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Fair Trade Coffee

One of the biggest developments in recent years in the coffee industry is the rise of fair trade coffee.  You may have noticed going to coffee stores or to the supermarket coffee products labeled as free trade coffee.  These coffee products refer to a rising political and economic movement that is designed to create an equitable and fair partnership between coffee buying consumers and coffee producers in major coffee growing regions.  Fair trade coffee is designed to assist poor coffee farmers that often produce high quality gourmet coffee in organic conditions.

Fair trade coffee is a movement designed to rectify one of the biggest inequities in the coffee economy.  Coffee is one of the three most traded commodities in the world and is vital to many country's economies.  However, in recent years the price of coffee beans have lowered with coffee prices being lower than $.50 per pound in August 2001.  Despite the lowering cost of coffee, retail coffee prices remain high, which means that coffee growers are losing profits while coffee retailers are becoming rich at the expense of the coffee grower.

Fair trade politics have risen in recent years, as many consumers have become concerned that agricultural farmers are seeing fewer profits due to major corporations purchasing their products for lower prices.  However, these corporations have not lowered the prices that they are charging to the consumer for these products, meaning that they are becoming wealthier at the expense of the small farmer and the consumer.  As a result, fair trade products are becoming more common with fair trade coffee leading the way.

After reading the arduous process of growing coffee, it is an important issue for coffee lovers to assist the small coffee grower.  Commodity prices for coffee have dropped meaning that many small farmers in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean are facing poverty.  Considering the difficulty of growing coffee, many coffee growers have been forced to move away from traditional coffee growing practices and embrace different methods that will increase coffee growing production at the expense of coffee quality.

One of the major issues faced by fair trade coffee enthusiasts is the way that coffee is grown.  The best condition for coffee to be grown in is in a coffee plantation full of shade trees.  Shade-grown coffee slows down the maturation of the coffee bean, which allows the coffee bean to develop more natural sugar, less caffeine, and a better flavor.  However, recent economic changes means that many coffee farmers have been forced to adopt the more profitable sun-cultivation method of coffee growing to avoid impoverishment.

Sun cultivation refers to a shift to technical agriculture that was adopted in the 1970s and 1980s.  Sun cultivation increases yields in coffee plantations but results in the destruction of vast forests.  Additionally, sun cultivation requires the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that have harmful consequences on the natural environment and endangers those who work on coffee farms.  Some of the environmental problems caused by this change to sun-cultivating techniques of coffee growing include: deforestation, pesticide pollution, soil degradation, water degradation, and the reduction of the migrating songbird population that have lost their natural habitat due to habitat destruction caused by these coffee farms.

As a result, fair trade coffee is designed to support the small coffee farmer that employs shade-grown coffee growing techniques.  Shade grown coffee or bird-friendly coffee is the best way to grow coffee environmentally.  Shade grown coffee growing techniques do not have an adverse affect on the soil and water on coffee farms.  Additionally, the presence of shade trees have traditionally been a home for migratory songbirds, whose population numbers have dropped dramatically since the number of sun-cultivation coffee plantations have increased.  The shade grown coffee conditions produce organic coffee, which have been praised by coffee lovers for having a superior taste.

Additionally, fair trade coffee is designed to help the coffee lover aid the coffee grower by paying the farmer a fair wage for their hard work.  As coffee is a major commodity that is traded in the world, coffee growers are often at the mercy of the free market.  Many commodity traders rely on price fluctuations as their way to make money, which comes at the expense of the coffee farmer.  With fair trade coffee, a fair price is paid to the coffee farmer for their coffee that is usually at least twice to three times the amount of the commodity price.  While purchasing fair trade coffee will increase the annual incomes of struggling coffee farmers, many coffee lovers worry that it will come at the expense of their wallet.

However, this isn't necessarily the case.  Rather many fair trade coffee companies buy coffee directly from the farmer bypassing many middlemen.  Among Latin American farmers, there is a nickname given to the middlemen of processors, creditors, exporters, and brokers: coyotes.  These coyotes often pay the lowest price possible for the coffee farmer's crops by taking advantage of world coffee prices.  As coffee farmers are isolated from markets, they are forced to sell their crops for lower prices that place them in a cycle of poverty.  By purchasing fair trade coffee, you will be assisting the economic fortunes of these coffee farmers without paying a large sum extra for your coffee, as the fair trade coffee process bypasses these coyotes.

Fair trade coffee is the perfect drink for the socially conscious coffee lover.  By purchasing and drinking fair trade coffee, you will be assisting small coffee farmers that often struggle to make a living wage despite growing coffee beans that are used in expensive specialty coffee drinks.  Additionally, you will be helping the environment, as most free trade coffee is also shade grown coffee that supports a coffee growing process that doesn't cause as much environmental harm as sun cultivation coffee growing.  You will also be helping yourself by buying fair trade coffee, as fair trade coffee is also usually organic coffee and has an excellent taste that is irresistible.