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In 2001, coffee prices hit a 30-year low in 2001, affecting tens of millions of small-holder farmers and farm workers around the developing world. The crash of 2001 was part of a long trend in which coffee farmers, workers and coffee-exporting countries have seen the value of coffee diminish. It forced many farmers to lose their farms and move to cities or other countries.
In Colombia, some farmers who once could make a good living harvesting coffee turned to growing coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, to support themselves and adding to the illegal drug problem.
Market volatility and declining terms of trade were part of the problem. According to the International Coffee Organization, coffee production was increasing an average of 3.6 percent per year as of 2002, while coffee consumption was growing only 1.5 percent.
Another part was lack of resources, marketing expertise, technical knowledge and access to money, making it difficult for farmer to compete in the global market and earn a sustainable livelihood.
What do rain forests have to do with coffee?
Gourmet coffee beans are produced at a high elevation in Asia, Latin America and Africa, which are also forestlands that are home to many species of wildlife that can be found no where else.
Since coffee started to become more popular after the 1970s, coffee growers have removed many shade trees and replaced them with high-yield full-sun varieties of coffee plant.
Full sun has lead to soil erosion, which requires fertilization and pesticides. It has also removed the natural habitat for wildlife that lived in the forests. Scientists say this is harming songbirds. It has also altered the migratory pattern of birds that travel through this region.
At least half the coffee in Latin America has been converted to full sun and this land is of no value to birds and other wildlife.
Organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance are working toward helping farmers stay in the shade coffee business through reforestation and getting the word out so that companies and consumers make decisions with the environment and sustainable development in mind. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a partner company to the Rainforest Alliance. To purchase coffees that keep coffee farmers and their communities in mind, look for Green Mountain Fair Trade coffee and Organic coffee in whole beans, grinds and single cup K-Cups.
Fair Trade started in Europe in 1940s with faith-based groups that bought crafts and food products from refugees and sold them in communities. However, Fair Trade as we know it today has its roots in America in 1986.
A coffee crisis was sending small-scale farmers into debt, and many were plunging into poverty. In response to this, Equal Exchange, a Massachusetts-based worker coop, brought the first Fair Trade coffee into the United States.
Fair Trade certification began in 1988, in the Netherlands, setting coffee industry standards for certification. Other nations operated according to their own standards. But in 1997 the Fairtrade Labeling Organization was born, creating an international set of Fair Trade standards.
The next year, TransFair was created. It is a non-profit organization and one of 20 members of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization that sets Fair Trade Standards. TransFair's audit system tracks products from the farm to the product to verify that they comply with Fair Trade criteria. It also allows U.S. companies to display the Fair Trade Certified label on products that meet criteria.
The taste of socially responsible coffee is quite similar to the taste of other good coffee. The difference is how it affects the entire chain, from the farmer to the worker, to the beans, to your cup, or the cup of the person to whom you are giving the coffee.
When you buy Fair Trade coffee it helps the coffee farmer take care of himself or herself and you don't sacrifice flavor. Fair Trade coffee is not limited to a certain roast or blend. It can come in pumpkin spice, eggnog, breakfast blend, French roast and more. Espresso can also be Fair Trade.
Fair Trade might also mean better taste because the farmers can offer their farm workers fair wages and also allow them to go through the farms more thoroughly to find ripe berries. The quality of the berries matters because they will ultimately become your coffee.
To find out if you favorite coffee comes in Fair Trade, check out the website for Trans Fair U.S.A.
Fair Trade Coffee is a certification that coffee farmers are paid a fair price and that farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions and living wages. Farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects. Fair Trade Coffee makes it more possible for farmers to lift themselves out of poverty by deciding how to invest revenues and compete in a global marketplace.
So, how will you know if a coffee is a Fair Trade Coffee? Look for the label.
TransFair USA, a non-profit organization, is the only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. It allows American companies to display the Fair Trade Certified label on products that meet strict Fair Trade standards.
Coffee is not the only product that can carry the Fair Trade label. Tea, herbs, cocoa, chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla can also be certified.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters offers Fair Trade certified coffee in whole bean, infusion, manual drip, auto drip, espresso, Turkish and K-Cups. On its website, Green Mountain assures customers that choosing Fair Trade Certified Coffee improve the quality of life in coffee communities around the world while getting a great cup of coffee.