I’ve been meaning to post a link to this for a while. Steve Leighton has written an article on how the Fair Trade movement impacts coffee growers. It’s insightful, because he has a lot of inside knowledge when it comes to the coffee industry.
Read his article – it’s not that long, and says it better than I could. In essence, my perception is that the FT system offers the growers a certain price (slight premium) for what they will grow before they even plant. This leaves no incentive to do anything other than maximise yield. Such a system is very unlikely to produce a high quality product, and is more likely to produce a low quality product. There is an economic reason why much of the coffee sold as “FT” tastes bad.
But the end result for the farmer is that they are still not able to produce anything someone wants to buy. They remain stuck in the poverty trap. We only buy their coffee because we pity them. I have no problem with charitable handouts – at times they are the compassionate response, but the public’s perception of FT is not that of a charitable handout system.
Many of us want ways to encourage farmers in the developing world out of the poverty trap. It’s frustrating that FT isn’t it. I know enough about the coffee industry to know how to choose what I buy so as to help. But bananas – not a clue. Sugar – no idea.
I think it’s a combination of:
1. Support organisations like TEAR Fund who aim to invest in long-term development. If all the extra money people spent by buying FT goods were instead given to such aid agencies a lot could be done.
2. Where we know enough to buy in such a way as to help directly, do so.
3. Pray. Spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The spread of the reign of King Jesus [in effect, not in fact] is what will ultimately bring justice, prosperity, peace and harmony to this broken world.
All in all, a little frustrating that FT has become so chic in Christian circles.