Sunday, March 19, 2006

a topic in the air?

doubtless to mention this will get me more hatemail from outraged members of the ultra-politically correct, who keep forgetting that i personally support fair trade and drink a lot of fair-trade coffee, but lately articles questioning fair trade seem to be everywhere.

i find it interesting that just a few days after i post my bit pondering the current direction of fair-trade, the
ny times does a similar piece too
. for once the times appears to get it pretty much correct.

it also gives nice quotes from long-time bccy pal, coffeekids board member and scaa prez rick peyser of gmcr. yay, rick!

my main comment on the times piece regards the quote by allegro coffee that they found farmers involved in fair-trade sometimes received only US$0.80 of that promised US$1.26. yikes! that's worse than even my most pessimistic calculations of US$1.

no wonder last year when the market was up so many farmers sold their coffee twice. long-time readers will recall the famous technoserve report that disclosed how much it costs to grow coffee in various countries. for example, at that time --2003 -- it cost US$0.90 a pound for a farmer to grow high-quality arabica in guatemala, due to the amount of hand-labor involved in producing great beans.

to have gone fair-trade and still lose US$0.10 -- yikes! no wonder the farmers backed out.

and that 90-cent estimate was before the recent high costs of fuel due to the global situation. fair trade aims correctly to eliminate unnecessary layers of middle-men, but that does no good if the producer fees, co-op management fees, and required re-investment take an even bigger chunk than they would have.

my respect for bill fishbein, who believes in the moral agency of coffee farmers at the local level, in people choosing their own priorities and managing their own structures, grows every day. but he is a very rare character among the "development" set, who mostly seem to have these antique "white experts know better in their technocratic offices in large cities far away" mentalities.

bill's not naive -- economists have done much work that seems to show how 2 of the best ways to help people lift themselves from poverty is 1 - to empower and educate women and 2- to then give them access to micro-credit. a large number of coffeekid programs seem to follow this model with great success.

to my mind, the bottom line remains: quality is the best way to help farmers and us average coffee-lovers alike. coffees from programs like the c.o.e. and the famed ethiopian internet auction do this.

but of course, these too need to be expanded. . .

also, many specialty coffee roaster/retailers i know, such as oren, already buy coffee of such high quality that they pay more than US$2 a pound for most of their beans. if you shop at one of these independents, you may actually already be doing more to help farmers than the average fair-trade coffee.

so ask the owner; inform yourself. i'm sure most specialty owners, like oren, know their situation towards the farmers who supply their coffee, and are happy to tell you.

and if they don't, encourage them to find out!

in other news, i read these beverage recommendations with interest; the scientists involved have unquestionable reputations and credentials. but 40 oz. of coffee a day for men?

that seems high to me. some studies have shown some health benefits for men who drank 4 or even 5 6-oz cups of coffee a day (think prostate). that still comes to only 30 oz. max.

i do think women of child-bearing age should stick to 3 6-oz cups a day, and men to 4, personally, when you take all the other things new studies seem to suggest into account.

later today i'm off to a yoga inversion workshop. let's see how that goes!

posted by fortune | 10:11 AM | top | link to this | email this: | | | 0 comments