ForesTrade, Inc. is an international trading company that has been developing a program for the commercialization of organic spices in Coban, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala for over four years. The focus of this program is to provide traditional subsistence farmers with a secure market so that the sale of their products will increase their economic security. By certifying these products as organically grown, the farmers have the right to enter into a market with a greater margin of earnings. The practice of organic agriculture also allows:

• An agriculture in harmony with environment, able to produce the quality food we need;

• The reduction of dependence of farmers to external production inputs;

• The generation and incorporation of new biological scientific knowledge in favour of environment and humanity;

• The elimination of planetary poisoning by toxic agro-chemicals;

• The maintenance of the small farmers on their land.

(Sao Paolo Declaration, IFOAM Brazil Conference 1992)

In addition, ForesTrade promotes the development of organic and sustainable agricultural products as an alternative to the traditional slash and burn agriculture practices in numerous cultures. ForesTrade believes that by giving an economic incentive to farmers to grow organically, they will also be stimulated to participate in more sustainable agricultural practices, thereby conserving a greater base of the natural resources within their communities.

Our mission is to serve as an environmentally and socially responsible international business that directly supports sustainable agriculture, natural resource conservation, and socioeconomic development. We achieve our mission by producing a consistent supply of the highest quality certified organic spices and essential oils and distributing them to our customer base at commercially competitive prices.

~ForesTrade, Inc., promotional pamphlet~ 1997

The author has been employed with ForesTrade for almost four years, initially as the Field Partnership Coordinator, and for the last three years as Director of Guatemala Operations. ForesTrade currently works with over 1000 Guatemalan farmers in the production of organic cardamom, allspice and annatto. Partner organizations such as the non-government organizations (NGOs) Movimondo, Centro Canadiense de Estudios y Cooperacion Internacional (CECI), Naturaleza para la Vida (NPV), CARE International and Defensores de la Naturaleza form alliances with ForesTrade in order to provide participating farmer organizations with the training, extension, and financial back-up needed to maintain organic certification. Internationally accredited certifying organizations such as Quality Assurance International (QAI), Mayacert, and BCS Oko Garantie conduct field and systems inspections in order to guarantee the organic integrity of products being marketed by ForesTrade.

ForesTrade staff works closely with these organizations in order to provide the most efficient and meaningful training and technical accompaniment to our farmer organizations. Office and field staff are all Guatemalan, except for the author, and most are bilingual in Spanish and Q’eqchi, the local Mayan dialect. Field staff members maintain a regular presence in all communities, and the ForesTrade office in Coban receives a steady stream of farmers and colleagues who coordinate together from production all the way through export. Annual inspection to establish the organic nature of the product and farming techniques, as well as verification of the chain of custody of all products, occur on all levels: in the field, processing facilities, warehouse, and office and farmer archives. Office staff, field technicians, farmers and even the processing plant staff, are engaged in ensuring that certified organic spices from ForesTrade continue to meet the high standards set forth by international certification agencies.