Select Page

An economics professor’s chance encounter with a Peruvian coffee farmer has translated into a Fair Trade project with far-reaching ramifications.

Three years after his South American vacation, Ralph Gunderson has laid the foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship between University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students and farmers of Peru. The experience will culminate in a visit to Peru this summer.

In September 2008, UW Oshkosh became the nation’s first Fair Trade University, committing to do its part toward ending trade injustices that result in millions of people living in poverty.

Meanwhile, Gunderson made connections with growers in Peru and created a consulting project for students in his “Business 486” capstone class.

“It’s an opportunity for students to understand how farmers get their coffee Fair Trade-certified and for Peruvians to better understand the American consumers’ view,” Gunderson said.

It’s also an opportunity for students to gain real, hands-on experience in learning what it takes to start a business and communicate with professionals.

The class was split into separate teams with individual leaders of each focused on finance, marketing and merchandising.

Senior supply chain/operations management major Seth Block was offered a project manager position and had to spend months figuring out how to delegate the workload and set up the class.

“Since this kind of project has never been done before, the project managers set the framework to give us the best chance to reach our goals,” Block said. “The leaders evaluate what tasks are needed in their specific teams in order to align with the overall goal of the larger team.”

Students will present their work to area banks along with a loan application; their goal is to get the loan approved.

Finally, the students will spend a week in Peru presenting their research to representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Specialty Coffee Association of Peru and the Peruvian Commission for Export Promotion.

“The purpose is to educate Peruvians more about how the American consumer market works in respect to the life cycle of their coffee beans and how they get delivered to the consumer,” Block said.

Gunderson added that life as a coffee farmer is difficult in Peru because of how badly Peruvian farmers are undercut and how little they know about coffee.

“They need to be trained how to produce coffee because even if they get a good price for their coffee, they don’t make much money,” Gunderson said. “Some of the farmers have never even tasted their coffee.”

Many times coffee farmers rely on their coffee crop to survive, and becoming Fair Trade-certified is a great step for farmers to guarantee a certain price for their coffee.

“The extra 50 cents you pay for Fair Trade coffee really does make a difference,” Block said.

While the trip will focus on business, students also will have the opportunity to ride the sand dunes, visit Machu Picchu and travel over the Andes Mountains.