Equality in the Coffee Trade
"Fair trade" is a term used quite frequently when people discuss sustainable, equitable trading of coffee. While some organizations tell you to "look for the label" and discard anything without it, we're here to say that our experiences tell us there are many paths to equitable trading and it will take a multiplicity of ideas to impact the lives of coffee farmers.
In ten years we have found a number approaches to coffee purchasing to be beneficial for every link of the supply chain. Fair Trade Certified contracts foster community development, social justice and form a safety net for producers. Indeed, there are great examples of fair trade cooperatives. The most innovative groups have come to use fair trade as the baseline for their exports and seek greater premiums for their highest quality.
Juried competitions, such as Cup Of Excellence, Best of Panama and Ethiopia Open Outcry, bring exceptional coffees to auction. Small farmers often win the competitions, and great coffees are rewarded with very high premiums. Farmers gain international recognition with awards and winning instills a sense of pride in the communities and families. Roasters flock to develop relationships that insure a long-term sustainability.
Rainforest Alliance certification deals with sustainability and environmental issues. The dirty dozen chemicals are banned from use and while many Rainforest Alliance farms are not certified organic, most embrace organic farming principles and avoid chemical pesticides.
Roaster/farmer relationships create a sense of partnership where both stakeholders are able to share information and work together to produce an amazing coffee experience for consumers. The stability of a partnership has many long term benefits for all parties involved.
Quite frankly, the coffee trade has a long, sad history of inequality. Over the past 25 years there has been a growing movement to change the way we think about our coffee.
Sacred Grounds joined Transfair USA in 1999. We found common ground and shared some of their visions for the future. In 2007 we made the choice to move away from fair trade certified coffees towards a model that will insure that the small amount of coffee we purchase each year brings maximum value to the farmers who grow our coffees.
Our belief is that using a Fair Trade Certified marketing plan is most beneficial to larger roasters who are buying thousands of bags of coffee at a time. We were proud to be part of the early years and salute their efforts to bring fair trade coffee to places like McDonalds and Wal Mart.
People sometimes ask us why we do not offer 100% fair trade certified coffees and our answer is simple: Striking a balance is important, while every certification has merits and markets, they all have drawbacks and limitations that preclude us from putting all of our eggs in a single basket.
After meeting scores of small farmers who, for one reason or another, elected to remain outside of a cooperative system we felt it was important to engage them in relationships as they work to develop their niche in the market.