Sunday, March 19, 2006

Fair Prices for Farmers: Simple Idea, Complex Reality - New York Times

Fair Prices for Farmers: Simple Idea, Complex Reality - New York Times

This article from the Times's caught my eye today, not just because it's about coffee and most coffee articles catch my eye, but because it underscores a point that we have long believed in. That Fair Trade is in principle a great idea, but the reality is that it's not enough. Paying farmers Fair Trade wages is a bit like expecting Barista's in NYC to subsist on minimum wage. It's unrealistic. If I remember correctly the current Fair Trade wage paid to the farmer amounts to approximately $1.29 a pound (non-certified organic). That's less than minimum wage and no where near a living wage. While it is of course fantastic that the whole Fair Trade issue brings attention to the overall problem, it unfortunately seems to spin the perception that the farmers are receiving a "fair" and decent wage for the products they produce. It seems the more logical solution would be to reward the farmers who produce the highest quality beans with wages that actually enable them to profit and thrive, thereby also ensuring the continued production of their high quality beans in the future. Why reward fiscally and environmentally responsible farmers with wages that don't meet their costs? Eventually these farms will fail and we'll be left with ones that produce lesser quality beans in an attempt to increase profit margins based on minimum wages. Case in point, check out the Cup of Excellence web site. Fair Trade pays $1.29? HA! Cafe Artigiano in Vancouver paid a whopping $49.75 a pound for some "excellent" Brazilian! And of course, our own Gimme! Coffee was among those submitting the high bid on the Bolivian, paying a price roughly ten times the "fair" value.
Fair Trade is great. But it's the bare minimum.

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