Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coffee Kids; helping the coffee growers of Latin America

We were introduced to a fair trade coffee shop that takes things one step further. Not only so they give the farmers a fair price, they also provide health care, school improvements and gardens by partnering with other non-profits. So not only do the growers get more cash but their entire community receives more benefits to help lift the entire village out of poverty.

The on-line coffee shop is called Coffee Kids. An entire list of the projects meeting the other needs of coffee growers can be found on the project page of their website.

We learned of the fair trade concern by coming across an interview with Coffee Kids director Carolyn Fairman. In a story for newspaper the The Santa Fe Reporter, writer Charlotte Jusinski talks to Fairman about the nature of the coffee business.

Coffee farmers only earn 3 to 4 cents per pound. Why so little?
Coffee is one of those commodities that, even though it’s the second highest-traded legal commodity after oil, coffee farmers are about the only people who don’t get to say what the price is for their coffee. It’s a world-market price. The coffee cherry will rot in 24 to 36 hours if it’s not processed, so it’s a take-it-or-leave-it price.

So what does the world market mean for coffee?
Here’s an example—it depends largely upon what happens in Brazil. If Brazil has a frost or any kind of trauma to their coffee crop, the prices can go up, and the rest of the world’s farmers are happy. If not, there’s a glut of coffee, and the farmers don’t know what else to do besides grow more coffee to try and make more money. But that doesn’t really solve anything. That’s why Coffee Kids is about alternatives to coffee so that farmers can continue to harvest their coffee, even when prices are low. Because coffee farming is what they do—it’s their culture; it’s their passion.

What is it about coffee that is so unsustainable?
Coffee is harvested three to five months out of the year. Farmers are supposed to make enough money in those three to five months to feed themselves for a year, but they barely make enough to feed themselves through the harvest. So when Coffee Kids can provide alternative projects like microcredit [for funding gardens or small non-coffee businesses], people who haven’t had access to the local economy are contributing when there is no money from coffee. People like to talk about sustainable coffee, but there is no such thing as sustainable coffee. It’s sustainable communities.

What’s it like to visit the farmers?
They often live in wooden shacks. They give you the one chair that they have in the house to sit in. And I learn so much from the coffee farmers when I visit. One woman, a member of a microcredit group in Veracruz, Mexico, in a very rural area, said to me, ‘You know, some days we have meat, and some days we don’t. We’re doing pretty good.’ And I still get teary right now saying it. Why is that OK? You really get a perspective on what poverty is.


liQuid heaVen said...

Great post! A real eye-opening article. Thanks for sharing this.

Athie said...

I see, and are very pleased, that you really care about the conditions in which poor people live. I live in Mexico and work for an organization ho helps poor kids called Fondo Para Niños de Mexico, and I've seen all this you talk about, it's really astonishing. I created a website to help raise funds for these kids, in case you or anyone is interested, i welcome you to visit it. Thank you very much.

Kyle Freund said...

Hi Kale,
Thanks so much for posting on Coffee Kids. We appreciate the coverage and it helps spread the word, which is fantastic.

One important distinction though, we don't actually sell coffee. We work with coffee-farming communities to create more vibrant local economies and provide alternatives to coffee by supporting locally-managed programs. The families know best how to confront their problems, we just provide the support.