This article by Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez was published in the Seattle Times on September 2, 2010, and has generated a fair amount of attention. Many people have asked me about this debate, here is my response:
FAIR TRADE — DIRECT TRADE — FARMER-OWNED
I praise the marketers of Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffees. They are helping to educate the end-consumer while promoting the story of specialty coffee and the people who produce it.
But let’s look at the big picture.
Say I purchase a $2 cup of Fair Trade Certified coffee at my local café. How much is the farmer actually paid? Maybe 10 cents. That’s only 5% of the retail price. Direct Trade is slightly better. The farmer is paid about 6% of the retail price.
And, as the article points out, it doesn’t give the consumer a real connection with anyone other than the roaster, and the relationship between consumer and producer isn’t direct or transparent.
What’s the alternative? Support farmer-owned brands. When the farmer grows, roasts and markets her own coffee, she earns much more and she is helping herself by reducing her dependence on importers, certifiers and roasters.
There are many successful farmer-owned brands on the market today, like Organic Valley, Divine Chocolate, Cabot Creamery, Ocean Spray, Florida Growers, Blue Diamond Almonds and Pachamama Coffee. For consumers who want the most direct relationship with farmers, Farmer Owned is the right choice. And a few of the above models prove that it can scale up.
Pachamama Coffee Cooperative of Small-Scale Coffee Producers