Choosing a Fairtrade brand can make a difference to producers in the developing world, says Jonathan deBurca Butler

Up until recently, coffee and the Irish just did not seem to blend. Perhaps it was our love of tea or maybe those pre Bishop Casey Gold Blend adverts were just too darn dangerous and sexy.

Whatever it was, we didn’t really drink the stuff. But all that has changed utterly and now, on average, an Irish person will consume about 1.4kg of coffee per annum. That still only puts us somewhere in the mid thirties in the ranking of coffee-drinking countries, but we are beginning to percolate through the ranks of coffee consuming nations.

According to market research firm Euromonitor, coffee continues to witness a surge in popularity here. In 2015, retail value grew by 18%, reaching sales of €96.5 million. Sales of fresh coffee are driving that growth and, as a result, the modern coffee connoisseur is more discerning. As well as wanting the best coffee, many consumers now want to know where their beans have been and who had to sweat to get it to the high street.

With that in mind, the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe’s World of Coffee forum hopes to highlight the work of Fairtrade coffee farmers from around the globe.

Andrew Watson, forum project manager, says, “People rightly want to know more about how they can support the welfare of coffee farmers and their communities, so this was an opportunity for Irish coffee lovers to meet some of the extraordinary people who dedicate their lives to producing this labour-intensive agricultural product.”

Fátima Ismael Espinoza from Nicaragua is one of 20 coffee farmers from Latin America, Asia and Africa who travelled to Dublin for the conference. Fatima is the director of SOPPEXCCA, a co-operative based high in the northern hills of Nicaragua, who have supplied Bewley’s since 2006.

“This is my first visit to Ireland and it’s exciting to see the coffee market from the other side of the ocean,” says Espinoza. “I’m hoping to raise awareness of the significance of consuming Fairtrade coffee. It has been huge for us. I think it’s really about the sustainability of rural communities. Fairtrade ensures the stability of sales price of crops and also it means we keep possession of land. It’s kept in the hands of small producers.”

For Jose Omar Rodriguez Romero, a fourth generation coffee producer from Honduras, Fairtrade has allowed his community to plan and grow. Jose has been the leader of COCAFCAL co-op since 2004.

Jose Omar Rodriguez Romero from Honduras
Jose Omar Rodriguez Romero from Honduras

“Fairtrade has changed our lives in a number of ways,” he says. “It has given us the opportunity to participate in the international market in a fair way. But it has also encouraged us to look forward and to look at ways of diversifying our incomes.”

Jose explains that as well as coffee beans, the co-op now also produces fruit, vegetables, dried fruit and organic fertiliser.

COCAFCAL is fairly typical of how a Fairtrade co-op works. It has a general assembly of 10 members, nine of whom are women. The assembly is charged with making sure that the 12 communities involved in the co-op are given advice on finance, production and marketing as well as technical assistance while making sure that standards of production are kept high and ethical. Their primary objectives are to reduce poverty and to increase the standard of living.

“Our community has access to simple things we didn’t have before like a doctor and medicine and educational changes that give our children choice,” he says. “But, I think, more importantly it has given a sense of hope and dignity to families.”

Jose’s compatriot, Ivan Vasquez, has been involved in the coffee business from childhood and has worked his way up to the rank of ‘cupper’, testing the quality of coffee. His RAOS cooperative was founded in 1998.

“Taking a look in hindsight we recognise and value the positive impact generated by Fairtrade here,” he says. “In the fields, the producers have learned that it is necessary to ensure food security through diversification of crops. As a cupper I also know how competitive the coffee market is and how important consistency of quality and traceability is.

“Within all of this, the changing role of women has been extraordinary, new processes incorporating women into decision making has created real gender equality.”

Fátima Ismael Espinoza from Nicaragua
Fátima Ismael Espinoza from Nicaragua

It is a point that is echoed thousands of kilometres away by Bijumon Kurien from Kerala in India. Kurien is the president of the Manarcadu Social Service Society (MASS). In 2009, MASS embarked on their Fairtrade project to help more than 1,000 small-scale farmers.

“Twenty per cent of the members of our co-operative are women,” he says. “Women have become stronger and more involved as a result of Fairtrade. The community has benefitted tremendously as their incomes have tripled.”

But it is not just incomes that have improved. “Farmers who were previously engaged in chemical farming have converted to organic farming,” Bijumon stresses. “So the benefit to the land is immense as the project area which is important to India’s bio-diversity has been cleaned of chemical pollutants.”

More equality, a cleaner planet and a nicer cup of coffee. What’s not to like?


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