Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fair-Trade Certified vs. Sustainable Coffee

March 30, 2007



McMaster’s University Student Newspaper

Hamilton, ON Canada

Squeeze and roll. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? For Paul Kind, this isn’t exactly true. He is the inventor of the rim roller, a device specifically used for rolling up the rim on coffee cups.

“Paul is a problem solver,” said his wife Iona. “We would go to [Tim Horton’s] every Tuesday and struggle to roll up our rims. The first thing in his mind was that there has to be a better way. He was trying to make a living and in his spare time he would put his mind to that, physically making 12 different prototypes. It went on and on for 3 years; it’s been a long process to make it the right size and shape. I’m really hoping this works well for him because he’s worked hard for so many years.”

To some, the idea of having a device to roll up the rim for you seemed a little bit ridiculous. When asked if he would be buying a rim roller, third-year theatre and film studies student Tyler Shearer replied, “Absolutely not. Why do I have to pay for a product when I can just use my thumbs?”

Other students, such as fourth-year sociology student Jenn Mosselman and third-year English student Heather Cairnie, said that they might purchase one as a stocking stuffer or a gag gift. Mosselman added that it was “hilariously intelligent that they’re making money off of a contest that people love. But it just goes to show you that our society isn’t about need, it’s about want.”

Alexa Di Cresce, a third-year theatre and film studies major, remarked, “Inventions are about novelty rather than making things better. Why not make something that matters?”

In defence of the product, Iona Kind said, “To each their own. We can’t twist anyone’s arm to buy it. Elderly people love it because it’s tough for some people if they have arthritis or other things that limit their abilities. [I’ve] received an inspiring e-mail from a lady that had taken the gadget to work and given it to a man that had one arm. Remarkably he’s able to do it himself now. Then you’ve got the people that bite the tabs and rip them off. This is way more sanitary. It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Essentially, the choice to buy into it all is up to the consumer. Some students don’t even bother purchasing Tim Horton’s coffee because they don’t practice fair trade—they use what the company refers to as a “coffee sustainability program.” According to the Tim Horton’s website “under the coffee sustainability program, small coffee producers are being provided with technical support and training to help them increase the amount and quality of coffee they produce. Our own coffee experts also travel to the growing farms to ensure that proper conditions exist for both the coffee and the workers. While we certainly agree in principle with the aims and goals of Fair Trade coffee, our dilemma is that the growers who belong to the Fair Trade ‘Certified Co-ops’ cannot supply either the volume or the quality of beans that our chain requires for our special blend. The fair trade program requires certification on behalf of the farmers, which is an expense they cannot usually afford. Plus it provides a price that has no relation to the quality of the coffee. ”

When asked to comment further on the program’s accountability and monitoring system, a Tim Horton’s representative said, “The information available on the website was all that we can share at this time.”

In defense of Fair Trade Coffee, Chantal Havard from TransFair Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to fair trade practices, said, “Specific to fair trade is a guaranteed minimum price, social premiums and long-term relations, direct contact and environmental and worker standards. There is a mechanism of monitoring involved.”

“No one knows how these other programs work. It is true that producers pay certification fees, but to make sure producers aren’t disadvantaged, Fair Trade Labelling Organizations has created a fund so that farmers can get first year certification fees waived. And it isn’t a loan, it’s a grant,” added Havard.

To further clear up the issue of Fair Trade versus Coffee Sustainability programs, Sandy McAlpine, president of the Coffee Association of Canada explained the difference between the two. With the coffee sustainability program, he said, there are “direct linkages made rather than through a certification system. They go to source countries and set up direct support relationships in order to get control over working with their suppliers. So the trade-off is more controlled; there is no third party involved.”

When asked where he thinks students should be buying their coffee from in order to be socially conscious, McAlpine replied, “With where the market is [right now], you accomplish the same thing when buying from either. One is doing about as much good as the other.”

To some, the idea of having a device to roll up the rim for you seemed a little bit ridiculous. When asked if he would be buying a rim roller, third-year theatre and film studies student Tyler Shearer replied, “Absolutely not. Why do I have to pay for a product when I can just use my thumbs?”

Friday, March 30, 2007

Size Matters In Lower East Side Coffee; (Or: The Starbucks Effect--Beware)

By Mark Wellborn

Friday March 30, 2007

Starbucks seems to have left another local coffee house in its wake. Earlier this week, The Bean Coffee and Tea, located at 118 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side, closed its doors after being in operation just four months.

While it seems the demise of the caffeine outpost, which also has a location in the East Village, could easily be attributed to the Starbucks that sits just feet away, Bean manager Guy Pujlia blamed the size of the store.

"The space was just too small," Mr. Pujlia told The Real Estate. "People would get tired of waiting in line and just go down the street to Starbucks."

Rumors have been floating around the neighborhood recently that Ini Ani, another local coffee shop, might also be falling the way of The Bean Coffee and Tea. However, an employee at the Stanton Street store, notable for the corrugated cardboard that covers its walls, confirmed that this was indeed a rumor. Long live the independent coffee house! For now.

- Mark Wellborn

Organic coffee a unique success story

by Uma Sudhir, AP/

Friday, March 30, 2007 (Araku Valley)

Tribal women from remote hills of Andhra Pradesh have wowed the world not with their dance or striking nose-rings but with their coffee.

For instance, Gemmile Tikku, a widow from Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh's Visakhapatnam district, has won national and international recognition for growing one of the best flavours of organic coffee.

However, for them to take the international market by storm, these women will need adequate support.

Coffee grower Appa Rao informs that with NGO help for better farm practices and marketing, he grows coffee that fetches him a better price and his income has more than doubled in the last couple of years.

"I used to get Rs 35-40, now I get above Rs 80-100," said Appa Rao, Coffee grower.

Brown revolution

Some 60,000 tribal families are part of this brown revolution.

They grow up to 4000 tonnes of organic coffee that has a premium niche market in the developed world.

In fact, this invigorating story has had such an impact that it drew the Union Commerce Minister to Gemmile Tikku's doorstep.

"One acre of coffee can fetch up to Rs 13,000 an year. From 75000 acres to 1.5 lakh acres, we plan to double area under coffee here in the next five years," said Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State, Commerce.

Spicing this steamy success is black pepper that is grown as a creeper along with coffee and is adding to the income.

The next step is organic certification and standardization of the coffee so that the Araku Valley organic coffee can emerge as a strong international brand.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Fair trade is improving coffee farmers' lives

By Matthew Burrows

March 1, 2007

French president Jacques Chirac has already pronounced him a Knight of the French Legion of Honour.

Dutch-born Catholic priest Francisco VanderHoff has worked for 27 years promoting fair trade as a tool of “empowerment” for the indigenous coffee farmers of his adopted Oaxaca state in southern Mexico. And in 2005, while receiving his award from Chirac in Paris, the ebullient Vander?Hoff came close to convincing British prime minister Tony Blair to make his home “totally fair trade”.

“Chirac I would call a courageous politician,” VanderHoff told the Georgia Straight over espresso in a Kitsilano coffee shop. “He has ways of adopting his more left-wing beliefs into his right-wing framework. He said fair trade was ‘urgent and necessary' in front of [then–UN secretary general] Kofi Annan. Tony Blair is more tricky, very tricky. I asked when he will make 10 Downing Street fair trade and he smiled and said, ‘It's very complicated.'?”

VanderHoff, 67, was only in Vancouver for 24 hours following a stint as keynote speaker at the Ethical Purchasing Forum at the University of Victoria on February 23 and 24. According to B.C. Co-operative Association spokesperson Michael Zelmer, who accompanied him on the trip, he can pass on a lot of wisdom with little fanfare.

“He's not formal at all, but he's very sharp,” Zelmer told the Straight by phone. “I just found out he's writing a book with Nobel Prize winners and economists Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz. I'm quite impressed with how plainspoken and grounded he is, all things considered.”

In Oaxaca, VanderHoff participated in the 1983 official launch of UCIRI (Unión de Comunidades Indígenas de la Región del Istmo), a coffee producer cooperative created to pool resources and to bypass traders—often called “coyotes” or “intermediaries” by VanderHoff. (He is also responsible for launching the first fair-trade label, Max Havelaar, in collaboration with Dutch advocate Nico Roozen.)

“I don't feel miserable but feel instead very free and very happy,” VanderHoff explained. “Fair trade gives you a different perception of what an economy is all about. When I started this, our farmers were living off US$1 a day, and that is truly miserable. But now they are at US$2 a day, while the state minimum is US$4, so that is still poverty. But it is a 100-percent increase.”

VanderHoff also claims the cooperative model he has developed has enabled his community to sustain itself while developing health care, a guaranteed food and water supply, and education. He said he still lives on US$2 a day.

In 2003, North Shore resident Lloyd Bernhardt cofounded the Vancouver-based Ethical Bean Coffee Company with his wife, Kim Schachte. He told the Straight he spent some time talking to VanderHoff and felt it was important for local coffee connoisseurs to start making the connection to the farmers.

“What fair trade essentially does is get rid of a lot of people who don't supply value,” Bernhardt said. “It's tough work [for the farmers], who are typically in a co-op, each member with his own family farm of one to two hectares, while a group will get together and share a mill where they do the harvesting [from November to March]. It's lots of work and it encourages cooperation because individual farmers cannot afford their own mills.”

Bernhardt said he was in the software business but spent four months in Guatemala when he and his wife adopted their seven-year-old daughter from that country. He began to make “instant connections” in his head while observing the Guatemalan coffee farmers.

“There are approximately 25 $4 double espressos in a pound of coffee,” he said. “That's $100 of product. As a wholesaler paying $40 a pound, that looks pretty good. It also looks good to a roaster.”

Until a few years ago, the farmer's share of that pound of coffee was US60 cents, Bernhardt said. Since that time, a minimum of US$1.46 has been installed to help the farmers avoid the vagaries of price fluctuations and to get them a fair price. It also proves that, as Zelmer and VanderHoff believe, there is flexibility along the chain to help farmers at no extra cost to the consumer.

“Of the local coffee sold in Vancouver and Canada as a whole, we're probably talking about one to two percent being fair trade,” Bernhardt said. “Look at Starbucks and the institutional side; most of that is not fair trade. Starbucks has one product line, and another that is organic. Otherwise, they sell all that [non-fair-trade] coffee, so that's not a whole lot. But we are growing and we have to make sure that we do it in a way that is sustainable.”

Originally published in The Georgia Straight Vancouver Ontario, Canada. March 1, 2007.