What Exactly is Fair Trade?

Coffee is a commodity. As a matter of fact, it is the second most traded commodity in the world, behind oil – and coffee farming is extremely hard work. Just to produce a single pound of the beans used to brew our favorite morning beverage (about what one tree produces annually), a tree must be first cultivated for 3-5 years, then pruned (with hand tools), mulched, protected (by growing and caring for shade trees above them), inspected and monitored.  Then comes the harvest, where the coffee “cherries” are picked, transported, sorted for ripeness & uniformity, wet milled (to remove the pulp), dried, milled again (to remove parchment – the outer shell), sorted again for defects, weighed & bagged in burlap, loaded in a container, transported to the shipping dock, shipped across the ocean blue, transported to a climate controlled coffee storage facility, and finally delivered to the roasting company. This is just everything that happens before a roaster like The One Cup Project takes delivery and begins crafting that perfectly roasted batch of beans.

For all this work, within the typical commodity system, a coffee farm owner would get paid a whopping $1.00 per pound. That’s right, he spends all year cultivating his farm, and each tree produces one pound, for which he gets about $1.00 – that’s gross, not net. He sells each pound of green coffee beans for a dollar, and out of that, he has to cover all the expenses incurred to produce it. In addition, farmers are up against many other forces – unpredictable and (sometimes) catastrophic weather, insects and blights, volatile coffee markets, opportunistic (read oppressive) middlemen and political instability, just to name a few. Sometimes a single issue like “coffee rust” (a fungus that in past years has ruined up to 40% of entire crops) can be devastating. Given these realities, it can be utterly impossible for individual farm owners to rise above basic subsistence farming – let alone the farm workers who often earn only $5 per day. Enter Fair Trade.

Fair Trade is a term that has come to embody the practice of paying agricultural workers and producers a fair wage for the work of cultivating the products we care about so much. And it doesn’t just apply to coffee. Many of the products we enjoy – chocolate, sugar, spices, even cotton and many other products that are cultivated using primarily manual labor – are now available as “fair trade”. When we go beyond simply consuming products, and look behind the curtain to consider the lives of the families who actually produce them, it becomes a no brainer.

One Cup is committed to dealing in only fairly traded coffees. The farmers producing our coffees are real people with families and stories just like you and me. We reward their efforts and help ensure quality life conditions for them by paying a premium for their coffees. For instance, when you purchase our Ethiopia Harrar, know that you are helping to fund training that has resulted in nearly a 50% reduction in infant mortality and malnutrition in the farming communities of Western Ethiopia. When you purchase our Mexico Chiapas, you are helping to improve living conditions of the coffee farming communities in the poorest state in Mexico through quality housing, better production of basic grains, and food security as well as organizing women and forming micro-banks.

These are just a couple tiny examples of what can happen when we make conscious efforts to care for those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. At One Cup, we have made it our mission to create lasting change through the sale of our coffees. Simply by purchasing and enjoying the coffees you love so much, you are impacting lives for good around the world. Bottoms up!