Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

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Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby Alistair Durie on Fri Sep 25, 2009 9:19 pm

What Price for Good Coffee?
Small farmers find growing coffee is hard labor for scant return, even with Fair Trade.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... 07,00.html
http://slatest.slate.com/id/2229654/entry/3
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So Is Fair Trade fair?

Postby Brent on Tue Sep 29, 2009 11:59 pm

And here was me wondering which section to post my question...

Is Fair Trade fair? and this article on top of some other intersting discussions...

I guess as the the bigger players step into the market the relevance and importance either becomes more so, or too diluted, and the time is perhaps now ripe for a new standard to aspire to.

I know when we went down the FT path (aside from it not being a concept in the NZ market at that time) there was a lot of negativity around FT and organic, and one of our goals was to disprove this, I think we achieved this.

As we went down the path of specifying FT as a minimum, that caused a few head turns, as even then I was aware that the whole FT system had limitations and said so. But as a minimum standard there was no argument amongst those we dealt with. Equally my point on organics was not about anti pesticide (I am but thats irrelevant) it struck me as inherently unfair that we pay a pittance for coffee such that protective gear for farmers was not a priority, hence my statement that non organic fair trade coffee is not fair. Luckily in NZ we can use non certified organic :) different laws!

It was when we purchased some non FT coffee which was traced to the lot - and the farmer was paid from memory $1.60 USD / pound that the comment was made the FT rate at the gate was under a buck.

From that point forward I have had my unease about FT but have been happy to promote the idea, as it does provide at least a minimum playing field for grower. I still think that FT is important.

But. As the like of McCoffee track down the certified route, the question as to the fairness of fair trade has perhaps become an important one to ask.

A big question, and I realistically don't think there is a right or wrong answer, but tipping my hat to those that have launched down the path already, has transparency come of age?
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby Shawn H on Thu Oct 01, 2009 7:06 am

Everytime I read one of these articles I can't help but notice the misconceptions.. Coffee being the second largest traded commodity to oil... already discussed as folklore in another post here.. and there is always a story of a farmer that only makes 2.50 per day growing coffee. According to the article, the farmer in the story makes 50 cents a pound "AFTER paying Fair Trade cooperative fees, government taxes and farming expenses." I know farmers that would kill for that kind of money.

The problem here is that Antonio, the farmer in the story, only produces 2000 pounds of coffee per year - which is about 15 bags. This would be similar to you having, 1/2 acre of land behind your house, growing corn or some other crop and expecting to make 18,000 per year off of it and then crying foul if you don't. Sometimes the economics don't make sense. His problem is not solely the price, its the size of the production he has.

Chris Bacon is right-at these production levels, coffee would have to be well over $2 for any of them to make money

It would be nice for once if a reporter actually knew something about coffee and the market before writing a story. It really does misrepresent both sides of the story and just causes more confusion in the marketplace
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby Alistair Durie on Thu Oct 01, 2009 7:26 am

Great points Shawn.

I'm curious of how coffee came to be so spotlighted in the social economic discussion, like it is the actual cause of the problem. Its a myopic phenomena that exploitation and poverty in the third world could somehow be solved through coffee alone.

In my region there is what seems to be a peach crisis, an apple crisis - prices still at 1960's rates. Some farmers find ways, many have ripped up their trees to plant grapes. Consumers buy cheaper fruit from the US. I don't think we'll see fair trade apples any time soon.

Consumers still seem really pleased to find "deals" on fair trade coffee, easy with the contradiction that somehow the producer can make more, yet they still save $5 off the shelf price. If coffee is still cheaper than ever, not much is changing.

Just a conversation...
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby kylefreund on Thu Oct 01, 2009 9:20 am

Read this article as well. Mostly, I think it just goes back to the idea that the small producers need more than coffee in these communities to make a living, i.e. other economic options, access to education and so on.

The reporter had another article "Will Coffee Prices Rise with Climate Change?" http://www.minnpost.com/globalpost/2009/09/17/11625/will_coffee_prices_climb_with_climate_change.
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby Brent on Sun Oct 11, 2009 5:41 pm

Alistair wrote:I'm curious of how coffee came to be so spotlighted in the social economic discussion, like it is the actual cause of the problem. Its a myopic phenomena that exploitation and poverty in the third world could somehow be solved through coffee alone


Because people go out and buy a coffee regularly, they stop for a coffee break. No one goes out for a takeout sugar, or stops for a sugar break. Coffee is in your face so to speak :)

so let's shift the focus to chocolate... or not
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby Isaac Gonzalez on Thu Oct 15, 2009 9:34 pm

Has anyone read this book ( I have not ):

http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/de ... &tid=11521

It looks relavent to this thread.
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby JakeLiefer on Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:55 pm

Isaac Gonzalez wrote:Has anyone read this book ( I have not ):

http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/de ... &tid=11521

It looks relavent to this thread.


I've had the book for about the past year. It's a really well put together and researched book. If you're ever in Washington D.C., I picked it up at Busboys & Poets, a restaurant / bookstore / coffeeshop that serves Counter Culture Coffee.

However, it's so well researched that I don't really know how to get into the book. It's a difficult read without having a firm, formal training in agriculture. In this way, it's kind of like the Illy book, packed with information, but trying to discern and understand some parts will be nearly impossible.
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby amber fox on Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:45 pm

This book is by far my favourite (and more holistic) book on coffee. It can be intimidating, as it is written in academic style, but the effort is very much worth it, I assure you. It is the most up-to-date and interdisciplinary study of the social justice potential of the coffee industry.

If you'd like another book that offers fewer potential solutions, but an easier-to-read discussion of a slightly different topic within the FT debate (co-optation and corperatization of FT), pick up Fair Trade Coffee: the Prospects and Pitfalls of Market-Driven Social Justice by Gavin Fridell.

Fair Trade should still be considered a minimum, a step in the right direction, and an important educational tool. I agree with Kyle: we need to be looking at ways to provide year-round incomes (through intercropping, etc).
We also need to concentrate on fixing the failings of FT as it is now (corruption in co-ops, raising the minimum price, revisiting FT requirements, finding more buyers for FT coffee) rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Additionally, we need to remember that each producer situation is different. Not all smallholders are that small... and in any case, ideally a producer would not be losing money on any crop they are producing. Especially not if that losing crop is their main crop, and it happens to be coffee, a phenomenon that FT floor prices could help prevent. Not to mention that hopefully FT would be providing other beneficial community projects (in ideal situations, I'm not suggesting that this occurs in all FT cases).
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Re: Time: Fair Trade Failing Coffee Farmers

Postby IanClark on Tue Dec 01, 2009 7:48 pm

Of slight relevance, here's a recent publication in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.

http://www.atypon-link.com/AMA/doi/abs/ ... lCode=jppm

The abstract explains much of what can be learned from reading the paper. Nothing too dramatic - mostly just confirmation of much that has been discussed in this thread but with some interesting case study statistics from Peru, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
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