Religious Tolerance Brewing in Uganda

‘To drink is human, to drink coffee is divine!’ So says an
anonymous maxim. Yet the closer connection between coffee and
divinity may be on the other end of the supply line, in a
fair-trade coffee cooperative called
Mirembe Kawomera,
Yes!
magazine reports
. Founded in Uganda in 2004, the cooperative —
whose name translates as ‘delicious peace’ — boasts members from
the Islamic, Christian, and Jewish communities. In a country that’s
seen its fair share of dictatorship and civil strife, and where
religious animosity can still run deep, this is no small feat. Just
30 years ago it was dangerous to be caught reading the Torah. But
such prejudices may be disappearing in the Mbale region, thanks to
the mutual trust and respect fostered by the coffee cooperative
model.

Mirembe Kawomera’s founderOn
Thanksgiving Coffee’s website
, J.J. Keki, the cooperative’s
founder, explains on the cooperative’s website that he
aims to ‘make the cooperative a model of championing peace and
development in the area.’ Recognizing that the farmers were
‘fragmented,’ Keki pitched a vision of ‘peaceful coexistence for
development.’ As a seat-holder on the area’s local council, he
already had his neighbors’ trust, and he parlayed that trust into
support for the cooperative. His work paid off when American
vocalist Laura Wetzler began to champion his cause, Yes!
reports. Wetzler helped secure fair-trade certification and found a
buyer in California,
Thanksgiving
Coffee
.

Now Keki is seeing the fruits of his labor. No longer
‘fragmented,’ the farmers are working together to build productive
capacity. Thanksgiving Coffee recently advanced the co-op money to
purchase more processing equipment, increasing their yearly output
and creating a more stable economic base. Indeed, such actions are
the norm: co-ops are regularly sponsored by their overseas
importer. It’s a model based on long-term, mutually beneficial
action. And it’s working, thanks in part to organizations like
Fairtrade Labeling
Organizations International
and
Equal
Exchange
the
Fair Trade
Federation
. These labeling organizations provide information,
support, and fair-trade guidelines, ensuring that the movement
develops sustainably and responsibly. Ultimately, however, the
system rests on consumers becoming educated and buying the right
bean. What’s in your cup?

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Justice

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