Caffeinated Collaboration: A Taste of Transparency

Students and employees at Ecogrounds coffee shop on campus. Photo Courtesy of Bailey Smith.

By Rudy Nugent

Contributing Writer 

For most people, coffee goes beyond a tasty beverage or a convenient caffeine jolt. Coffee is a staple of life. When we fetch a can of Folgers off the shelf at Walmart, we often do not think about where it comes from. Coffee has become a natural part of the American day.  

For other countries, coffee is equally as important, but in a different way.  

Grown between thirty degrees north and south of the equator, coffee is a primary source of capital for most Central American, South American, and African countries, as well as Indonesia. Many of these coffee-producing countries are heavily impoverished because of technological deficiencies and trade inequality. 

All too often, Millsaps students see the Fair Trade emblem at EcoGrounds, feel better about what they have in their cups and do not think anything else about it—they should. Fair Trade is flawed, and transparency is necessary. Where EcoGrounds’s coffee frequently helps students finish papers and prepare for class, coffee farmers are neglected. Farmers receive far less pay than they deserve earning usually up to $1.90 a pound, whereas we may buy a pound of coffee for $16, especially considering the amount of work they do. After all, they are directly responsible for ensuring there is proper mineral content in the soil to create the best-tasting product, growing the coffee beans, preventing coffee rust (a plague that can destroy entire crops), processing the coffee and marketing their beans. Unfortunately, all their work results in little (if any) pay. According to a 2017 study on 155 Kenyan coffee farms, every kilo of coffee sold lost about $8.   

To create more profit for farmers, many roasters are moving towards transparency and directness in trade—this new form of trade allows the farmers to negotiate directly with the roasters for better wages.  

For instance, Café Kreyol (a coffee roaster and wholesaler and a pioneer in transparency) helps set up farms in Haiti and pays the farmers up to 300 times what Fair Trade requires, proven by their blog, as well as their contact page, where you can directly ask questions about their work. Similarly, roasters such as Counter Culture and 49th Parallel pay farmers substantially more than Fair Trade regulations because of their transparent system. Transparent trade is key to maintaining and growing the coffee industry, but it is also key to ending third-world poverty. With transparency, farmers will profit more and spend more. As a result, countries will substantially increase their income and will be able to invest more money in public infrastructure, form better education systems, and establish better healthcare.

Supporting this new system is essential. Not only could consumers feel guilt-free about their daily brew, but they would be directly contributing to a more prosperous world. Now, I implore you to consider, what is in your cup? 

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