CoffeeNate and Ben Schmerler from @FairTradeUSA

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Join me and Ben Schmerler (Coffee Category Manager : Fair Trade USA) as we discuss coffee, fair trade, and how consumers can make a real difference in individual lives and communities across the globe.

Did you know that we drink more than 400,000,000 cups of coffee EVERY DAY in the USA?  Wow!  How often do we stop to think about the journey that those beans had to make in order to grace our mugs?  Do we ever wonder about where it is grown, or the lives of those who carefully cultivated it?  If you were like me a couple of years ago, the answer is no.  Why would you?  You go to the store, buy the coffee and drink it.  Well, now you will know…the rest of the story!

What is Fair Trade?
You may be thinking about “Free Trade” and picturing Bill Clinton walking around with that nifty NAFTA baseball hat he was sporting in the 90’s.  No, it has NOTHING to do with free trade 🙂  Fair Trade is about just that…trade that is fair to everyone in the supply chain.  Fair Trade USA’s website says this;

Fair Trade Certification empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

Now that is quite a lofty goal, and a tremendous amount of work necessary to fulfill that very powerful sentence!  Fair Trade certification does a great service to the many producers of various products they certify, but it also provides the consumer with an avenue to support these same producers simply by purchasing items that carry the Fair Trade certified seal!

In the coffee world, Fair Trade is very often misunderstood.  I don’t know if it is the way that Fair Trade presents themselves, or if it is simply the ignorance of people that are not willing to listen.  In specialty coffee circles there seems to be a feeling that fair trade coffees are not high quality coffees.  In fact, there are many high scoring coffees that are fair trade certified.  Of course the fair trade certified seal does not guarantee a coffee will score a 95, you will still have to do some leg work to ensure quality.  What fair trade certification offers is a guarantee to the importing roaster, as well as the end user, that the producer responsible for this coffee was fairly compensated,  that the coffee was cultivated using sound environmental practices, and the premium paid will be reinvested into the community to support any number of grassroots projects.  Say what you want about Fair Trade not guaranteeing a particular level of quality, but that is not their role and admittedly so.  Importers have to take responsibility for choosing high quality coffees, and there are plenty of fair trade certified coffees that are top shelf.  In the end, it’s about results.  It is about impact, and Fair Trade is creating real positive changes in the lives of very real people and communities.  (Read more about these results on the producer’s page and the Fair Trade USA blog)

Direct Trade
Coffee roasters must pay a $0.10 per pound premium on the fair trade certified beans that they purchase.  This is the premium that is poured back into the cooperatives to be used for a myriad of projects.  In light of the movement toward sustainability and fair trade, some producers have chosen to circumvent this price premium and make direct relationships with the farms they purchase from.  There are a number of awesome companies that do amazing work in the coffee world with this model.  Companies like Intelligentsia and Counter Culture have excellent sustainable business models that really invest in the producers and their communities.  I have absolutely no problem referring people to purchase their beans, or even buying them myself because I know they do what they say that they do!  There is a problem however that occurs when a roaster will claim to use ‘Direct Trade’ or that their coffee is ‘Fairly Traded’…there is no definition for these terms.  Really, you can plaster these terms on your coffee bag, put a little picture of the earth on it and call it ‘sustainable’, but how can consumers know for sure what that particular company’s business practices are?  The answer is ‘they can’t’!  This is known as ‘Green Washing’.  Making your product appear as though it is ethical, when in fact you are just faking it in order to pander to a rapidly growing segment of the market.

I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t purchase coffee from company ‘a’ because they don’t sell Fair Trade certified products.  What I am saying is that it is important to examine your purchasing decisions and really think about the company that you are choosing to do business with.  Supporting the producers of the coffee that we enjoy so much is really a no-brainer for me.  The easiest way for you to know for sure that you are making a real impact is to look for the fair trade certified seal.

Below is just one of the many many producer reports that you can find on the Fair Trade USA website.  After reading through just a few you will understand why I personally feel motivated to support the ideals of Fair Trade USA.  I’m not going to tell you how to spend your dollars, that is entirely up to you.  All I am doing is informing you, and letting you know why I personally have made the decision to purchase sustainable coffees, such as Fair Trade certified!
Abahuzamugambi, Rwanda

Since my cooperative pays medical insurance for my children and I, we don’t have any more health problems.— Mukashyaka Gemima

Abahuzamugambi cooperative was founded by 300 small farmers after the 1994 war and genocide that devastated the Rwandan coffee industry. It is located in Maraba, one of the poorest districts of Rwanda. The members are subsistence farmers who rely on the sale of their high-quality coffee for 70 percent of their cash income to pay for basic necessities. However, this rapidly growing cooperative is working to make coffee farming a viable occupation by accessing the specialty coffee market and developing strong relationships with coffee roasters.

With help from the NGO Project Pearl, Abahuzamugambi opened their own banking branch in 2003, which offers members a variety of banking services and provides new employment opportunities in the area.

Abahuzamugambi (which means “those who have common goals”) was Fair Trade Certified by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) in 2002. More than 50 percent of the membership is women, many of them widows.

The Fair Trade premium has enabled workers at Abahuzamugambi to establish various social and productive programs.

Abahuzamugambi offers scholarships to members’ children, so that they may complete their basic education.

Productive Investment:
The cooperative built new washing stations, which significantly improves the value of their coffee and provides local employment opportunities.

The cooperative initiated a health care program that covers medical insurance fees for members and their families.

Women’s Programs:
The cooperative provides community health and sanitation training targeting women and general household hygiene

The video was edited due to length and technical issues.  You can view the interview, in its entirety, at Fair Trade USA’s USTREAM.TV channel

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