(Excerpted from Equal Exchange)
A note from Linda- Often as we drink our morning cup of coffee, the people who were involved in growing that coffee are far from our thoughts. We need to broaden our view to encompass understanding and compassion for those families who in almost all cases are far less fortunate than ourselves. As consumers, our purchasing has profound impact on the lives of the close to 20 million people who are involved in coffee production.
Many of the foods that we consume every day- such as coffee, tea, bananas and sugar- come from farmers in the Third World. Unfortunately, many of these products are produced and traded in such a way that very little of the price we pay in our stores reaches the people who actually did the work.
America and Coffee
We in the United States are the largest consumers of coffee, importing over 20% of the world's coffee. Many of the nearly 20 million workers involved in coffee production live in extreme poverty in some of the poorest countries of the world, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Peru and Tanzania.
From picking to roasting, coffee farmers must put the coffee through a variety of stages including depulping, fermenting, cleaning, drying and storing. These labor-intensive processes require much skill, dedication and hard work on the part of the workers.
At the heart if much of the problem is control of production. Coffee originates from either plantations and estates or small farms. Plantations are traditionally run and owned by wealthy landowners. Many people are forced to work on these plantations for very low wages.
Coffee Chain is Long One
Small farmers who are lucky enough to own their own farms frequently live in isolated communities and are forced to sell their coffee to middlemen at very low prices. The coffee chain can be a long one- farmer, middlemen, processor, tax agencies, exporter, broker, roaster, wholesaler, retailer and finally, to you, the consumer.
Typically, there may be eight different links in the chain, all taking a piece of the monetary pie. Because farmers are cut off from the marketplace, profits go to businessmen and large landowners who control land, capital and access. The end result being that the original small farmer realizes little profit while doing most of the hardest work.
Since 1986, Equal Exchange has been importing fairly traded coffee direct from small farmers in Latin America and Africa.
What does this mean? Equal Exchange has made a commitment to-
Pay a Fair Price -A fair price includes a guaranteed minimum price ($1.26/pound compared to a average September world price of 80 cents) to ensure a living wage in order to maintain acceptable living standards even when market prices fluctuate downward.
Work with Democratically Run Cooperatives - Partner co-ops are governed by the farmers themselves. They are dedicated to the equitable distribution of income and the provision of other services such as healthcare and education.
Buy Direct - Buying direct means that the profits actually reach the farmers.
Provide Advance Credit- Traditionally, credit was either unavailable or only offered at prohibitive interest rates.
Encourage Ecologically Sustainable Farming Practices- Helps build a long-term economic base for farmers while protecting their communities, the environment and consumers from dangerous chemicals.
Fair trading practices create an economy of scale, access to markets and hope for a better future that traditionally have not existed for small farmers.
According to Rosario Castellon of PRODECOOP, "the gap between the few who are in power and the poor is large. Fair trade gives more opportunities to move ahead."
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