Fair Trade USA is a non-profit certifier of Fair Trade products in the US, dealing with products from flowers to coffee. They just announced that they are reducing fees in order to increase their coffees’ attractiveness to roasters. They’re also improving their certification services to producers. Fair Trade USA plans to strengthen farming communities by investment in local coffee cooperatives. They also plan innovations in their Fair Trade model in order to bring in more farmers in more coffee growing communities internationally. Thirdly, they hope to involve consumers more by increasing the awareness and sales to further build the global Fair Trade Movement. So this is where you come in. First, we should probably clarify just what Fair Trade is, and also compare it to Direct Trade, since both certifications are used with many gourmet specialty coffees. Basically the Fair Trade model seeks to assure consumers that the products they buy are helping to support the producers, be it a coffee farmer in Ethiopia or a tea farmer in India. This certification assures us that the farmer is being paid a fair price for his products. Often this is done through farmer co-ops, which in turn use some of the profits on bettering the community through projects chosen by the farmers. In the past few years, coffee co-ops have provided improved infrastructure such as plumbing, upgrading of schools, enabling of more children to attend schools, upgraded health facilities and so on. Direct trade on the other hand is where a roaster or coffee company will open up direct relationships with the farmers and visit their farms regularly. They may consult on farming practices and generally help farmers to improve crop yields, and deliver higher profits to the farmers by cutting out the middleman. Both Fair Trade and Direct Trade seek to improve the farms involved and put more sustainable practices in place. The social impact as well as impact on the environment from coffee production are issues shared by both the Fair Trade and Direct Trade paradigms. Indeed, some coffees can be both Direct Trade AND Fair Trade. For the consumer’s viewpoint, it is hoped that lowering the costs of Fair Trade certification and broadening the participant base will bring down the price of the affected coffees. With all the factors driving coffee prices, from weather to transport fees, it remains to be seen how this change will affect the end price. At least it should help the farmer, the coffee quality and the yields, so we’ll all receive benefits one way or the other. Brew on, fairly.
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