Recently, I traveled to Puerto Rico by invitation of their Dept. of Agriculture. I spent a week exploring their Puerto Rico coffee industry. I met farmers, processors, roasters, cafes and government personnel well versed in coffee. They asked me to help them begin a specialty coffee segment of their industry.
Shortly after visiting the commonwealth, they sent a delegation to Hawaii to see first-hand how it is done here. I took them to 9 farms on 3 islands. They saw a variety of processors, roasters, retail shops, and cafes. They even spent some time with the Hawaii department of agriculture. In less than a week, they saw more of the Hawaiian industry than most people see in a lifetime!
I think everyone, myself included, learned a lot from these trips. Most importantly, we discovered just how much these two coffee origins are alike. Oh, Hawaii is a more advanced industry than PR but we face many of the same challenges and struggles.
One example of this is the cost of doing business. As a U.S. Commonwealth, Puerto Rico is subject to many (all?) of the federal rules that Hawaii is subject to. This means they must abide by the same labor and wage laws, environmental laws, and other business regulations that the entire Union abides by. While these laws and regulations are positive contributors to healthy and equality-rich societies, they add a tremendous financial burden to companies. Consequently, the cost of doing business and creating a product is higher than most places in the world.
What does all this matter? Well, for Hawaii and Puerto Rico, the two major tropical areas of the U.S., this means it costs a lot more to produce anything here (coffee, for our discussion) than it does in nearly all other tropical countries. Quite simply, Hawaii and Puerto Rico can't compete on price when it comes to coffee, no matter how little profit we want to take. So, yes, Hawaiian coffee and Puerto Rico coffee will be more expensive than most - but for good reason! As a result, we don't have Fair Trade in the U.S. because we don't need it. The ideals that Fair Trade upholds are built into the very fabric of our society!
So, when you see a high priced Hawaiian coffee or Puerto Rico coffee, don't scoff right away. Know that it is produced with care to all members in the production chain (and the environment). Of course, you still need to evaluate the quality of the product and decide for yourself if you like it. No price tag will ever guarantee that. :-)
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