Sustainable gourmet coffee and fair trade coffee

May 12 16:16 2008 boake moore Print This Article

how to really help someone by buying a cup of coffee

Let me start by acknowledging I am the middle man you guys mention - I own Mission Grounds Gourmet Coffee and give all my profits to orphans. I own an IT company too so no one draws a salary so all the profits go to kids. I am a US citizen but own a coffee farm in Costa Rica. The family I bought the farm from still farm it for free - I buy my coffee from the Co-Op my farm belongs to in Costa Rica

Here are the problems with Fair Trade and here are the problems with buying coffee directly from the farmer. In Costa Rica and as in most coffee countries the farmers you want to help don't have any resources or assets. Most dont have telephones or computers or any other means to know about Fair trade,Guest Posting so 95% of the poor farmers we want to help don't even know what fair trade is. And they don't have the resources to set up an on line business or to even pay the transportation costs. Most barely have running water ; some might even have electricity. And none have a FDA import licensce or the money to set up the bonds needed for Dept. of Agriculture import inspections.

Secondly almost all sale their coffee to a co -op or coffee roaster - its the only market they know or have - local sales. Fair Trade was set up for Americans to then be the middle man and have Americans feel good about themselves. In theory its a great idea - in practice it has done very little to help the small farmer. and in this cycle the worse off - are the laborers and children who pick the coffee - making lless than a $1 per hour. Do you think the farmers who are fair trade certified pass their extra money to the laborers? or the ones who aren't.

 And the thing that is wrong about Fair Trade is you only have to certify you paid $ 1.26 per pound for the coffee - it doesn't matter who you paid. So a Starbucks can pay the middleman or the roaster - $1.26 and its certified Fair Trade. And this middle man may have paid the farmer $.40 and eveyone drinking Fair trade coffee from Starbucks thinks they are helping a farmer. Please drink some coffee and wake up to the truth.

So unless you travel to that poor farmers farm you have no chance of helping him directly. They just don't have the communications, resources, distribution to get their coffee to you. Plus the US requires all coffee to be roasted before it comes here. So even green coffee is roasted 10%. In a third world country very few people have the resources to buy a coffee roaster. so the coffee roaster controls the coffee. And the money. And hes the guy who is Fair Trade certified. And he keeps the extra money Fair Trade brings. Amazing the Americans came up with an idea that helps the rich get richer. And we feel good about it.

If you want to truly help buy Thousand Hills Coffee - they use the proceeds to help farmers and laborers in Africa. Or buy Mission Grounds Coffee  which helps orphans and homeless kids with their profits. and we buy our coffee from the farmers co op at $1.50 per pound.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainable coffee is produced on a farm with high biological diversity and low chemical inputs. It conserves resources,

protects the environment, produces efficiently, competes commercially and enhances the quality of life for farmers and

society as a whole.

A sustainable coffee should be developed with the following guiding principles:

Practices will promote the protection of biological diversity, soils, and clean water, and enhance global carbon

sequestration, not only through farm management but also by the protection of watershed vegetation and other

patches of natural vegetation, reforestation, minimal use of agrochemicals and compliance with wildlife protection

laws and the integrity of existing parks and reserves.


2. All interested parties should have input into the development of criteria, particularly the farmers themselves.

3. Sustainable practices should be verifiable by disinterested party.

The quality of the product will be maintained or enhanced during the process of conversion to more sustainable



5. Producers should have fair access to information and credit necessary to shift to more sustainable systems.

6. Producers should have ready access to new markets developed for sustainable coffee.

7. System should promote the economic diversification of producer families.

8. Production should comply with internationally recognized standards of treatment of workers and their families.

Practices should promote the protection of cultural diversity, particularly locally-based knowledge systems of




As we work to define criteria, we have to keep in mind how they will be used, the application systems. Do we want to just

reward the best producers or encourage many producers to improve? Should the standards be so strict that only the top 5

percent of producers can comply, or should they be flexible to engage the greatest number of producers? In the interest of

fairness, we advocate a ranking system that places farms in categories such as good, better and best Four-star systems, for

example, are commonly used to rate hotels, movies and records coupled with a set of minimum criteria that must be met.

Such a graded system could easily be adapted to existing classifications of shade management (see below) or to

transitional versus formerly certified organic practices.

It should be remembered that not all of the production criteria are under the control of the farmer. Some, particularly those

involving trade practices, should be seen as characterizing the relationship between farmer and merchant in the

marketplace. Finally, some of the goals of establishing sustainable coffee fall outside of the power of the farmer or

merchants and may need to be addressed outside of the following production criteria.


Environmental Issues

Management of shade trees and other on-farm vegetation, such as riparian corridors and forest remnants to

conserve biodiversity.


l   Provide healthy environments for workers and downstream communities.

l   Protect waterways (buffer zones along streams, for example) and sources of drinking water.

Reduce soil erosion through shade management, employing agronomic techniques, and planting on hills with

appropriate slopes.


Manage and reduce or eliminate pesticide and chemical fertilizer use through use of biological control and other

organic practices.


l   Use a pruning regime that will have minimal impact on biological diversity.

l   Minimize use of fuel wood for drying.

l   Encourage use of traditional varieties and varieties that are resistant to pests.

l   Protect wildlife from direct threats such as hunting and collecting.

l   Control pollution at mills, both wet and dry.

l   Maintain machinery and equipment to avoid contamination from fuel, fluids and lubricants.

Social Issues

l   Guarantee a fair and stable prices for producers.

l   Provide access to credit to producers employing sustainable technologies.

l   Promote democratization and community participation in all aspects of sustainable coffee production.

l   Provide technical assistance and environmental education for farmers shifting to sustainable technologies.

l   Insure adequate wages, housing, and health care for workers.

l   Provide access to markets for all producers, irrespective of farm size.


Shade Management

To maximize biological diversity, shade trees of coffee plantations should be taxonomically and structurally diverse,

provide shade over most of the farm throughout the year, and support abundant epiphytes, mosses, lichens, and parasitic

plant assemblages. Tree pruning should be kept to a minimum and whenever possible be conducted at the onset or during

the rainy season. Snags and dead limbs should be maintained as much as possible. Native and evergreen tree species

should be used as much as possible.

Quantitative measurement of these parameters, however, may be logistically difficult and the development of specific

values is probably beyond what is currently possible with existing peer-reviewed research results. Therefore, we

recommend that a gestalt classification of coffee agro-ecosystems be employed, similar to the one currently used in

Mexico. This system recognizes distinct nodes in the gradient of coffee plantation diversity (Figure 1) and can be modified

to include additional systems, such as monocultural deciduous shade, and monocultural Grevillea plantations. In a graded

system we would set the minimum at commercial, evergreen, polycultural shade and provide additional achievement stars

for traditional polycultural and rustic plantations.

In addition, buffer zones of unmanaged native shrubs and trees should border watercourses. These buffer zones should be

scaled to either farm or stream size. A hedge row or living fence should border the plantation and plantation roads. The

question of forest protection is complex. Although I discussed the possibility of a prohibition against converting forest to

shade coffee plantation, it is possible that such a restriction would under some circumstances encourage deforestation to

other land uses (such as cattle pasture).

Agrochemical Use

In the long run, most chemicals are damaging to the environment and all efforts should be made to eliminate their use.

Organic growing techniques should be the first option used. The endpoint for the sustainable coffee criteria should be the

prohibition of chemical use except in emergency situations. Such an allowance is made under organic certification if a) all

nonchemical techniques have been implemented and failed; b) only the least toxic chemicals are used with carefully

controlled applications; and c) application is conducted with the consultation and oversight of the certifier. In addition, it is

recommended that the following classes of chemicals should never be used: herbicides, nematocides, and chlorinated

hydrocarbons. The use of organic techniques for soil improvement should be emphasized and chemical fertilizers avoided.

When chemical fertilizers are used, they should be mixed with organic fertilizers and direct application to waterways

avoided. A graded system could be adopted where farms using small quantities of pesticides in an Integrated Pest

Management system and low levels of chemical fertilizers receive a one star rating and strictly organic or transitional

organic a two star rating.

Pollution Control and Energy Conservation in Processing

Certification must be separate for the farm mills since the producer often has little control over post-harvest processing.

Agrochemicals should never be used in processing or storage. Coffee pulp should be used as natural fertilizer and never

dumped directly into waterways. Mills should employ waste processing and water-saving systems. When the appropriate

technology for residual water is available, it should be phased in. Pollution control to reduce air contamination should be

phased in as well. Fuel wood for drying should be minimized and obtained from sustainable harvested sources. Patio

drying should be used whenever feasible. Alternative fuels, such as coffee husks and trimmings or solar energy should be

used as much as possible.

Social and Economic Relationships

Brokers or roasters should provide a fair and stable price for producers using existing formulae developed by fair trade

organizations as a starting point. The price should include all costs that are incurred to transform and maintain

environmental sustainability including the cost of certification itself.

Help ensure access to credit for production, processing, marketing and conversion to environmentally sound technologies.

Technical assistance and environmental education should be available to all members of coffee growing communities. The

formation and maintenance of democratically run producer cooperatives should be supported. Laborers should receive

wages equal to or greater than the legally mandated minimum wage for agricultural workers. When workers are provided

housing, it should provide adequate living conditions. Health care and proper sanitation should also be provided. All

producers should have fair access to the newly forming sustainable coffee markets. Particular attention should be paid to

small-scale producers through the fostering of more direct relationships between producer and roaster.

A Comparison of Systems

Table 1 compares the recommended guidelines of this working group (Sustainable) to some systems that are either in

existence or far along in the planning process: organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance's ECO-OK label, Conservation

International's coffee program guidelines, and the point system of Thanksgiving Coffee.


Two strategies exist for the promotion of sustainable coffee in the marketplace. We can work with the above existing

systems (organic and fair trade) which already have a significant market share, name recognition, and an established

infrastructure. Or we can develop a new, more holistic program that incorporates, from its inception, all of the aspects of

sustainable coffee.

Strategy 1. Working with existing seals

Overall, Organic and Fair Trade certification address different and complementary aspects of coffee production. The two

systems already interact to a great degree, particularly in the European market. Together the two seals cover many of the

concerns of sustainable coffee. However, they do not address all of the possible aspects of sustainable production. Most

notably missing from the environmental side of the equation are criteria concerned specifically with shade management

and the conservation of vegetation buffer zones and forest patches. In addition, organic certification does not directly

address many of the aspects of pollution control at the mill.

In terms of social issues, since fair trade targets small producers in cooperatives, there is little leverage for addressing the

concerns of farm labor--an issue that faces many coffee farms, but particularly larger farms. In addition, for a variety of

reasons, many de facto organic farms are not certified and therefore receive no particular compensation for what is

essentially good land stewardship in the marketplace. Although all issues that are not addressed by current seals probably

cannot be incorporated, many can. Discussions should begin with groups involved with organic certification and fair trade

to consider addressing some of the issues that have fallen between the cracks. Already OCIA has expressed an interest in

incorporating shade management in organic certification.

Strategy 2. Creation of New Seals

Although the Thanksgiving Coffee system takes an innovative approach which incorporates many facets of sustainable

production, it is not designed to be systematically verified or certified by a disinterested party and so I will not consider its

merits further here. This leaves the ECO-OK certification system and the Conservation International program as two

existing alternative programs. The advantage of promoting these new approaches is that the full complement of issues

underlying sustainable production can be incorporated from their inception, rather than added on. I have already listed

some of the issues not currently addressed by Fair Trade or Certified Organic.

Conservation coffees tend to be more inclusive in their approach, attempting to impact as much land under management as

possible. In order to achieve this, the systems tend to be more flexible or set lower minimum performance levels.

However, this may result in undermining the work that has already gone into the existing programs. ECO-OK, for

example, replaces strict adherence to certified organic practices with a more flexible and less rigorous approach to

agrochemical inputs. In addition, issues pertaining to small-scale farmers are largely ignored and a greater emphasis is

placed on enlisting large producers. By doing this ECO-OK may be addressing a relatively larger area initially and might

also have some impact on the treatment of workers and worker families on large plantations. ECO-OK calls for relatively

minimal changes in shade management practices and appears to rely more on informal incentives and further education to

promote more diversified shade systems. How ECO-OK could dovetail with Organic Certification is unclear.

The Conservation International program begins to incorporate the concept of a graded system and allows for the

incorporation of organic certification. Similar to ECO-OK, the CI program allows for entry with minimally diverse shade

management and calls for improvement of shade up the scale to traditional polycultural shade after inclusion into the

program. However, the program has no specific requirements or marketplace incentives for this to occur. While not

embracing Fair Trade, CI proposes some progressive economics including a guarantee of price over cost of production and

access to credit for small farmers.

Final Comment

We may find it impossible to develop a fully unified approach to certifying and promoting sustainable coffee. My feeling

is that the mission of Fair Trade is so focused and well defined that it will have to stand separately as the environmental

criteria are hammered out. Because the infrastructure and markets already exist, I would argue that all efforts should be

made to broaden the issues approached in Organic Certification. When shade management is fully incorporated into

Organic Certification using a graded classification system, then these coffees can be promoted to the larger potential

markets concerned with such issues as bird conservation. Thinking of the systems in the broader sense, it seems that the

more flexible guidelines of conservation coffee and the more rigorous criteria of Organics could be incorporated into a

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boake moore
boake moore

boake moore owns mission grounds gourmet coffee


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