I came across an interesting article in my most recent issue of Heifer.Org’s “World Ark” Magazine. It was written by none other than Pierre Ferrari, Heifer International president and chief executive officer. In it, he relays a conversation he had with a coffee farmer in Guatemala about the status of their conditions. The results are a little disheartening, at best. To house and feed the family, educate the children and cover all basic expenses, the family needs $7,500 a year. This particular family produced more high-quality coffee than anyone else nearby, they are only able to earn $2,500 a year. This is only a measly third of what they need, even though coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world. At this juncture, they are considering having the husband leave to work in another part of Guatemala, or even another country to try to increase their income, and neither option has any guarantee of providing this family with desperately needed relief. So this situation not only forces the family to live below the poverty line, but it breaks up families. Those families who choose to stay together and try to stick it out soon run out of money for food, medicine, transportation and for children’s school fees. Coffee prices have been in decline for decades, and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight. According to the article in World Ark, farmers struggle to eke out a subsistent living, while corporate executives earn millions of dollars a year. (Hmmm, doesn’t that sound familiar?) Coffee prices have fallen by two-thirds since the early 1980’s, dragging the livelihoods of the growers and pickers with them. To add insult to injury, farming costs have consistently during this time. The coffee retail industry is valued at more than $200 billion, while only 0.6 to 1% of the profits gets returned to the growers. In Nicaragua, a household of five persons is trying to live off a total yearly income of $1,682. A popular coffee corporation’s CEO is paid $11.5. That same company has recently pledged to return $25 billion to shareholders by 2020.
Also, in “The Perfect Daily Grind” (perfectlydailygrind.com) did a study of “Fair Trade” coffee growers in Africa and Asia and discovered that only in Indonesia were coffee growers paid a decent income for their families. They were unable to get verifiable data from South and Central America. The kicker in this is that this only includes the growers, it does not include the pickers who traditionally get paid less.
In case you are wondering why these people don’t go into some other means of support. They can’t. This is all they know how to do. They lack the training, education and resources to make a major lifestyle change. But we can help them. Everytime you make a coffee purchase, check to make sure that the coffee is Fair Trade. Fair Trade simply insures that the farmer is paid a livable wage. If you are in a coffee shop or restaurant, ask the clerk or server if the coffee is Fair Trade. If they don’t know, see if they can find out. If they can’t, drink something else. If you are buying a package of coffee, check the label. It should state “Fair Trade”. I tried contacting some of the major coffee companies in our country. I mostly got some run a-round regarding commodity pricing. That’s fine if you are the CEO. But if you are the guy doing all the work and wondering how you will buy food and medicine for your family, it is not enough. Commodity pricing simply pays the farmers the minimum price for the coffee. Sometimes people will complain about the price of Starbuck’s coffee. Their coffee costs more because they pay the farmer more for it. You can buy coffee online through Heifer International, and make micro-loans through Kiva. Interestingly enough, I entered the link for Direct Origin Trading, ended up at Kiva and saw that a coffee farmer had just had his loan completed. But, I found a loan for a woman to have a tea stall and she only needed $25 to get her complete funding! So my story had a happy ending, after all. If you remember nothing else, remember this, “Money Talks”. So, if enough of us talk with our wallets, hopefully someone will listen.
“The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” Pope Francis