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Fair Trade Coffee -- An Update

We noticed a story in last Sunday's New York Times (April 22) that reported fair trade coffee deals were proving to be beneficial for farmers and forests in the impoverished Mexican state of Chiapas.

"In this coffee region, known as Jaltenango, on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre," reported Elisabeth Malkin, "the [fair trade] programs appear to be making a difference, farmers say. Higher prices for certified beans have trickled down to some growers, and certification has had an environmental impact."

That was good news to us, since we had ventured into the same Sierra Madre coffee growing region in 2003 to report favorably on the "fair trade" phenomenon. You can watch our report, "Coffee Country."

One of the most popular stories we have ever broadcast, "Coffee Country" was reported by Sam Quinones and produced by Joe Rubin, who followed a group of fair trade activists and coffee importers from the United States on a tour of southern Mexico and the highlands of Guatemala. The delegation was led by Bob Stiller, president of the Vermont coffee company, Green Mountain.

Here's what viewers had to say about our story...

In his report, a skeptical Quinones ended up at the first Starbucks to open in Mexico City, so we were also interested to see the Times report that Starbucks is now paying $1.43 a pound for fair trade organic coffee from Mexico co-ops, well above the market price of $1.08.

Ironically, Quinones can't stand the taste of coffee himself, as he revealed in an interview with us. But in reporting "Coffee Country" for FRONTLINE/World, Quinones came to see the fair trade contracts as a life raft for poor farmers.

Quinones has been covering Mexico and immigration issues for many years, and always has something unique and provocative to say, so we were doubly pleased this week to learn that he has a new book "Antonio's Gun and Delfino's Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration," which earned a rave review in The San Francisco Chronicle, whose critic called him, "the most original American writer on the border and Mexico..."

You may want to pick up a copy to read -- along with your next mug of fair trade-certified organic coffee.