How Does Your Coffee Make You Feel?

Are you delighted that the solution to the billions of neo-colonially derived profits from the coffee trade and its resulting humanitarian and ecological tragedies is as simple as buying fair trade coffee and that your additional cost would only be about $0.15 per pound? Can your soul turn its blindfolded third eye, exempt your perception from the consequences of your actions and drag you to the nearest Starbucks to tank up the energy that allows you to work harder and longer so you can ignore and forget your third eye’s dignity in return for just $0.15 per pound of stimulant?

Free Trade:

Around 80 tropical countries farm coffee beans for export purposes. There intermediaries buy their beans from often remote mountainside farmers, against subsistence prices. The price farmers receive for their beans is rigidly dictated by the global coffee bean markets rather than through local supply & demand or negotiation. The lack of proper market mechanisms, where no single buyer or seller can influence the price, dupes the farmers, who have no effective negotiation powers against the only buyer they ever see.

Said middle-men offer the beans on the commodity exchanges to globally active trading companies who funnel the product to the globalised coffee industry, the roasters, grinders, packers, and shippers. The wholesale and retail channels finally and very efficiently bring the end-product to the end-consumer. The portion of the price of fine ground, vacuum packed coffee sold in the supermarket that ends up in the pocket of the farmers’ is negligibly small to all except the bean farmers. It’s all they get, and yet so little that the farmer cannot realistically expect to have any disposable income. The parties enjoying the margins on the product are the coffee processing companies and the various distributors. The farmers are left without the means to pay for political representation, and as such have little hope of acquiring, schooling, medical attention, or credit worthiness.

Efforts to nevertheless gain such additional quality of life, invariably lead farmers to simply growing more product. Fortunately, this is easy. Exposing coffee shrubs to direct sunlight is like giving the coffee shrub a shot of growth hormone. However, the more quickly growing shrubs consume correspondingly more nutrients and deplete the soil. Over time the ambitious farmers, thus faced with ever poorer soils, need to use artificial fertilisation. On the one hand, the increasing cost of fertiliser largely eats up any additional income from the extra production. The idea of improving income by increasing output is a standard one, so on the other hand, the extra production from farmers in 80-odd countries aggregately effects the price of coffee on the global markets negatively. Ironically, the brunt of such commodity price movements are borne by those with the least negotiation power, clearly the subsistence farmers.

Additionally, to expose the coffee to the sun means cutting trees on the coffee farm, which has two results. Soil erosion follows when tree roots are no longer there to stop rain from carrying away the soil off the tropical hills where coffee thrives. The shade that also disappears when the trees are cut provides an essential habitat ingredient for migratory birds. Cutting trees hence leads to declining migratory bird populations. Lacking both shade and birds, the new “ecological landscape does not have the natural checks and balances that control the numbers of insects. Rather than birds and other tree dwellers to provide equilibrating forces against insects, the farmer is now dependent on pesticides to preserve crops.

In terms of production volume and labour efficiency, the farmers are successful, they now produce much more each year. With the aid of tree cutting, fertilisers, and pesticides, they provide the raw materials that enable the globalised coffee industry, the roasters, grinders, packers, shippers, wholesale and retail channels to achieve the return on capital that maintains their popularity with the owners of equity funds, investment banks, lending institutions, and corrupt politicians, us.

From the perspective of the farmer’s quality of life and disposable income, or ecological preservation, “success” is an insult. Although in present day terminology, the globalisation processes that lead to the eroding soil, the poisoned water supplies, the homeless birds, not to mention pesticide-induces illnesses of the farmers and their families is considered development. That’s right, ecocide, and neo-colonial trickle-up economics are development.

Fair Trade:
A retailer in the developed world selects one or more small(ish) communities of coffee bean farmers in Columbia and communicates his desired quantity and quality. One-on-one negotiations thus result in an agreement on the product price and delivery date. The farming community then delivers the product of the next crop cycle directly to the retailer.

In this scenario, the ultimate profits are shared between only the retailer and the farmer. This production and distribution mechanism allows the retailer and the farmer to share the profits that would otherwise also sustain the various corporate levels of middle men, who are now cut out of the cash flow.

Furthermore, there is a financial commitment from the fair trade retailer determined by the agreed “quantity * price”, which does not exist under the free trade platform. The farming community therefore knows for sure that it will have a contractually set sum of money after the harvest. Under these circumstances, fair trade banks are willing to lend money to the farming community, with the loan being guaranteed by the retailer’s contracted payment for the harvest. The loan contains restrictions on the use of the loaned funds such that the community may only use the loan proceeds to invest in their future by setting up, for example, schools and medical care, or a central mobile phone and a solar cell, rather than just consumer goods.

Fair trade retailers generally insist that the product they acquire be grown without the aid of toxins such as pesticides or artificial fertilisers. In other words, farming communities are set up to develop their quality of life economically, educationally, medically, and truly sustainably.

Practical Questions:
The efficiency of the free trade distribution system allows lower end-consumer prices, albeit with a lower quality given that it was not grown organically. Given the 95% market share of free-trade coffee, a somewhat higher price apparently is more appalling than facing the awareness of one’s complicity to ecocidal and neo-colonial development.

Our affluent Earth quadrant has achieved remarkable levels of financial prosperity, although we, during our great strides have also made grave mistakes. Some of the more disturbing, but interrelated aspects of our development are the air, soil and water contamination, our dependence on non-renewable sources of everything, our overpopulation and depletion of groundwater supplies. Our politicians and engineers now need to spend considerable time and effort to try to legislate and implement policies to reduce the waste in which we have become accustomed to surround ourselves. We make this effort because we recognise that a cleaner world is healthier and more pleasant, both of which are directly related to quality of life. If we make the mess, then we should clean it, fair is fair, anything else is cheating our kids. If we are learning this, then why should we still now teach coffee farmers in 80 countries to cheat their kids?

Some countries have not yet reached a stage where they recognise the link between non-sustainable development and the magnitude of the resulting problems later. Problems steering, let alone reversing, the co-development of the industrial leadership class and ecocide have proven so challenging because the destroyer culture is so profitable. Our quadrant’s industrial and political elite, paid by the same neo-colonialist profits, collude to prevent committing resources towards becoming cleaner or even sustainable. This collusion has spawned a 150-yr history of economic growth containing excesses in terms of child labour, lethal working conditions, pollution, and depletion of natural resources. Notwithstanding these more regrettable aspects, economic development has brought us much good. Still though, it would be downright arrogant to postulate that things could not possibly have been done better. It is not, as some claim, the intention of the fair trade camp to kick down the ladder behind our prosperity, it is an effort to incorporate the lessons from our own past and to formulate a different approach to enrich developing regions. The aim is to implement approaches that justly lead to a certain, dignified and sustainable economic, intellectual, and medical development. Now that we have the advantage of hindsight, why not proceed with other regions in ways that address the sources of the problems that we now encounter with our recklessly polluting and depleting industrial development?

What sense of morality, other than the greed ethic, lends itself to wilfully introducing / unleashing the destroyer culture on a defenceless community. What would make its pesticide-induced sicknesses, overwork, financial stress, depleted soils, and disregard of animals preferable if we know how to enrich its people sustainably and without injuring dignity, environment or future?

But what the hell, it’s just coffee and we have our politicians, meat, nukes, and SUV’s to also worry about, so first things first right? Well yes, but the footprint of just growing, not even processing or shipping, our collective annual 14,000,000,000 pounds coffee habit, represents over 26,000,000 acres of nature and farmland (the size of Portugal). The coffee trade is the second most valuable U.S. item of international trade, after petroleum, and is our most valuable food import.

Procter & Gamble and Philip Morris, alone account for nearly half of the roast coffee sold, while individual coffee farmers seldom make more than US$ 800 gross per year, before expenses for fertiliser, and usually carcinogenic pesticides.

Are you delighted that the solution to the billions of neo-colonially derived profits from the coffee trade and its resulting humanitarian and ecological tragedies is as simple as buying fair trade coffee and that your additional cost would be only $0.15 per pound? Can your soul turn its blindfolded third eye, exempt your perception from the consequences of your actions and drag you to the nearest Starbucks to tank up the energy that allows you to work harder and longer so you can ignore and forget your third eye’s dignity for $0.15 per pound of stimulant?

So, how DOES your coffee make you feel?

The sweaty Smiley Collective

About the Author
The Sweaty Smiley Collective is a group of people committed to the idea that fun & games and gratification through sex, drugs, music, aesthetics, and general hedonism are the real goal in life, while the global DNA preservation, consciousness, love, socio-political awareness, are all just the ONLY, enlightened self-interested means to that end. Yes! pleasure is good and best enjoyed intensely, such that our lifestyle leads to sweating and smiling a lot 🙂

Author: Sweaty Smiley Collective

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