Ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer injustice of how the world works? You might even taste it in your morning coffee.
Consider that while an average cup of coffee that we grab unthinkingly at our neighborhood Starbucks or similar might cost $3.00 or more, the farmer who grew the coffee in Columbia or Ethiopia or Kenya or Uganda might get about 3 cents.
So says a recent World Vision Report, heard on Hawaii Public Radio. The report provides a glimpse of the gulf between those who live and grow coffee in poverty, largely in developing countries, and those who derive huge profits from the daily habit of consumers in largely developed countries.
Nick Francis who co-directed the award-winning documentary, Black Gold warns against getting complacent and feeling that we are doing right by farmers when we buy from places that advertise that they offer “free trade coffee.” All that means is that farmers are getting a “tiny bit more” than they used to but they are still nowhere near being able to escape the grip of poverty. For that, this report argues, we need more than the promise of free trade. Farmers in developing countries need to be able to overcome the structural obstacles to selling directly and getting a better price by not losing out to multiple middlemen or competing with the likes of Nestle, Kraft and other multinationals. They need a better shot at not getting squeezed even more than we need our shots of espresso.
The report offers signs of hope. In Uganda, a group of farmers of different faiths—Jewish, Muslim and Christian—have formed a cooperative to enhance their selling power and derive a better income from their coffee farms. But the enduring harvest from this effort is not just deriving enough income to pay for their children’s education or build a home but the peace that comes from working together for the common good, regardless of their faith traditions. That’s worth even more than the price of coffee anywhere.
So, the next time you need a shot of caffeine, ask your barista where they buy their coffee and if they have thought of perhaps buying direct from a farmer. All’s not quite fair yet in “fair trade.” We coffee drinkers could make a difference to how much justice farmers get by asking questions wherever we buy a cup. And it would help take the edge off the aftertaste.
“Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. Deuteronomy 24:14
“Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” James 5:4