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World Trade


Fair Trade: The Humane Buzz
Coffee is the world's top-selling agricultural product, bar none. But when market prices hit an all-time low in early 2001, the bean that brings so much heart-pounding pleasure to consumers became a nightmare for its growers and their impoverished communities.

Market prices remain so low that most farmers fetch less money for a pound of green coffee than it costs to produce, resulting in wide-spread bankruptcies, unemployment, and misery in the world's coffee-growing regions. An estimated 20 million households worldwide rely on coffee production for income, and now many farms are calling it quits.

But fear not, java enthusiasts. You can still enjoy your a.m. jolt and know that farmers are getting a fair shake, too. A small but growing new movement to support equitable conditions ensures that coffees with the "Fair Trade" label come from democratically-run cooperatives where workers earn a living wage.

Livelyhood's "Planet Work 1" special features a Fair Trade collective in Guatemala. Coffee farming is still hard work, but as one farmer explains, owning and running their own farm makes all the difference in the world. Fair Trade farms are guaranteed $1.26 per pound of green coffee (more for organic), where other producers get a mere $.50 per pound from coffee middlemen.

Livelyhood follows the caffeine high road to Green Mountain Coffee of Vermont, one of 91 coffee roasters in the U.S. certified to sell Fair Trade coffee. Other companies who offer Fair Trade varieties include Pete's, Starbucks, and Tully's. Those in search of a humane buzz can find Fair Trade coffees in some 7,000 retail outlets in the U.S., including Safeway and Borders Books. Coffees bearing the distinctive black-and-white "Fair Trade" label cost about the same as other gourmet and organic coffees.

Transfair USA of Oakland, California is the non-profit behind Fair Trade certification in the U.S.. They report that though certified beans make up only a fraction of the $18 billion U.S. coffee market, Fair Trade coffees, along with organic coffees, are the fastest growing segment of that market. They expect to see eight million pounds of Fair Trade-certified green coffee beans sold in the U.S. in 2001.

In addition to the social benefits of collectively-grown coffee, most Fair Trade beans are pesticide-free, shade grown, and thus bird-friendly.

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