words of provoked peasants. The invaders had no choice but to surrender and the villagers rounded them up, hiked them home and put them on house arrest in their community church. This gave them some negotiating grounds with the federal government, which had turned a blind eye to all of this and the captives were later turned over to a reluctant yet abiding police force.
Intense! Right!? If you don’t believe me there’s footage of all of this in the documentary “Under Rich Earth” viewable on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRinnhejBIw
Since these initial confrontations the battle has devolved into a slow and bitter one in and out of courts. Gradually international mining conglomerates were able to win over portions of certain communities and local governments through payoffs, specifically targeted death-threats and a series of clandestine arrests.
Fast forward 20some years and several of the communities in the region have become divided and socially unstable. Some families now have high-paying exploration jobs and brand-new trucks, the others no longer have clean drinking water, or the money to pay for it, or a sense of security. Opponents of mining in the Intag have since been called ecological-terrorists by their own government and several of the major opponents to these developments have been arrested in their own homes, with a bag thrown over their head in the middle of the night.
When we were there in 2017 it was at the point where people didn’t even want to talk about the issue in fear of being overheard. Almost the entire valley has been concessioned off to international companies- and its inhabitants’ lands- subject to mining claim at any moment, based on whats found under the earth. To say the least, the peace has been broken in this tranquil valley.
And the pressure hasn’t stopped there. Another massive mining project is being projected for the area as new copper reserves have been found just to the south-west in Llurimagua. It’s being touted by the Ecuadorean government as the Andes’ biggest copper deposit and already several international mining conglomerates have placed their bids.
That’s right, the pressure to mine the region has continued all these decades despite local resistance and cries from the scientific community about the importance of this area. In the Intag Valley the highland cloud forests have been recognized as some of the most bio-diverse forests in the world. New species are constantly being discovered, endemic to the area. The highlands are the water source to 3 provinces. The lowlands are some of the country’s most productive farmlands.
This is where ACRI has been stepping in. Their mission is to create a sustainable coffee industry run by the local farmers, which can generate enough income that it can be seen as a viable replacement to mining.
Francis imported his first batch of coffee from AACRI to support their initiative. From there his brand has grown into a successfully budding micro-roaster business based out of Gatineau, Quebec. As he continues to grow and import more coffee he maintains the important social morals that at the root of his business- anti-mining and support for the communities in resistance.
Stay tuned for part 2: The ascent into Piñán