Ethical buying and ethical selling
As well as ethical buying from growers to make sure they get rewarded for the quality product, sequestration of carbon and avoidance of chemicals in the environment, there is also a thing like ethical selling. We need to keep organic products affordable so more people can buy them.
The poverty cycle
A lot of small growers live of their land. They grow their own food and get their drinking water, fuel and construction materials from the land. Coffee is grown as cash crop. These people often produce very good, chemical-free coffee as they look after their little farm. It is all they possess, it is all they can pass on. However that quality is not valued by the traders who often work for very large businesses, buying 1000s of T of coffee and even if they have a specialty, organic stream they will try to convince these often less connected people, who have no means to physically take their coffee somewhere else, that whatever they offer is the market price. Traders love small unorganised growers as the trader can set the price. The prices they offer will be the lowest they can get away with, and if they drive the farmer off in despair they are often happy to take over the farm for bargain price as eg settlement for cash advancements they provided. Traders quite like them hooked on chemicals knowing they will be back for increasingly more chemicals and needing more advancements on the next crop to pay for them. They are stuck. The moment they stop being organic there is even less reason to not give them the lowest market price possible. Of course this is a crude and cruel description but in essence that is unfortunately what often happens, also on much bigger non-coffee farms.
Cooperatives as solution
The solution to the divide and conquer strategy of traders who make very healthy profits, is to work together as small farmers in community groups and cooperatives. With some assistance to buy processing equipment they can process coffee to a level and quantity where they have more choice of traders, especially if they can afford a truck. Once even bigger they can reach out to foreign buyers, which compared to 10 or so years ago is of course much easier with internet.
In countries where poor farmers and workers get taken advantage of, often amongst themselves, and in case of Peru, Colombia and Central America, where many communities carry scars from internal conflict, it is hard to find trust and enough motivation to set up coops despite its advantages. Fairtrade will give a decent minimum price protection and a premium which is often warranted for the better quality, but more so for the organic practices. Fairtrade helps with regulations, coop governance and implementation. This is what helps to have these people form cooperatives and give them a better income, a better bargaining position and often a better quality product.
True cost accounting
You never hear small farmers talk about return on investment. For them their farm is everything. It is their live. For large corporations or large farming operations the land is mostly just another investment and in order to maximise return on investment only one crop is grown and the growable area is maximised, and huts and trees are removed. Profits are to be maximised to have the investment paid back as soon as possible and big profits early pay back the fastest. Lands are cleared and flattened. With a very low cost of capital for large businesses, machines are cheap to replace workers but bad for soil. Then add some chemicals in the mix to bump up those profits whilst the soils are still good and one started the vicious circle of soil and environmental degradation requiring more chemicals each year for continuously less nutritious and less flavoursome crops and eventually falling yields. Who is paying for global warming, the cleaning up of waterways, collapse of biodiversity, health issues from chemical use and monocrops causing allergies? There is a real cost to all this and all these small organic farmers and almost-organic farmers, should get a better price for their efforts to not cause this damage and for producing a better product.
See Fairtrade clip, push play button on the left.
The benefits of organic agriculture are consistently understated leaving consumers think there is little difference and not prepared to pay what should be only a relatively small premium. There is a huge difference.
Apart from us saying it and showing some pictures, why would you believe we do the right thing? Hence we are Fairtrade certified and support SPP.coop the only schemes that truly set a minimum price for the small growers that produce nutritious food that doesn't cost earth.
Unfortunately Organic and Fairtrade certified products often cost a lot more to the consumer than what the difference in farmgate price is. Someone is trying to make money from your good conscious to buy ethical products. By doing so the products can become quite unaffordable to many and not offer the quality expected. The difference in price is a big dampener on demand which slows the growth of organic agriculture. We are passionate about making organics affordable and making it grow so we only pass on farmgate differentials.
Ask for certified products! In NZ fair trade and organic are non-protected words and they can mean just about anything without certification.