Friday, April 9, 2010

Free Trade Coffee...what is it really?

With all of the grass roots activities: "support the little guy", "Free Tibet" movements it's hard to keep track of what's what and when you don't know what's what....sometimes you don't even ask because you feel like you should know. Well this is how I felt about Free Trade Coffee. I didn't really know what it was, but I knew it was something good. Perhaps I am the only one who doesn't know what it is, in which case you can skip this article :-)
Free Trade Coffee: Basically it includes smaller farmers in the large industry of coffee trade. It helps create partnerships with smaller, poorer farmers and the big players of the coffee industry-- so that "Big Starbucks" isn't just buying from "Big Joe" coffee farmer but also little Jimmy's coffee farm down the road. Fair trade also gives more of the profit to growers instead of retailers. In the early 2000's farmer's lowered their prices, while retailers raised theirs, giving retailers an even larger share of the profits. This has put pressure on farmers to try to speed up their farming process to increase production-- but at the cost of quality. Speeding up the growth process reduces natural sugar and taste of the beans-- not to mention its' negative impact on the environment.
Fair trade coffee aims to include impoverished farmers in a profitable business and pay them a fair wage for their grueling work, and allows them to farm in a sustainable fashion. Fair trade coffee can result in twice the profit for the farmers but may not mean that you actually pay twice the price for your morning brew. Often, with fair trade coffee, a middle man is cut out of the supply chain, putting farmers in direct contact with retailers. This means that your cup of coffee might be a bit more expensive, but not double the price. So a small price increase in your coffee (often 10 more cents a cup) can really mean a world of difference to impoverished farmers. So even if you choose not to buy free trade coffee, at least now you know what it is!