The first step

By Gareth Williams

For many students coffee is a necessity. It gets us going for those eight o’clock lectures and keeps us awake for those late night study sessions. However, the next time you buy a cup of coffee, take a moment to think about the people whose lives really do rely on coffee.

Seasonal coffee bean harvesters in a country like Nicaragua currenltly make barely enough to support themselves and their families. For less than the price of a cup of coffee at a coffee bar, they will have to feed, clothe and shelter their entire family.

Most of the coffee consumed in North America comes from South and Central American countries where small sharehold farmers and workers struggle to survive selling their coffee beans in a buyer’s market. The international price of green coffee beans is currently at a 30-year low.

This means that large companies like Starbucks and Nestle are making “venti” sized profits by buying beans at prices that are often lower than the cost of growing them.

Low wages in countries like Nicaragua are not necessarily the fault of large corporations, who insist they must buy beans at market value or risk being undercut by other companies with lower prices. The current low international price for beans is also due in part to international organizations like the World Bank that encourage developing countries to pursue growth in export-based areas of their economy (like coffee beans) in an attempt to boost their economies. However, the plan was short-sighted and the world market was flooded as a result. What that means is some of the poorest people in the world have to deal with some of the wealthiest in a market stacked against them.

There needs to be drastic action to correct the current surplus of supply in the bean market. Producing nations have to create checks and balances to prevent more commodities entering the market than can be sold. Consuming and producing countries must also encourage farmers to switch to crops other than coffee beans. Most importantly, coffee-buying companies will have to start buying the beans at a price that is fair to the farmers.

This is where the student in MacEwan Hall can help. By choosing to pay a few extra cents for fairly traded coffee you are helping farmers and workers earn a decent wage from their harvest. Places like Coffee Company in MacEwan Hall offer coffee that has been produced from fairly traded beans.

The Fair Trade initiative allows farmers to profit from the highly lucrative coffee business by paying them more for their beans. A cup of fairly traded coffee will cost the consumer around ten cents more, but it is a price we should all be prepared to pay. Not only will this help people in the producing countries, but it will also help the North American coffee companies by stabilizing the source of their product in the long term.

To a student, a cup of coffee means a kick-start to their day. To a child in Nicaragua, it could mean going to school and getting enough food to be healthy.

To learn more about fairly traded coffee go to

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