Black Gold - an alternative look - comments thread

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Postby Sunnyfield » Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:24 am

I fear that Fairtrade gives the farmers no incentive to innovate the industry, and actually achieves the opposite by encouraging overproduction and mediocrety. As a farmer, if you get a minimum price that is sufficient to pay for your bills and more, why not produce more-and-more to make additional income. This will result in overproduction, which is the underlying cause of low prices in the commodities market. Obviously the farmer will want to produce it as cheaply as possible, which invariable will be at the expense of quality; high quality beans fetch the same price as the lower-graded stuff!

The economic rationale of fairtrade appears to be wholy flawed if my understanding is correct. If a consumer is prepared to pay a premium for average coffee with a Fairtrade label, than he or she may as well just donate money to Oxfam and buy cheaper regular coffee. That way you help poor malnourished people, without creating the economic incentive of undermining the coffee agricultural industry.

To be honest, my assumptions and understanding may be completely wrong. I would be delighted to see comments from people in the Fairtrade business. And if you can prove me wrong, the better! :)
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Postby scottwhite » Wed Jul 25, 2007 12:46 pm

Steve wrote:Scott everything I've posted of late you disagree,


I have rarely posted of late, the last time I did disagree with anything it was the theme of a thread, it wasn't specifically you, though you took it that way.

Steve wrote:Acknowledging a point of view and respecting it are different,


I find the above comment very patronising and do not appreciate it.

I do respect your opinions Steve and what you do, but I am not a yes man, at the end of the day if me having an opinion is causing problems I will refrain from posting in the future.

I really do think it is only right that the forum invites someone from a recognised Fair Trade organisation to join in the discussion as it does seem to be getting a bit of a slating without having somebody from the other side of the coin to defend it.
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Postby bruceb » Wed Jul 25, 2007 1:33 pm

I normally avoid these kinds of discussions, particularly because I am in no way equipped to understand the background or details of coffee growing and commerce, etc.

I have, however, enjoyed some good coffee in my days, so I would like to look at this from a different point of view. I have purchased Fair Trade coffee a number of times and have friends who insist on buying them. I am only guessing, but I probably have tasted at least 10 different FT coffees. Not one of them has really been great and most varied between fair to mediocre or worse. Without knowing anything about the politics or background I have been avoiding FT coffees for a long time just because of my own experience with them.

Firstly, I would like to know whether I have just been unlucky in this and secondly, can anyone recommend an FT coffee (with source) that they find really good?

I certainly don't wish to offend anyone and I hope I haven't.
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Postby CakeBoy » Wed Jul 25, 2007 2:55 pm

Hopefully no-one is personally offended and we can continue discussing differing opinions without anyone feeling marginalised. I find the whole subject very interesting and in my opinion some interesting points have been made. It certainly is a complex issue and the passion demonstrated in the postings on this subject reflects the quite clear concern that everyone has for the welfare of the farmers and fair dealing in general.
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Postby JonBoy » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:46 pm

Obviously there are different views here as to how to be fair to the coffee growers and its good that we can discuss this very important issue on a forum such as this.

However, my reading of the posts indicates that the general concensus is that farmers should be treated fairly and paid a fair price for their product. Whether Fair Trade achieves this or whether the niche players can solve this question is in reality secondary. The facts are that the big players control so much of the market and just want the cheapest price possible to maximise returns to shareholders. Therefore the impact of Fair Trade (and other methods of paying fair prices) will still be in the minority.

That doesn't mean we do nothing, just that we need to recognise that society as a whole seems to want food at prices that mean producers are the ones who are squeezed. This is true whether these producers are in South America, Africa or even the UK.

Anyone want to discuss peak Oil? :lol:

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Postby PD » Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:05 pm

A great article Steve. Every point you made is valid. Just a pity there's not more like you in the trade.
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Postby Steve » Wed Jul 25, 2007 9:10 pm

Good points made by everyone, I'm pleased this thread has got everyone thinking and talking, its achieved something at least.

Scott I'm not offended at all by anything posted in this thread or other threads, they really don't affect me, they are opinions (to steal a quote) verbal mastibation, nothing more. Sorry if you feel patronized, thats certainly not the point I was trying to make. No one is asking you to be a yes man, if you post or not is up to you, but I'll repeat I enjoy our debates, I find them really interesting, seeing things from a different perspective.

I would welcome some input form the fair trade guys, again if you read what I say there is a need, and the whole idea of this article was to balance the argument of Fair Trade not dismiss it completely. But I did want to balance it is not the only way, my aim is not not to dismiss or belittle as the arguments in Black gold did. Not everything can be Specialty coffee and this gap needs to be filled, but there are alternatives its not a closed club, fairt rade don't hold the moral high ground alone.

Take my comments and posts as you will, I will repeat, it is never my intension to patronize or upset anyone, and I don't get offended, honest!
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Postby Walter » Wed Jul 25, 2007 11:28 pm

My line of thinking goes very much along the lines of Steve's, the major drawback of FT is IMO that it is not connected to quality, one might as well just make a donation to support coffee farmers. Moreover, it appears the FT market has grown faster of late than its control mechanisms.

But it is also clear, that the speciality coffee market - which in general appears much fairer to me than the labelled "fair trade" - is just a niche and far too small to improve the situation for a majority of the coffee growers which are currently kept at the threshold of starvation - or at least in poverty - by the current stock market prices.

Also I think that current retail and coffee-shop prices for many mediocre coffees are already very high due to a strategy of many roasters to buy cheap coffee of poor quality and sell it with high profits, who also don't give a damn about the situation of the coffee growers they get their coffee from.

----

Somewhat off topic: I'm currently about halfway through reading Antony Wild's book Black Gold - A Dark History of Coffee. It is a worthwhile reading, IMO...

----

@Bruce,

I recently had a chance to cup a FT labelled Bonga Forest (which was washed, much to my surprise) and I have to say it was very good, the first FT coffee that impressed me, qualitywise. Hence I suppose there are more FT coffees out there which are quite good, but it is probably difficult to spot them...
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Postby Sunnyfield » Thu Jul 26, 2007 4:42 am

I liked Steve's review. I must agree with Scott that, as it went on, it became more of a political article than a review, but that did not make it less interesting. Knowing very little about the Fair Trade in coffee, I would be very interested to find out more. I am very skeptical about any form of price distorting market interference, be it dumping (US and EU), retail price controls/caps (Venezuela and Argentina), farm subsidies (EU) or minimum wholesale prices (Communism and Fair Trade(?)), since I believe these are the root of poverty in agricultural developing countries. But I am too uninformed about the mechanisms of Fair Trade, to dismiss Fair Trade so easily.

Scott, I understand you are from the Fair Trade side of the business. I would like to invite you to write an article about the benefits of Fair Trade and perhaps some words about the dark side of the coffee trade. It would make great frontpage reading on TMC! What do you think?

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Postby Steve » Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:10 am

Sunnyfield wrote:I liked Steve's review. I must agree with Scott that, as it went on, it became more of a political article than a review, but that did not make it less interesting.


Now this is political :)

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Postby lukas » Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:18 am

frightening preaching style
edit: I'm glad we don't have this style of preaching/manipulating in germany all that often anymore. can lead to serious circumstances ...

edit2: really frightening ...
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Postby scottwhite » Thu Jul 26, 2007 11:55 am

Sunnyfield wrote:
Scott, I understand you are from the Fair Trade side of the business. I would like to invite you to write an article about the benefits of Fair Trade and perhaps some words about the dark side of the coffee trade. It would make great frontpage reading on TMC! What do you think?

Cheers
Eward


Thanks for the invite Sunnyfield, yes I am, I also have a coffee which is 'farmer direct' and another which is rainforest alliance, so I do see both sides, but to slate Fair Trade is wrong, as this is where it all started.

To me it is like the people who slagged microsoft off for getting so big, those same people are the ones who used and continue windows and we all know who invented that, even if they did use DOS to do it, it was a revolution of sorts and worthy of praise.

For me the main thing about Fair Trade is that it keeps the bigger boys on that path and has raised public awareness a million times more than farmer direct is doing, some describe it as a brand and to a degree it is I suppose, but a brand which has made a real significant difference in the world.

I really am not qualified to write an article, particularly without showing commercial bias as I can only comment on feedback from people we have supplied to, so that would be wrong and against the rules of the forum.

However you can find out loads here:

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/about_benefits.htm
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Postby lukas » Thu Jul 26, 2007 12:03 pm

Well, commercially biased should not be a problem I hope. With Steve's article it shines through, and hey come on it's his opinion and that is clearly stated on top of it :)

I really would welcome another well written point of view on this matter as I am not into that business but would like to learn more about that.
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Postby Slimboyfat » Thu Jul 26, 2007 3:26 pm

I have to say that I agree with Bruce's earlier comment. I have tried Fairtrade coffee in the past, but haven't enjoyed it. Similar experience with fairtrade chocolate. But that's probably because I haven't tried hard enough to find them.

Scott - does the Fairtrade movement recognise what the famers direct lobby are doing as a positive thing? Is there a sensible dialogue?

It seems to me that there is a tendancy for the Fairtrade lobby to damn any other route as immoral (partly I suppose because most of the non fairtrade trade is immoral, when it comes to its dealings with the growers).

One can draw paralells across so many areas. I'm sure any UK dairy farmer might recognise this debate for instance. I have to say that I feel a little queezy when I see the likes of Tesco talking about Fairtrade - ask them what they pay for a gallon of milk!

There is no avoiding the fact that this is a political issue. I personally think that Steve's review was trying to correct what he saw as an imbalance and he has always been quite open about his views on the subject. Like others on this forum, I hardly feel qualified to voice anything more than a gut feeling for what's going on.

At least we're all talking about it.

Oh, and if people feel passionate enough about the subject to get a little hot under the collar about it, that's probably quite healthy too.

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Postby Steve » Thu Jul 26, 2007 8:30 pm

To stop the backwards and forwards as much as I want to reply I'm going to leave it bite my lip, I've said what I wanted to say, I stand by it, the discussion has made me think and develop my thoughts some more which is good and I only hope its doing the same for others.

But my parting words I'd like to be, lets make $1.26 fair trade base price the minimum anyone should pay for coffee not the final goal.
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