Monday, September 21, 2009
The Western World’s UnFair Coffee Trade with Africa by Jennifer Crinion
By the end of the 17th century the coffee bean had traveled from Aden across the world to South Africa, South America and to the West Indes, and Europe and French high society had claimed it as their new custom to drink coffee after a meal. By 1860 people from all social classes were drinking coffee- including the military, which made it an integral part of their rations. Today coffee is enjoyed all over the world prepared in various ways, with or without dairy and with or without spices.
Fifteen million people in Ethiopia depend on coffee production for their survival. Unfortunately, since the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989 farmers have seen a drop in price – the lowest in 30 years. The international price of coffee is determined in New York and in London in the stock exchange. A five cent drop can affect farmers as far away as Ethiopia almost immediately. The price is determined with profit in mind. Two billion cups of coffee are drunk everyday and this $80billion per year revenue (a $50billion increase in less than 20 years) has made coffee the second most actively traded commodity. At the top of these billions of dollars sits four multinational companies: Kraft, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee. Private companies have realized that North Americans will pay ridiculous amounts for a cup of coffee and with greed at the centre of ever decision, many refuse to pay more than 0.75 birr ($0.08) for one sack of beans. One farmer says, “ We would soar high above the sky if we got five birr ($0.57) for one kilo of coffee”. One kilo of coffee beans will make 80 cups of coffee- and we are all painfully aware of the cost of a cup of coffee these days. The value of all coffee traded in 2008 was $140billion dollars yet Africa is the only continent in the world to become poorer in the last twenty years. Sidama, the region in Ethiopia that provides Starbucks with their Ethiopian coffee is currently experiencing a devastating famine. Seven million people in Ethiopia are dependant on emergency food aid. The farmers do not want food aid, they want fair trade and to make the money they deserve. The economy of each coffee growing community is dependent on coffee production and nothing else. When the farmers are not paid fair wages, they cannot afford to send their children to school. Ethiopia’s share of world trade has dropped in the past twenty years to only 1%. The World Trade Organization (WTO) holds a meeting once a year where 148 countries meet for five days to negotiate rules. It is usually the United States and Great Britain that hold the power and direct the topics discussed in these meetings and often not with fair trade in mind, but rather greed and profit.
Fair Trade is necessary and this needs to be recognized immediately. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, coffee pickers are paid 4 birr and 50 cents (less that $0.50) for 8 hours of work. It takes four years for a coffee tree to grow to full size and it is not until its fifth year that it will produce harvestable coffee beans. Many can no longer afford to wait that long and out of desperation have replaced their coffee bean crops with Chat, a narcotic popular in East Africa that is illegal in the United States and most of Europe.
Despite the growing popularity of Fair Trade coffee, demand has not yet matched supply: Last year about 200 million pounds of certified Fair Trade coffee was sold at normal market prices because of insufficient demand. According to Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International, Fair Trade farmers sell only about 20% of their coffee at a Fair Trade price. The rest is sold at the world price, due to lack of demand. Share the facts stated above with friends and family, and together demand Fair Trade.