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Fairtrade, Organic? Is it really important?

We get this question a lot.  Why is fair trade and organic coffee important.  While its important to recognize there are varying perspectives on the fair trade program, there are some facts that just cannot be ignored.
Fact 1.  250lbs of Chemical Fertilizers 
Coffee is the most heavily sprayed crop in the world.  Upwards of 250 lbs of chemical fertilizers are used on non-organic coffee per acre of plantation.  That's a lot!  Think about how many cups of coffee you drink a day?  A week?  A year?  Pesticides are a known carcinogen and have been linked to a whole host of negative health implications including autism, kidney failure, genetic mutations and a long list of cancers.  By choosing certified organic coffee, you are treating yourself to a healthy, chemical free morning ritual.
The real danger with non-organic coffee is not the potential threat is poses to the end consumer.  By the time a coffee bean is extracted from its outlying skin (cherry), washed, dried and then roasted at 400+ degrees fahrenheit, any chemical residues that were present are most likely diminished.  The real danger with pesticides is the immediate and pro-longed affect they have on the local environment and people in the country of origin.  
In most coffee growing parts of Central and South America, there are little in the ways regulations on the use of pesticides.  Compare that to here in North America and the USDA and its Canadian counterpart have some fairly strict rules about what chemicals can be used.  In these countries, coffee producers are free to liberally apply these chemicals as they see fit.  Here is a list of just some of the known chemicals commonly used on non-organic plantations:
 Endosulfan (brand name Thiodan) — used against coffee cherry borer. 
Chlorpyrifos (brand name Dursban). A broad spectrum organophosphate used against coffee cherry borer and coffee leaf miner
Diazinon (brand name Basudin). Used against coffee borer.
Disulfoton. A systemic organophosphate insecticide used against leaf miner.
*Just a side note: the pesticides mentioned above are either fully banned or heavily restricted in the US and Canada due to their high toxicity.  All of them are banned in Europe.
Not only due these chemicals ultimately get leached into the local rivers, streams and ground water (and thus the local drinking water source), the coffee workers who pick the actual coffee cherries during harvest season come in direct contact as most farms do not have proper PPE or any safety plan in place.  
Additionally, the negative impacts that chemical pesticides and fertilizers have on the local flora and fauna is a real concern.  Pesticides kill tens of thousands of migratory birds in their wintering grounds. Contamination and mortality of tropical resident wildlife is not well studied.  Further, synthetic fertilizers, particularly nitrogen, not only have a large carbon footprint, but contribute to water contamination. 
Fact 2: 30 Million Lives

Coffee's implications as a commodity are large and far reaching.  Approximately 30 million lives are directly linked to its production and trade.  

Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day.[1] Over 90% of coffee production takes place in developing countries - mostly South America, while consumption happens mainly in the industrialized economies.


The coffee industry has a commodity chain that involves producers, middlemen exporters, importers, roasters, and retailers before reaching the end consumer.[18] Middlemen exporters, often referred to as coffee "coyotes," purchase coffee directly from small farmers.  Unfortunately, "coyotes" or middlemen can take advantage of farmers and small producers by offering a 'reduced' price for a crop ahead of the harvest season.  Since most coffee growing regions only yield 1-2 coffee harvests a year, a small coffee producer often finds themselves and their family struggling for money ahead of the next harvest.  This type of transaction/relationship is not unlike "pay-day" loans or 'insta-cash' banks here in North America.  Since the farmer excepts less than market value for their crop in exchange for money upfront, he/she might find themselves in a similar or worst situation the following year.  

Fairtrade co-operatives aim to address this middle-men issue by offering better trading conditions to marginalized producers and workers. Fair trade organizations, along with the backing of consumers, campaign for change in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.  

Fact 3: Fairtrade Provides a base or "floor" price in a volatile market. 

Farmers are also the worst affected by the notorious volatility of world coffee prices. In recent years the price of Arabica coffee has swung from a 30-year low of 45 cents a pound in 2001 to a 34-year high of almost 309 cents in 2011. Between May 2011 and December 2013, prices fell by 65% as a result of the Euro crisis and oversupply of coffee. And after drought in Brazil saw prices rise briefly in 2014, prices fell back to a range of 115 to 145 cents a pound in 2015 and 2016. This price volatility has significant consequences for those who depend on coffee for their livelihood, making it difficult for growers to predict their income for the coming season and budget for their household and farming needs.


When prices are low farmers have neither the incentive nor resources to invest in good maintenance of their farms by applying natural fertilizers and pesticides or replacing old trees. When prices fall below the costs of production, farmers struggle to put adequate food on the table and pay medical bills and school fees. 

Fairtrade was set up to ensure coffee farmers receive a fair and stable price for their coffee that covers average costs of sustainable production. Fairtrade certified co-operatives can count on at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price of $1.40 per pound for arabica coffee sold on Fairtrade terms (30 cents more if organic), plus an extra 20 cents per pound Fairtrade Premium to invest as they see fit – 5 cents of which is dedicated to improving productivity and quality.




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