Image via WikipediaBowling Green State University senior Michelle Erford has traveled to Guatemala with her church for the past five summers. In that time she has been able to see firsthand how important coffee is as a crop to Guatemala.
"There are a ton of coffee farms in Guatemala, and it's a high export," Erford said. "They are very proud of their coffee because it's grown by the volcanoes."
With that importance, the Fair Trade movement has begun to have an effect on the Guatemalan coffee growers.
Fair Trade Certification
To have a product become Fair Trade certified, the importer must pay a minimum price of $1.26 a pound, according to Global Exchange, an advocacy group based in San Francisco that promotes human rights and social, environmental and economic justice worldwide. By requiring a minimum price per pound at that amount, the Fair Trade certification is ensuring that the small coffee farmers trying to make a living can do just that.
In Guatemala, a large number of coffee producers are small farms that produce small quantities of coffee while the smaller number of large farms produce the larger share of coffee in the country. This imbalance makes it hard for the small Guatemalan farmers to stay afloat and many have had to abandon their farms and move to the cities or another country to make a small living.
Fair Trade Makes a Difference
But Fair Trade coffee is beginning to make a noticeable difference in communities across Guatemala. PBS did a documentary on the "international coffee crisis" with their Frontline/World production "Coffee Country." Sam Quinones traveled to Guatemala and went around the country visiting coffee farmers. He sees abandoned coffee farms, meets farmers thinking of crossing into the U.S. illegally to find work and one farmer who is only making 7 cents per pound.
The difference came when Quinones visited a Fair Trade farm in Guatemala where coffee sells for a standard $1.26 a pound worldwide. While Fair Trade coffee only accounts for 1 percent of coffee sales in the U.S., Quinones notes a visible difference in some of these farmers' lives. Some are now able to send their children to college. Others are able to buy their own equipment to increase productivity.
Fair Trade extends beyond Guatemala and is present in 20 countries across the world, benefiting around 550,000 farming families, according to Global Exchange. On the United States' end, Fair Trade coffee is now available in more than 7,000 retailers across the country. Starbucks offers a line of Fair Trade coffee, as does Sara Lee.
Erford has not tried any of the Fair Trade coffee from Guatemala yet, but when she spent her last spring break in Honduras she bought some.
"I bought coffee from a local farmer that was definitely Fair Trade and organic," Erford said. "It was so good, it had some kind of different spice in it."
Fair Trade has the ability to make an even bigger difference worldwide, if more and more coffee is required to be Fair Trade certified in order to sit on grocery store shelves. So the next time you're in the coffee aisle shopping for your next bag of coffee beans, check for that Fair Trade label. Every time you buy Fair Trade, you're making a difference in at least one corner of the world.
"With world market prices as low as they are right now, we see that a lot of farmers cannot maintain their families and their land anymore," Jeronimo Bollen, director of a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Guatemala, said on the Global Exhange website. "We need Fair Trade now more than ever."
Want more information on Fair Trade, and the movement in Guatemala? Check out these links:
- Global Exchange's statement
- Global Exchange's basic information on Fair Trade coffee
- Read about Fair Trade coffee cooperatives in Columbia, Mexico, Guatemala and other countries
- Fair Trade USA
- Fair Trade USA's list of where to buy Fair Trade certified products