The coffee farmers of Ethiopia are told that their coffee is gold. “If our coffee is gold,” the farmers ask, “then why do we get nothing?” Two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day around the world. Coffee beans are grown in poorer, developing nations and then shipped off to the West for consumption. The price of a cup of coffee is $0.12 in Ethiopia, while a cup in a Western country costs up to $2.90.

Four major multinational corporations dominate the world market: Kraft, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee. Until 1989, an International Coffee Agreement regulated the supply of coffee on the world market. Now, the international price of coffee is established in the New York and London Stock Exchange, where coffee is the second most actively traded commodity.

Black Gold is a documentary about Ethiopian coffee farmers’ struggle to seek higher prices for their coffee beans. Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in Africa, with over 15 million individuals depending upon coffee farming and production for survival. Coffee makes up 67 percent of export revenue in Ethiopia.

Tadesse Meskela manages the Oromia Coffee Farmer’s Co-operative Union, which represents 74,000 coffee farmers. Through their union, they are cutting out the middlemen in the chain of coffee production. Not only do the farmers grow the coffee beans, they also roast the beans themselves.

These farmers and their families depend on the coffee beans to survive. These people are born into coffee-growing families and communities and they have little chance to escape. They are forced to become coffee farmers and to remain stuck in poverty.

The coffee beans create a single production economy, making the economy extremely dependent upon Western companies and consumers. These coffee farmers in Ethiopia do not receive subsidies from their governments. Slight fluctuations in price will greatly affect the local farmers.

There are many various interlinked factors that have created these unequal global trade relations. Many of them have links to colonial and post-colonial relationships. Through social, economic and political policies Western nations have forced developing nations to remain dependent upon them for survival.

In international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) developing nations are not able to have their voices and problems heard. The WTO sets rules of global trade, but is dominated by the larger, richer developed countries. These negotiations take place behind closed doors and the smaller delegations have been losing.

Consumer awareness of the farmers’ conditions is vital. While large multinational corporations and middlemen are benefiting from coffee production, the farmers themselves get almost nothing. Consumers need to be aware and ask for fair trade products. Fair trade coffee beans are labeled and available at most grocery stores.

In this age of increased globalization, it is important to be aware of how we are impacting the lives of other people, and how we are impacting the planet. When we go to Starbucks, and buy that cup of steaming coffee, we do not see the human lives that have been put into that cup. We do not see the coffee bean farmers praying for the weather to be kind. We do not see the women who pick the coffee beans for less than 50 cents a day. We do not see their children who go hungry. We only see the coffee in our cup and we are satisfied.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Black Gold Film,The New York Times
Photo: Universal Cargo

Do you like to drink coffee? If you are like me and happen to need a cup every morning in order to function properly, here is a chance to drink your single-origin morning nectar and help to alleviate poverty all at the same time.

Some readers may have heard of the Golden Triangle, or the border area of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. It is one of the largest opium-producing regions in the world.

One of the reasons that people resort to growing and selling opium is the grinding poverty experienced by the ethnic minorities that live across the borders of the three countries. Many of the minority groups have very few rights and are often discriminated against.

In the case of Thailand, many hill tribes members do not possess Thai identification documents—rendering them unrecognized as Thai citizens.

This consequently impedes them from accessing many basic public services such as health care and education. This combination of decades of poverty and disenfranchisement has driven minority groups towards illicit drug trade.

However, for the past few decades some tribes—among them the Akha of northern Thailand—have shifted to growing cash crops such as coffee. Nevertheless, the revenue they receive through trading with large companies was far from mutually beneficial. Enter Wicha Promyong—a successful Southern Thai entrepreneur—and his Canadian colleague, John Darch, who had spent many years in the banking sectors of Canada and England.

Together, they founded Doi Chaang Coffee with the goal of bringing development and sustainable prosperity to an Akha village on Doi Chaang Mountain.

What the Canadian-registered company does is unprecedented: 50% of the ownership of the company is given to the tribe, who also receives 50% of the profits as well as all of the money obtained from selling the green beans. Amazing!

What has this innovative and charitable form of a corporate-grower relationship achieved for the village so far? Well, they have done a good many wonderful things.

From an isolated village that was hitherto neglected by the authorities, left without paved roads, a hospital, schools, or even running water, the income from growing coffee allows the Akha tribe to become more self-sustainable. The village now has its own all those that it had erstwhile been lacking. It even has its own library and a coffee academy!

The business philosophy of Doi Chaang Coffee demonstrates that multinational commodity trades do not have to be exploitative in order to be profitable. It also suggests that perhaps the key component in establishing an equality and dignity based business model is simple and straightforward: the desire to be fair.

Readers in North America can purchase Doi Chaang Coffee both at their local Safeway and other supermarkets—if they are in Canada—as well as on their website if you happen to be in the U.S.

Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: Doi Chaang Coffee, Fair Trade , YouTube

As responsible consumers, fair trade products ensure money goes towards companies that use ethical business practices, green technology and safe working conditions.  The fair trade logo supposedly signals that coffee is produced with certain standards in mind.  In the coffee industry, the fair trade movement seeks to benefit coffee growers in impoverished areas by donating some of the proceeds to community projects.  Fair trade producers work directly with importers and buyers.  By cutting out the middleman, the fair trade program offers growers a higher price for their beans.  Companies that use fair trade products have to pay a licensing fee to companies like Equal Exchange or Fair Trade USA.  Some of these proceeds go back to the plantation community.

However, Fair Trade USA has implemented some changes to the program that have raised eyebrows.  Equal Exchange, the country’s oldest fair trade company, withdrew support for Fair Trade USA in late 2012 after the USA branch cut ties with parent company Fairtrade International.

Fair Trade USA also stated it would give certification to large plantations as well as small, democratically run cooperatives. This creates a problem because large plantations are already turning profits, while many smaller farms are struggling to survive. The fair trade movement sought to support the cooperatives that were often exploited or overlooked by the big coffee companies. Giving larger plantations accreditation and trade rights eliminates the advantage fair trade was providing for the smaller plantations.

Paul Rice, chief executive of Fair Trade USA says the move was meant to promote the fair trade movement by increasing the supply. Large plantations can grow more beans to meet the demand for fair trade coffee. This allows big-chain retailers like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market to sell fair trade coffee in their stores.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: The Nation, New York Times, Fair Trade USA

South America, the fourth largest continent in the world, arguably boasts the most impressive untapped natural resources in the world. South America has a solid agricultural background, and there could still potentially be room to grow.  It is one of the world leaders in agricultural production, and is in position to continue this trend for generations to come. Other South American countries have begun to follow the example Brazil has set in being the agricultural leader while the continent as a whole has profited from the benefits of exporting valuable food and other resources.

South America is a hotbed for agriculture for two main reasons; the rich untapped natural resources, and the various climates the continent possesses. The continent retains four climates, which range from tropical (wet and dry) to temperate (mild weather changes from season to season) while certain areas remain cold or arid.

The varying tropical climates cover over half of the continent with tropical wet and dry conditions occurring in the Orinoco River basin, the Brazilian Highlands and in a western section of Ecuador.

Many crops tend to thrive in the tropical areas of South America. Cashews and other kinds of nuts are cultivated in these regions, making them one of South America’s largest exports.

In fact, some of the world’s most popular fruits, such as avocado, pineapple, papaya and guava, are all produced in large increments in these tropical areas of South America. Not only do these edible, easy to manage crops improve South American agriculture, the continent has also become a strong resource of cash crops for the world.

Coffee was imported from the Old World in the 1800s and is grown in the highlands of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. Nowadays, it is exported in large amounts from the key manufacturing parts of Colombia’s Cordillera Central, the basis of some of the world’s highest-quality coffees. The most notable native beverage, yerba maté, is brewed from the leaves of a plant indigenous to the upper Paraná basin. It is still gathered in its wild state in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Another cash crop, tobacco,  is cultivated in many countries but is produced commercially in large amounts in primarily Brazil and Colombia. The two most important native South American spices—allspice and red pepper—are exported from Brazil.

South American temperate climates are home to large numbers of livestock and other industrial crops. In these climates, corn runs as king of the crop. Corn is mass-produced in these areas, and is one of the biggest money-makers of the continent.

South America has steadily brought itself into an agricultural leader in the world. It produces many reliable crops and invests in the cash crop profits. By banking on the expansive natural resources, South America has found a model of success it can follow for generations to come.

 Zachary Wright

Sources: National Geographic, Mbendi, World Hunger, Inter-American Development Bank, Encyclopedia Britannica

Perhaps it’s time to start looking where your money goes, and even further where your money could be going. According to Accounting Principal’s 2012 survey, the average American worker spends more than $20 a week on coffee, adding up to a yearly average of around $1,092. For java-lovers, this may seem like a hard habit to kick. However, by even simply making your own coffee at home, you can both save calories and spend that money in a more useful way – combating global poverty.

If more Americans skipped their morning Starbucks and instead donated that money, two things could happen. 1. American obesity would significantly decline 2. Global poverty would significantly decline. Of the roughly 315 million people in the United States, if simply 30 million (about 1 out of 10 people) put their coffee money toward combating global poverty, it could be entirely eliminated.

You heard correctly. The United Nations estimates that it would take nearly $30 billion a year to put an end to world hunger. Therefore, this small and easy adjustment could save the lives of millions worldwide. Is your cup of coffee really worth more than the lives of people everywhere?

There are many ways to start taking steps to make a change toward combating world hunger. While going cold turkey and saving the money for donation is definitely an option, there are other alternatives as well. A basic Keurig Coffee Brewer costs about $120, and including the price of the coffee that goes in them (an extra $180 a year), you can still have your coffee and save the difference between buying coffee every day. While the total is slightly less, it gives coffee-lovers an option to still enjoy their brew but also fight for a good cause.

You may think your contribution won’t make a difference- but it does. Talk to friends, family and encourage them to give up buying a daily cup of java and instead save the money to donate to poverty-groups. This way, we can save the world, one coffee been at a time.

– Sonia Aviv

Sources: ConsumeristBorgen Project, LA Times
Photo: Consumer Channel Dynamics


Australian actor and filmmaker Hugh Jackman is producing a documentary about converting livestock manure into clean methane to be used for cooking and lighting in Ethiopia.

84% of Ethiopians burn wood for lighting and cooking, which has resulted in massive deforestation across vast swaths of the country. But because coffee requires shade, coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia are lushly forested. And because trees are needed to provide shade for a valuable crop, local farmers have developed a special kind of technology to convert livestock manure into a cleaner source of energy.

During a 2009 visit to the coffee-producing Kochere district of Ethiopia, Jackman was inspired by the work of a 27-year-old coffee farmer named Dukale, whose innovative technology holds the potential to make tangible improvements to the environment, local economy, and lives of Ethiopians.

Besides providing a cleaner source of energy and offering a solution to the respiratory problems of children who have grown up in smoke-filled huts, Dukale is able to devote more land to coffee farming by not using wood for fuel. This enables him to grow more coffee, use the proceeds to buy more land, hire more workers, and he can afford to send his kids to school instead of to labor in the fields.

Impressed by Dukale’s efforts, Jackman has sought to find distribution for their coffee, forming Laughing Man Worldwide (LMW), which operates coffeehouses in Lower Manhattan and devotes all proceeds to education, community, and new business development.

Laughing Man Coffee Shops have opened to rave reviews at various locations in Lower Manhattan and feature an array of products made with crops from Ethiopia, Peru, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Since his initial visit to Ethiopia in 2009, Jackman and a small group of filmmakers have been documenting their work. A final film is planned for distribution later in 2013.

– Michael DeZubiria

Sources: PandoDaily, Uncommon Union, Mother Nature Network, Yahoo! Lifestyle

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop operator, will open a café in Bogota, Colombia after almost a century of buying coffee from the country. The café will open in the first half of next year, along with an additional five locations by the end of 2014. The company, headed by Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz, hopes to reach the goal of opening 50 Starbucks in Colombia in five years.

“This is long overdue,” Schultz said at a press conference in Bogota. “There is tremendous enthusiasm as we talk to people and walk the streets—most of these Colombian people we talked to have consumed Starbucks coffee somewhere else.”

Starbucks will help to boost its sales by expanding to countries with growing middle classes. The company has about 8,000 cafes located outside the United States, opening its first in India in 2012 and opening one in Vietnam this year. According to Starbucks’ annual global responsibility report, the company bought about 545 million pounds of coffee from 29 countries in 2012, a 27 percent increase from 2011. Colombia has been Starbucks’ largest or second-largest coffee-bean supplier in its 42 year history.

Starbucks is also partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to invest $3 million into the security of coffee quality and supply in various regions of Colombia. USAID and Starbucks will each invest $1.5 million in research to benefit small-plot coffee farmers in Colombia over the next three years. The funds will go to Starbucks’ farmer support center in Manizales, which will pay for agronomists to analyze soil and inform growers on factors that affect profit and yield, including fertilizers, climate and pests.

Starbucks opened its first support center in Costa Rica in 2004, and opened branches last year in Colombia and China to help local coffee farmers improve the size and quality of their harvests. By 2015, Starbucks aims to sell all ethically sourced coffee.

– Ali Warlich
Sources: Starbucks, TIME, Bloomberg
Photo: Reuters

ethiopian coffee_opt
Many of the world’s primary coffee-producing regions are also amongst the world’s poorest and issues such as poor infrastructure, lack of transportation, and  unavailability of markets only exacerbate the problem. But with the global market for coffee as strong as it is, and demand only increasing, the producers should not be left behind. Fair Trade has been a successful initiative over the last few years, but is not the only way for growers to ensure competitive pricing and a fair share.

The Duromina – meaning ‘improve their lives’ in the local Oromo language – cooperative in the Jimma region of Ethiopia hopes to improve conditions for producers and producing regions. Duromina was initiated by 113 local farmers in response to poor market rates for their product. The local coffee bean was previously known as Jimma 5, referring to the five major defects that can mar a coffee bean: overripe, underripe, cracked, insect damaged, and fermented. However, these defects were caused by farming and transportation issues, and not the quality of the beans themselves. And with no suitable infrastructure in place, farmers would be cut off from markets when the river swelled. Transportation issues would also mean buyers could lower prices and farmers would have to accept them.

And so, with a loan secured through non-profit organization TechnoServe in 2010, the Duromina coffee cooperative was able to install a wet mill to process fully washed coffee. This meant they no longer required transportation to reach a mill or were forced to sell unprocessed beans for a lower price. As a result of this improvement in quality, the farmers of the Duromina cooperative secured a contract with buyer’s from Sweet Maria’s and Stumptown. Last year Duromina sold 71 metric tons to four international roasters, all through direct trade links.

By taking the initiative for improvement upon themselves, and with the aid of a non-profit like TechnoServe, this community has been able to vastly improve their quality of life. The coffee produced has gone from being known for its poor quality to being voted the ‘Best in Africa’ by a panel of international judges. In addition to these accolades, the income and outlook for these farmers has been vastly improved. Using money generated through the cooperative, a bridge has been built over the nearby river and roads and infrastructure vastly improved. The community will soon be connected to the power grid for the first time, and the primary school has been expanded through grade 8. Further to this, some families have even been able to send their children on to secondary school in a nearby town.

Having a product to sell is the first step. But enabling producers to reach international markets is a much more difficult second step. With initial assistance from TechnoServe, and willing buyers in Stumptown and Sweet Maria’s, the Duromina Cooperative reveals the potential for improved farmer conditions in coffee-producing regions.

– David M Wilson

Sources: NPR, TechnoServe
Photo: Louisville Insider

dog driving car race
You may have seen the new ad campaign for Nespresso, the Nestle-subsidiary coffee brand, which features George Clooney losing beautiful women to its instant coffee packs. Yes, that George Clooney and yes, he is advertising coffee. But he’s doing it because he cares about Sudan.

Earlier this month, Clooney joined Nespresso’s Sustainability Advisory Board in Paris to unveil their grand development strategy targeting Sudanese coffee growers. Nespresso, which already runs a reputable fair trade program with coffee growers in Guatemala, plans to branch out to South Sudanese and Ethiopian farmers with the same program. The company expects to double coffee exports in both countries by 2020.

Clooney, who has a deep-seated passion for Sudan’s development, says the move will shift Sudan’s national earning power away from crude oil, the profits of which hardly reach either the government or the people, and toward small-scale farming. It will bring prosperity directly to the Sudanese themselves.

“The problem with oil [is] that a company takes the oil from beneath the feet of the people living there via a pipeline, the back of a truck and a dock in Khartoum,” said the Hollywood actor at the press conference. “Oftentimes the government gets a small proportion and it doesn’t seem to trickle down.”

Clooney’s plans don’t stop there, however. He’s pouring all his earnings from the advertising position back into a satellite-monitoring program to curtail human rights abuses by Sudan’s military dictator, Omar-al-Bashir, who is charged with war crimes at the Hague. Bashir, obviously unhappy with the set-up, ordered Clooney’s arrest on his arrival the Sudanese embassy in Washington last year.

“He says that I’m spying on him and how would I like it if a camera was following me everywhere I went,” said Clooney. “I go, ‘well welcome to my life Mr. War Criminal.’ I want him to have the same amount of attention that I get. I think that’s fair.”

— John Mahon

Sources: The Guardian, Yahoo

Is Ugandan Coffee Climate-Friendly?
In Mount Elgon, a region in southeastern Uganda, a new public-private partnership is helping smallholder coffee farmers adopt climate-friendly farming methods in order to increase their yield.

The region is known for the production of Arabica beans, a high-quality coffee bean that only grows in certain conditions. The Mount Elgon region is ideal for the bean, because of its rich volcanic soil, high altitude and good rainfall. However, farmers have only been able to produce one-third of the potential yield in recent years because of climate change and poor farming techniques. As temperatures rise, so does the number of pests and diseases, and the area has become prone to landslides because of an increase in heavy rainfalls, deforestation and uninformed farming practices.

This new project, initiated by the Welsh Assembly Government and funded by the Cardiff-based Waterloo Foundation, is helping farmers cope with the climate changes. The project has initiated a pioneering new approach to farming coffee beans and has introduced techniques such as using shade trees for the coffee plants, organic compost, better soil management, proper spacing between coffee trees, pruning, control of pests and the recycling of plastic. Together, these initiatives are helping to double the output of coffee. Simon Hotchkin, Sustainability of Harrogate, said, “We think there’s potential to double the output of coffee even from the best-managed farms we’ve seen. Most of these farmers have very little influence over the international coffee markets, so the thing that they can control and influence is the output and the livelihood that they generate from coffee.”

The project is also providing funding for new nurseries that over time will create over one million new trees, as part of a three-year climate change action plan. The trees will give shade to the coffee plants, over time will yield fruit, and some will be harvested for timber and firewood. The project hopes that in the future, consumers will be willing to pay more for the higher quality Arabica coffee bean, which in turn will help growers in Uganda to continue adapting to global warming.

– Chloe Isacke

Source: The Guardian, New Agriculture
Photo: Wallpapers Ad