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The Fair Coffee Trade: Spilling the beans

Diana Forbes | Interrobang | News | September 12th, 2005



You can now get one step closer to saving the world just by ordering your morning coffee.

No, unfortunately Tim Hortons is not looking to sponsor a superhero, but the Oasis is selling coffee that is guaranteed to ensure coffee bean farmers are making a living wage, also known as Fair Trade coffee.

Fair Trade organizations ensure that farmers who produce coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, honey and bananas reap the benefits of their labour, instead of the middleman who controls the market.

Grinders, located within the Oasis in the FSU building, sells an Ethiopian blend coffee in 12 oz-recycled cups for $2.25. A company called Planet Bean, who roasts the beans in Guelph, guarantees the beans are bought at a premium so farmers can invest in education and health care.

“We thought we could do something to help,” said Brian Harness, Kitchen Manager at the Oasis. Harness, in collaboration with the Fanshawe Student Union, was inspired to make a contribution after the Live 8 awareness campaign.

Ethiopia, Brazil, Angola, India and Vietnam are just four of the over 50 countries that produce coffee around the world. According to the Fair Trade Foundation, the industry provides a living for more than 20 million farmers, and another 80 million people are involved in the growing, processing, trading and retailing of coffee on a global scale.

In the late 1980's the global coffee trade faced oversupply when the International Coffee Agreement was discarded, due to pressure from the Reagan administration to liberalize trade, and Vietnam entered the coffee game. As a result, prices plummeted and coffee buyers began to control the market.

Big companies like Nestle, Kraft and Sarah Lee profited from the oversupply because costs were less, but commercially packaged or brewed coffee prices stayed the same. The losers in the situation were the growers, who were forced to sell their produce for less to stay competitive in the global market.

According to the Fair Trade Federation, a fair price must cover the cost of production and allows a margin for investment. As of 2002, the minimum Fairtrade price for Arabica beans, which are used to make more expensive grounds, was $1.26 per pound, which is 162 per cent above respective international market price. Fairtrade bought Robusta beans, used to make instant coffees and stronger blends, for $1.06 per pound, which is 488 per cent above international market price.

According to the Coffee Association of Canada, 63 per cent of Canadians drink coffee on a daily basis, and an additional 18 per cent drink java occasionally, which makes coffee the number one beverage choice for adults in this country. In comparison, only 49 per cent of our neighbours to the south drink coffee everyday.
  • As of 2003, only 11 per cent of Canadians were aware of Fair Trade
  • On average, Canadians drink 2.6 cups of coffee a day
  • Coffee is a great source of antioxidants, which protects the drinker from toxic free radicals and prevent chronic diseases
  • Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after petroleum
  • It takes 42 coffee beans to make an espresso
  • Fairtrade coffee is sold at Starbucks
  • 66 per cent of coffee is consumed at home
  • Currently there are approximately 2,200 ships involved in transporting the beans each year
  • The word coffee originated from an Arabic word which means "excitement"
  • 51 per cent of java drinkers have it with breakfast
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