PRAGOR is a co-op of twenty-two small-scale avocado growers in Michoacán, Mexico. The growers each own an average of five to eight hectares of land; some farms have Hass avocado trees that are 50 or 60 years old and still producing. We buy these avocados through Equal Exchange during their season (September through March). By selling directly, co-op to co-op, the growers are able to obtain a fair and consistent wage as well as a premium that is used for community projects; we benefit with delicious avocados for a good price.
Avocado farmers in Michoacán face many obstacles: Drug cartels often set up road blocks on the mountain roads the farmers need to travel to their farms. The multinational companies who buy avocados pay low, inconsistent prices. (In 2012, PRAGOR producers received prices as low as $0.27 per pound for their highest quality Category I organic avocados when selling to multinationals.) The companies also dishonestly categorize much of the harvest as the lower-quality Category II or III. (The companies reported that 40 to 50% of the avocados were Category I, but when PRAGOR began managing themselves, they found that 85 to 90% of their avocados were Category I.) Mexican avocados must undergo five USDA inspections, each of which costs the farmer money. There are also expensive land certifications that must be obtained yearly. (Read Equal Exchange’s series about their visit to Michoacán and the obstacles facing the farmers on their blog, here.)
PRAGOR formed in 2005 and reorganized in 2010 so that the co-op could control the avocado-selling process itself. Their new organization espouses values such as respect, loyalty, and participation and cares for the environment; all the farmers are certified organic. Forming the co-op removed some obstacles and introduced new ones. For example, the packing houses (a necessary step in sending avocados to the United States) either refused to work with small-scale farmers or were mafia-controlled. The farmers persevered and eventually found a packing house that is a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest farm. PRAGOR now sells as many avocados as possible through Equal Exchange.