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Coffee Trends: The Fair Trade Tree Grows Branches

The Fair Trade Tree Grows Branches


April 29, 2008
By Brian Martell

Topics

For the last 10 years, Fair Trade has been slowly advancing in the North American coffee market.
Promoters such as Oxfam and other charitable or social action groups
have been leading the charge in making the general public more aware of
the Fair Trade concept, especially during times of relatively low
exchange prices.

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Café Femenino, spearheaded by a group of women in Peru, is a co-operative of diverse small coffee farmers with an aim to improve the lives of all coffee growers, especially women coffee growers from developing countries. 

For the last 10 years, Fair Trade has been slowly advancing in the North American coffee market.

Promoters such as Oxfam and other charitable or social action groups have been leading the charge in making the general public more aware of the Fair Trade concept, especially during times of relatively low exchange prices. 

Essentially, Fair Trade products sell at a predetermined floor price (at least), regardless of the market conditions at the time of the transaction. If the price on the exchange is lower than the price floor set by Fair Trade, then the floor is the price that will prevail. Likewise, if the market is higher than the floor price, then the market price prevails, plus five cents.  

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As the market and floor prices converge, the “cost” of buying Fair Trade coffee becomes less of an issue as it sells for almost the same as those prices being offered at the exchange. In theory, the idea behind the Fair Trade movement has been to support poorer farmers in the developing world who are more sensitive to depressed market prices than larger corporate farming  companies.

Now it seems there is a new entity on the coffee block that is adding a different twist to the Fair Trade label: Café Femenino. Spearheaded by a group of women in Peru, Café Femenino is a co-operative of diverse small coffee farmers who are predominantly women, with an aim to improve the lot of not only coffee growers but, specifically, women coffee growers. 

Coming from traditional rural areas of Peru, these women are subjected to all the inherent problems of limited economic standing, plus the traditional limitations placed on them due solely to their gender in patriarchal societies. Often, they have no say in the way in which the money they earn for the crops they produce is spent. 

With the help of non-profit organizations, Café Femenino has slowly increased its following through market penetration in North America, predominantly in the American Northwest. The aspirations of Café Femenino, beyond providing the essentials of life, are to slowly build towards equality among the sexes in cultures with a strong emphasis on gender hierarchy. Thus, while the movement is now limited to Peru, it is quite imaginable that it could spread to other parts of Latin America as well as Africa, Asia, and Oceania. 

To avoid backlash in their own communities, Café Femenino has elicited the endorsement of all by making sure that the extra cash brought into their villages are spent for the benefit of the whole, and not just the women amongst them. The priority list of worthy items to invest in is broad in scope and ranges from improved nutrition and sanitation to new coffee milling equipment and better roads.

The premium paid for Café Femenino coffee is two cents per pound (USD) higher than the Fair Trade cost at the time of sale. Roasters agree to sell the coffee as a pure varietal, unblended with other Fair Trade coffees, and to donate a certain amount of the proceeds of sale to either a local women’s organization or back to the Café Femenino co-op in Peru. 

Marketers of Café Femenino have also extolled the quality aspect of the coffee as helping drive repeat sales of the product; noting that social causes will lead you to buy something once, but if the quality is lacking you won’t buy it again. As a relatively new phenomenon (Café Femenino started up in 2004) the breadth of this product has net yet reached wide distribution outside of Washington State.

The wisdom of putting economic resources into the hands of women in male-dominated societies is not new. Loan programs in Africa have long been geared to lending money to women for small start-up businesses to promote entrepreneurship and give women more say in how their own lives will unfold. Further hope with the program is that more girls will be educated at a younger age, which will further increase the chances for a more prosperous life and the ability to teach their own children the
fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. 

It will be interesting to see how Café Femenino develops. While the current mechanism for Café Femenino works outside of the mainstream market, it could be conceivable that with proper management, good business practices and a sound horticultural strategy, Café Femenino will create a viable long-term market for its products. o

Questions or comments?  Reach Brian at Brian@heritage-coffee.com