Can a cup of coffee change the world?

Brown's Center for Environmental Studies is presenting a program tonight on Fair Trade coffee and the power of consumers:

Thursday, February 28

7:00 pm in MacMillan Hall 117


Dean Cycon of Dean's Beans will present Justice in the Coffeelands: The Social, Economic & Environmental Impact of Fair/Unfair Trade in the Coffee Communities of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Free and open to the public.

Fair trade coffee and java drops will be served prior to the lecture (6:30pm).

Here's part of a previous story I wrote on the subject:

CAN A CUP of coffee change the world?

For embattled small-scale farmers like 28-year-old Carlos Reynoso, whose colleagues cultivate coffee beans in the western highlands of Guatemala, the daily choices of US consumers have a big impact. When most people in the US buy a $3 latte, a cup of java on the go, or a bag of beans at the supermarket, they unsuspectingly support a status quo in which poor growers in Latin America, Asia, and Africa receive as little as 20 or 25 cents for a pound of high-grade coffee. But when consumers buy Fair Trade coffee — which guarantees farmers a minimum price of $1.26 per pound — their spending fosters a variety of positive effects, not the least of which is the ability of these growers to sustain their livelihoods.

As one of six employees of Manos Campesinas, a collective that coordinates coffee exports for more than a thousand small growers, Reynoso has personally seen the impact. Since global coffee prices began plummeting a few years ago, many farmers have been unable to earn enough to support themselves, causing them to abandon the land and search elsewhere for work. Since Manos Campesinas became Fair Trade–certified in 1999, however, the heightened revenue stream has raised the income of farmers, he says, enabling their families to enjoy a better diet and their children to remain in school.

Speaking through a translator during a telephone interview arranged by the nonprofit development agency Oxfam America, Reynoso notes that Fair Trade isn’t a panacea for poverty. It does, however, offer some substantial big-picture benefits in a country fair like Guatemala, which suffered from decades of violence and anti-union activity after a US-backed coup in 1954. "Now people are realizing there are benefits to organization, and that if they can work together, they can achieve greater things," Reynoso says. There’s still not sufficient demand to sell all of the collective’s coffee through Fair Trade channels, he adds, "[But] the more that consumers get to know what Fair Trade means, the more possibilities we will have."

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