The movie opens with a comparison of how a cup of coffee will cost you $2.90 in the western world while coffee farmers get somewhere around $0.54 for a pound of raw beans. Now I am a fairly regular consumer of coffee from Starbucks and I generally pay about $1.50 for my coffee. You are no doubt referring to some of the specialty drinks (Café Latte, Cappuccino, etc.) that such purveyors sell and which may include all manner of additional ingredients not to mention some special attention from the baristas behind the counter. Furthermore, it should be self evident that there are a host of other cost factors (the real estate, labor, etc.) which contribute significantly more to the overall cost structure of a cup of coffee than does the coffee itself. In fact the cost of the coffee in your cup generally makes up less than 5% of the operating cost at such establishments " something that you have either not taken the time to find out or willfully ignored in your movie. Clearly the comparisons you make here and throughout the movie are designed simply to elicit the most indignant reaction possible from your audience although they are of course divorced from the reality of a free market system and the real problems behind the circumstances that Ethiopian coffee growers find themselves in.
While I understand that your intentions may in fact be good, I must vehemently object to your use of inaccurate hyperbole throughout the entire film to play on your viewers emotions in an apparent attempt to cloud their judgment and distract their attention from the real facts of the matter. After seeing your movie on December 8, 2006 in Washington D.C., I must regretfully say that I found your film to be misguided, dishonest in principle if not in fact and at the end of the day counterproductive to the overall objectives that you seem to espouse assuming that this is indeed the progressive development and self reliance of Ethiopian coffee growers.
The real problem is that Ethiopia continues to sell the vast majority of its coffee as a commodity rather than as the specialty product that its intrinsic quality deserves for the most part. Further compounding this problem is the fact that very little value is added to coffee exported from Ethiopia in the form of roasting, packaging, branding or most other value enhancing elements that could significantly raise the premium commanded by it. Absent improvements in these critical problem areas, the low commodity price of coffee to the point that it barely covers a subsistent existence for the growers is then simply a market indicator that this is not the business for them to be engaged in. Were we to engage in a real discourse of the other contributing factors to the issues at hand, you could certainly cover with more relevance positions regarding land ownership, availability of capital for investment into coffee processing and other similar problems that may need addressing in the current context.
Unfortunately, you have chosen to support a misguided and ultimately flawed approach of dealing with the problems and it leaves your documentary replete with questionable premises and/or conclusions such as the following:
You refer to WTO meetings, subsidies by some developed countries and how Western aid is frequently nothing more than a way to purchase subsidized commodities such as wheat from their farmers. All great points and incidentally I agree with them strongly but what does this have to do with coffee? Why didn't you make a movie about wheat where these points would have been far more relevant?
You continually remind your viewers of the very low price that coffee commands at international exchanges. But this is the free market system at work (at a Q&A session subsequent to the first screening, you admitted that you know nothing about price fixing or other artificial mechanisms that may be driving the price of coffee lower) and the way to get around this problem is to somehow raise the perceived value of the product (what a shame you don't spend more time discussing this!) so that it commands a greater price or stop producing what you can't get enough money for! You did point out that some coffee growers also grow khat but you somehow made it sound like this was a negative thing even though it clearly commands a far greater price than does coffee.
Throughout the movie, you give prominence to the idea of paying Fair Trade prices for Ethiopian coffee where these prices are somewhat arbitrarily set to include enough for set asides to build schools and benefit the coffee grower communities in other ways. Well guess what you just did? After spending a good part of the movie criticizing subsidies (and rightly so!), it turns out that you actually support subsidies after all because Fair Trade (in some measure) is clearly another subsidy! Not to mention that it is of course a subsidy that depends almost entirely on consumer goodwill towards it and in any case is unsustainable because it is quite unlikely that the top (by volume) coffee producers in the world are going to either need or subscribe to it. This basically means that given an exclusive focus on Fair Trade as the silver bullet for all the issues ailing coffee growers in developing countries, there will always be a plentiful supply of coffee at lower prices with equal if not better quality than what they make available. Hardly a sustainable business model! Let me say that I do endorse many of the principles inherent in Fair Trade but it cannot be divorced from the reality of free market economics especially within the context of large and well established competitors that have no interest in it.
Worst of all were the repetitive references to poverty in Ethiopia including depictions of the food shortage crisis a few years ago liberally interspersed with footage of coffee drinkers in developed countries purchasing and enjoying their expensive cups of coffee. The implication that the plight of coffee growers in Ethiopia was a primary causative factor for that crisis or that the coffee drinkers shown should somehow feel guilty about enjoying their 'expensive' purchases is not just the wrong message to send, it is borderline inexcusable and shameless pandering to the sympathies of your viewers in an attempt to promote your views.
It may surprise you to know that I am Ethiopian myself. I too am quite sensitive to the plight of our coffee growers and probably to a greater degree than yourself. Nor am I here in defense of large multinationals or Western policies on farm subsidies " in fact I am very much opposed to the latter. But I feel compelled to respond to the message in your film because I strongly believe it represents a very inaccurate diagnosis of the problems at hand and prescribes by implication impractical solutions to them. In fact, it is counterproductive to the extent that it has already prompted some of your viewers to view companies like Starbucks (one of the most important customers coffee growers in Ethiopia can hope to sell to!) as the villains and begin talking about boycotting them.
The real answer to these problems lies in better linkages to the right markets for Ethiopian coffee, improved interpretation of the signals they provide, raising the perceived intrinsic value of Ethiopian coffee and adding value to that before it's exported " in other words to become better competitors in the global market rather than being portrayed as victims of it.
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