Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fair Trade 101

At Fresh Coffee Now we have a serious commitment to Fair Trade practices, and we are slowly moving our website towards offering more and more Fair Trade coffees . As I was describing some of the symbols and terms used on coffee bags in my last blog post, I realized that Fair Trade is so important that it deserves its own page, to help educate our customers so that they can make more informed decisions when purchasing coffee.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair-trade coffee is coffee that is purchased from farmer cooperatives as opposed to large coffee plantations. Farmers are ensured at least $1.26 per pound of coffee – a rate at which a farmer can support a family of five with adequate nutrition, health care, and education. In the current coffee market, because of speculation and flooding of the market by cheap coffee grown on industrial-sized plantations, the price that most farmers receive has fallen below $0.50/lb, which is not enough to cover the cost of production.

Although the outspoken motive of fair-trade is to support individual farmers and communities, also embedded in its philosophy is environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture. Eighty-five percent of fair-trade coffee is organic, in contrast to regular coffee, which uses pesticides and fertilizers, including DDT, that then contaminate local watersheds and can harm the health of workers. Regular coffee is usually grown on large plantations with methods that cause erosion, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity.

What are the goals of Fair Trade?

  • To improve the livelihoods and well-being of producers by improving market access, strengthening producer organizations, paying a fair price and providing continuity in the trading relationship.
  • To promote development opportunities for disadvantaged producers, especially women and indigenous people, and to protect children from exploitation in the production process.
  • To raise awareness among consumers about the negative effects on producers of international trade so that they exercise their purchasing power positively.
  • To set an example of partnership in trade through dialogue, transparency and respect.
  • To campaign for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.
  • To protect human rights by promoting social justice, sound environmental practices and economic security.

How does Fair Trade help farmers?

Fair Trade guarantees producers a fair price for their product (at least $1.26 per pound) that enables farmers to cover the costs of production, reinvest in their farms and meet their families basic needs including health care and education. Fair Trade creates direct links between producers and importers, bypassing various intermediaries who take a share of the profits. Fair Trade is not charity—it is a market-based approach to increasing small farmer self-sufficiency and generating more resources for community development and environmental conservation.

In contrast, conventionally traded coffee is part of the larger “free trade” system, favoring larger producers and multinational corporations, often at the expense of local communities and the environment. Under conventional trade, coffee prices are determined by a volatile international market. The world market price often falls below a farmer’s cost of production and leaves farm families in a struggle for survival. Even when the world market price is relatively high, family farmers get a small fraction of that price, with the lion’s share of profits going to intermediaries.

In summary, Fair Trade coffee is an amazing thing. It allows you the consumer to actually impact the life of someone growing your coffee thousands of miles away. I strongly urge you to spread this information around to friends, family and co workers. Help make a difference in the world, while enjoying coffee of the finest quality!