Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fair Trade Coffee Thoughts

After watching BlackGold in class on Tuesday, I was really intrigued. I began to think about the types of people and institutions you support (or don't support) by buying fair trade coffee. By purchasing a fair trade product you give a reasonable price to the producers of the raw product, you shorten its commodity chain immensely and you typically receive a very good product because of this. However I also realized that buying coffee from Ethiopia could also be considered supporting globalization, a trend that could surely be one of the leading factors to climate change. Just think, everyday people across the world are moving in various modes of transportation. Often times these people are transporting goods from one area to another. Coffee from Ethiopia, whether it is fair trade or not has to travel a great distance to get to us in Troy, New York (roughly 6500 miles), emitting carbon dioxide during every step toward it's destination.

If we were to make a shift to having a more local food system, the coffee growers in Ethiopia would have a very hard time finding a market for their coffee. If we were to make this shift, would it be similiar to colonial times where most of their products were from local sources, with the exeption of some like sugar, tea and coffee? If this shift never happens would supporting the local farmers in Ethiopia be considered supporting globalization of the world market?

Firstly, I think that if we were to shift to a less global market, then the coffee growers would still be in the same situation they are in right now. At the moment it seems that larger more powerful countries basically tell them what to do and when to do it. So much of their day is based off of numbers on a screen thousands of miles away in New York City or London. If globalization were to decrease, coffee would definitely be one of the things that is still traded on a global scale. Millions of cups of coffee are drank everyday, it is a commodity that many people wouldn't be willing to give up. For this reason, I am glad that documentaries like BlackGold are being produced. No matter where the food system is going or has been, in the future people will drink coffee. It is only by education that people will realize the real price tag on the bag and decide to purchase fair trade.

From this course I think it's important to realize that the food system can only change if people on an individual level begin to change. By making conscious purchases the consumer becomes more connected to the process that brought the food to them in the first place. Before buying a new pair of running shoes or a computer consumers put a lot of conscious thought into their purchase. Even though food is generally less than a new laptop, it is literally consumed by us, affecting our health and indirectly the people who were apart of the process to produce it.

BlackGold film viewed in class

Also something extra:
This is a "coffee calculator" that determines where your money goes when you purchase a coffee beverage.

1 comment:

  1. After reading this post I completely agree with what is being said about size of coffee’s carbon foot print as well as the fact about the need for more environmentally friendly practices. However in order to do that we have to change a whole culture of coffee drinkers and for many it is a necessity that keeps them on track most days. Coffee has always been a product that has been exported to the western world and in a way the western world has developed a dependency on it. The first thing that hinders localization of coffee is the fact that it can’t grow locally so already in order to obtain it means there is a need for trade and more specifically global trade. Without global trade there would be no coffee market and no income as a result of growing coffee. So we can’t just stop buying coffee because the repercussions are very great. Globalization is not all bad either. Globalization has opened many doors to wider variety of foods that we consume so here we have to take the good with the bad. Of course there is always a price and someone has to pay it, but you can’t say globalization is bad but it should at least be fair.

    The film Blackgold did offer a solution to the current situation but will continue to be a futile attempt at bringing the proper money to the ones who need it most. Once again the cultural involvement that coffee has is the true deciding factor in whether the coffee growers are paid proper dues. The only way to solve this problem is to have a united coffee grower coalition that will represent even the smallest coffee grower like the agreement that fell apart in 1989 as mentioned in the film. If the coffee growers were to unite they could stop selling their products and demand proper payment for their product. But the problem is that every farmer is out to better himself and without proper organization there will be no fair trade.

    One aspect that would be interesting to see is how the United States would fair without coffee. Our own demand for cheap products is one reason for all of this and in turn major coffee distributors seek cheap prices and the want of cheaper prices is just passed down the line until it reaches the lowest level with the least amount of say. Here an effort from both ends, which means the coffee growers and the coffee drinkers, would be the most effective way to achieve what everyone truly seeks. But before that the coffee growers must unite first as co-ops then expanding further regionally and then eventually across borders, this sort of coalition is the way to achieve fair trade prices. Without proper uniformity among growers the western markets will continue to seek cheap prices elsewhere.