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Cup ‘o java — and controversy

We all know coffee is the good that comes to mind quickest when we talk fair trade.

More and more, though, the survival of the planet-spanning bean industry is being discussed alongside the ramifications of global warming.

Author Dean Cycon has circled the globe looking for quality (read: tasty and fair trade) joe. His wanderings revealed that even high in the Sierra Nevada, coffee farmers are feeling the heat:

“Arhuaco coffee farmer Javier Mestres … had never heard of the global circulation model that tried to measure increments of change in the temperature of the ocean or dynamics of the atmosphere. He was unaware that the IPCC report stated that Colombia would heat up dramatically in the next twenty years and lose 90 percent of its glacial snowcaps by 2050.

Javier saw the results of a warming planet clearly in the premature flowering of his coffee plants on his four-acre family farm in the slopes above Nabusimake, the capital of the Arhuaco nation. He showed me the smaller, weaker berries that dotted the stems and wondered why the outside world wanted to harm these beautiful plants. Why were we changing the world?”

He continues to summarize ideas from his book Javatrekker:

“…as far as most Americans go in terms of coffee literacy and the impact of each cup they drink. In the hyper-caffeinated world of coffee marketing, it is very difficult to tell the truth from a load of beans. And, that’s what most of us are being told in terms of climate change, and in terms of what coffee farmers are paid, the latter of which often has an impact on the former…

Fair Trade allows farmers to be paid meaningful prices for their labors, a way to realize cherished dreams of education for their kids and sufficient food on the table, and to be willing to then take better care of the crops and the land around them. That’s what Fair Trade is all about, and it is the most tangible result to the work us Fair Traders do.

But let me be real. Only twenty percent of the coffee from Fair Trade-certified ooperatives gets sold as Fair Trade. The rest gets sold under conventional pricing, which even at the current higher level does not give a farmer much to feed his family, and certainly doesn’t give the community enough to build a school, a well or a health clinic. This is not the farmer’s fault. It is the same coffee grown in the same manner.”

Where Cyon might want be more direct is this: there is a direct relationship between the quality of these farmers’ lives, the quality of our morning coffee and the sustainability of the planet. Esoteric for Friday afternoon, I realize, but not when I consider just how much that steamy cup of liquid means to my quality of life.


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