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Buying great quality coffee from Fairtrade coffee suppliers

 We’ve been advocates of Fairtrade coffee for years. In fact we were the first importer to offer it to the UK market back in 1986. But Fairtrade is not just about helping farmers to get a fair price for their green coffee beans – if the coffee’s no good, people won’t buy it a second time. We therefore invest a lot of time in selecting suppliers who need help but whose product is first class.

 Fairtrade farmers get a guaranteed Fairtrade Minimum Price for their coffee and an additional Fairtrade Premium. It’s the premium that takes their revenue beyond an income and enables them to invest in their farm’s future. This guaranteed price and premium is unique to Fairtrade certification and it’s the reason why many farmers want to sell more coffee on Fairtrade terms.

 By choosing Fairtrade you can help improve coffee farmers’ lives and still be able to drink great tasting coffee. The coffee is produced by around 25 million small coffee suppliers and involves around 100 million people in coffee producing regions. Fairtrade focuses on those smallholder farmers by empowering them to build a sustainable future for themselves and their families. Through the fairtrade premiums they are paid they are able to build what many would consider bare necessities: roads, schools, access to fresh water and healthcare.

 A good example of a fairtrade coffee supplier dedicated to improving the quality of its beans is the Coopetarrazu in Tarrazu valley, which is located in the South West of San Jose in Costa Rica. We have a long relationship with the Co-op, which is a driving force in the community. Besides being the largest employer in the region, it is constantly training its associates in the latest techniques to improve quality and production.

 In 2012, we worked with communities of the cooperative located in the Leon Cortes district which is one of the poorest in Costa Rica. We chose them for their quality of coffee and the interesting cup profile that they deliver. We wanted to add value to the coffee as well as differentiate it, so we ran a project where 10 communities entered lots and we reviewed and selected the best of these. We specifically chose to work with communities as opposed to microlots because we wanted the benefits of the premiums to extend beyond one farmer alone – we wanted it to be a community effort of working together and sharing the rewards together.

The objectives of the project are to:

  • Process the coffee of each community to get a specific quality standard from the green coffee bean to the drying process.
  • Ensure traceability by tracking each community coffee through a barcode system.
  • Promote a strong link between the buyer and the community.
  • Implement specific social and environmental programs in each community, which will be funded through sales of their green coffee beans.

 Three coffees were of the standard we would be happy to promote and so we signed contracts with these farmers.

How did this impact the community?

 There is a fairtrade premium as well as an extra premium to incentivise better quality coffee. This is to motivate the farmers to really focus on their quality.

 The farmers have chosen to invest the additional premium in a grader that will allow them to build a road to connect their community to the main transport routes – right now there are only paths.

 Priscilla Daniel, a DRW coffee trader says, “Being able to be there and give them the money and see how emotional they got inspires you to get involved in more projects like this. For them it was a huge privilege that their coffees had been chosen and they got very emotional in receiving the money. They really like the community aspect – that everyone was helped in some way.

 “We are continuing with the project this year. Our customer likes a cup profile that offers more acidity – we’re working with them to see if this can be achieved. We’re constantly working to get better and better.

 “The most amazing thing about these people is that they never mentioned the price, asking about more money – they were so appreciative and grateful for the help provided.”

 Another example of a fairtrade co-op committed to quality is the Oromia Union in Ethiopia. On our recent trip to there, we visited a number of co-ops recognised for quality and benefitting from fairtrade premiums.

 At present 28 of the farmers in the co-operative are Fairtrade certified. This is likely to increase to 50 co-op suppliers in the next couple of years. With help from the union and the Fairtrade premium 186 different projects have been completed ranging from schools, bore holes and roads to coffee processing units.

 Another fairtrade co-op that’s part of the Oromia Union is Cheffe Jeneta Co-operative in Harrar.  The co-op started in 2004 with 80 members and has grown to up to 946 members (146 are women); they used to sell to the market but formed the co-op to get better prices for the community. Farmers used donkeys to travel 20km up the mountain to deliver to the co-op (roughly 400 donkeys were needed per container) – the road is now half completed and all funded by their fairtrade premium.

 The fairtrade premium has also helped build two schools where four hundred students currently study. The schooling is up to year 7 (age 14). There are about 400 children there, 100 per class. They try to support the weaker students in the afternoon. The school is in the morning and then the children help with the harvesting in the afternoon.

 One of the farmers, Safia Hamed told us about the new road, fences, power and drying beds that have been bought for the community because of the better prices that they have received working as a co-op. The dividend is split into three payments, which they prefer as this helps them manage their cashflow.

 Also part of the Oromia Union, the Nagele Gurbitu Co-operative was founded in 1988. Their coffee was voted No.1 in an SCAA cupping competition and also third place with 88.06 points in the EAFCA Inter-country Taste of Harvest cupping competition in February 2012. The fairtrade premium has helped build a school for the local community and also accommodation for teachers that do not own a house nearby.

 DRW trader Phil Searle describes what it’s like seeing the impact of the premiums:

 “Really satisfying – they can now get an education because of the extra income – before that was impossible. There was a great sense of optimism and pride – their position is ‘we will keep producing and we hope you’ll buy’. It’s great to feel that sense of partnership with the farmers and coffee suppliers.’