Watch your step, Starbucks. Indigenous farmers from Chiapas, Mexico, are opening cafes in Europe, the United States, and Mexico. Started in 1997 by a group of Mexican small investors and a nonprofit organization of peasant coffee farmers, Cafe La Selva (The Jungle Cafe in English) is winning customers in the world of gourmet coffee while preserving rural landscapes.
The certified organic coffee is grown without pesticides or fertilizers by small-scale farmers, and the beans are shipped directly to the coffee shops. This direct route to a retail market along with the organic label earns Chiapas farmers nearly twice the market rate for their coffee beans. Proceeds from the company support 1,350 indigenous families in farming communities. In addition, women in the communities supplement this income by selling baked goods to the cafes.
In 2002, La Selva won a competition sponsored by the World Resources Institute that connects small investors with sustainable businesses. The prize was assistance with a business plan from graduate students in business as well as consulting services from the firm of Booz Allen Hamilton. Cafe La Selva has opened a shop in Atlanta. New York is next on the agenda, to be followed by as many as 50 new coffee shops in the next five years.
By helping farmers to remain on the land and practice organic farming, the La Selva coffee chain is helping preserve biodiversity while also improving local living standards.