Fair trade is empowering organic coffee farmers all over the world and helping them attain job security, according to Kimberly Easson, director of strategic relationships at TransFair USA.
“You see farmers coming together, and by having access to fair trade, they are actually building strength with each other and they are able to not necessarily feel like victims of circumstance but feel like they are entrepreneurs,” she said.
Easson said fair trade is about direct trade with small, family farmers. Fair trade helps farmers and their families by guaranteeing premiums that are paid directly to the producers, fair labor conditions, freedom of association, environmental standards, the removal of unnecessary middlemen and pre-harvest lines of credit.
“It really is a way to reconnect people instead of having nameless, faceless products,” said Easson.
Fair trade, she said, is a win-win situation for both consumers and businesses.
“A consumer can win because you are able to actually express yourself and express some of your values by purchasing a fair-trade product. A business can win because they can also provide a positive contribution,” Easson said.
Joining Easson to talk about fair trade and organic coffee at a presentation in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center titled “What’s in your Coffee” was Nell Newman, the daughter of actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Newman is the president and co-owner of the company Newman’s Own Organics, which began as a small part of her father’s company, Newman’s Own. Newman’s Own Organics started in 1993 and became independent of Newman’s Own two years ago.
Newman told the audience that she initially became interested in organic products because she saw how certain herbicides and pesticides used in parts of the world were killing off local wildlife and harming the environment. After seeing this for herself, Newman felt she had to do something.
“Newman’s Own Organics came out of a real naive thought that I may be able to change the world by starting this little food company,” Newman said.
Currently, coffee is the second largest U.S. import after oil. The United States consumes one-fifth of the world’s coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world, according to the Global Exchange, an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting political, social and environmental justice globally.
Many small coffee farmers receive a price for their coffee that does not cover the cost of production, forcing them into a cycle of debt and poverty. In addition, coffee prices have plummeted to all-time lows in recent months, currently around $0.50 per pound. Meanwhile, coffee companies have not lowered consumer prices and are pocketing the difference, according to Global Exchange.
Easson said that due to this coffee crisis, farmers are losing their land and are going out of business. The crisis is also leading to increased immigration as well as the production of more profitable illicit drugs on their farmlands.
One of the most helpful things people can do to get businesses involved with fair trade and organic products is to buy those products, Easson said.
“Every time you buy something, you are really voting with your purchase dollars,” Easson said.
Newman said that the biggest issue with organic products and fair trade is that the resulting products tend to be more expensive. This is due to the fact that organic products are more labor intensive. For example, organic farmers do not use pesticides and herbicides on their land, so the weeding must be done by hand.
“I don’t think the public really understands what goes into the growing of our food in the United States, and I think we’d all think differently about it if we did know a little better,” Newman said.
Like Newman, Easson said she wanted to make a difference in the world and working with TransFair USA has allowed her to do that. She said that when she was growing up, she saw the image of Juan Valdez, which portrayed coffee farmers as empowered and proud. But after traveling around Central America, her views changed dramatically.
“After spending time in Nicaragua and thinking of Juan Valdez and then looking and being with the farmers in Nicaragua, I thought, “This is not the same reality as what they show us on TV,'” Easson said.
While working with TransFair USA, Easson has gotten to see firsthand how fair trade has helped create a better standard of living for farmers and their families.
“The farmers are so grateful for the opportunity that they have to have access to the fair trade market here in the United States and globally,” Easson said.
At the event, students also to expressed their views on fair trade and organic products.
“Really, it’s a better product to get organic. Eventually, if we wipe out all the small farmers, businesses and entrepreneurs, then we are not going to have any choices. So in the long run it’s better for the consumers as well,” said Ellen Kang, a USF graduate student.
“I didn’t know much until recently. I learned about fair trade in NAFTA in Mexico and the result it has on indigenous populations, environmental quality and human rights,” said Will Hobson, a USF sophomore in Environmental Science and Politics. “Sometimes fair-trade coffee is a little more expensive then the other coffee, but it’s worth it to know that you’re not taking someone’s blood.”