Spilling the beans, Rainforrest Alliance vs Fairtrade

Roasted coffee beans Español: Granos de café t...

What’s going on?

Well many of us wonder how we could make it through the day without that sweet smelling gold but not as many wonder how our coffee is sourced. Even many locals from coffee growing hot spots seem blissfully unaware of the circumstances surrounding the exportation of one of the most valuable commodities in the world. So as a trade off for some crazy weather, a non-existent winter and other definitive qualities, the countries situated around the equator are amongst the few countries in the world able to grow a successful coffee crop. You may then rightly observe that they are not the only places interested in drinking it, by the truckload….. In fact the US alone (the last statistics I saw) consume two-thirds of the world’s coffee, sadly this cup is not bottomless and here in lies our problem. The second part of this problem is the methods used in harvesting coffee beans, the conditions for those working in the coffee growing regions and the price paid for the coffee, continue to have negative affects on their communities. In different terms, many of these coffee-growing nations are third world or otherwise economically disadvantaged. Simply, if your coffee beans could say made in china, they would.

What’s being done about this?

In response to UN and public demand, a number of schemes have arisen to regulate coffee trading and contribute in different ways to the welfare of those living in coffee growing communities. The main two have been outlined here for your reading pleasure.

Fair Trade

Fair trade coffee is coffee that is certified as having been produced and marketed to a stated set of standards. Many customers pay a higher price when buying coffee with the certification logo or brand in the belief that, by doing so, they are helping farmers in the Third World.[1]

Fair trade coffee has become increasingly popular over the last ten years, and is now offered at a significant number of coffee retailers worldwide. In 2004, 24,222 tonnes (24,222,000 kg) of 7,050,000 tonnes (7.05×109 kg) produced worldwide were from Fair trade farmers; in 2005, 33,991 tonnes (33,991,000 kg) out of 6,685,000 tonnes (6.685×109 kg) were from Fair trade, an increase from 0.34% to 0.51%.

Fair trade is a certification scheme, designed to put the average  coffee consumer at ease regarding the origin of their beans.

According to Oxfam, an avid promoter of the Fair trade scheme:

The term “Fair trade” refers to an independently audited, product certification and labeling system set up with the aim of helping those who grow and produce coffee to get a fair go. It does this by:

  • Paying farmers and workers a fair price for their work
  • Helping them gain skills and knowledge to develop their businesses in the global economy
  • Providing a certification and labeling system so Fair trade standards are met and that the benefits of Fair trade get back to the farmer who produced the product

Fair trade also means farmers and communities can:

  • Use improved environmental methods
  • Establish democratic associations or cooperatives to start local community development projects from the proceeds of Fair trade
  • Have access to low-cost credit and technical assistance
  • Receive a social premium that supports community projects

How are products certified as Fair trade?

Each part of the coffee supply chain is certified. This means the sale of coffee can be tracked and audited so the benefits of Fair trade get back to the farmer who grew the coffee. This coffee then carries the Fair trade logo. For more information about the certification system visit the Fairtrade Labelling Organization International website.

As an alternative…

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) with the published aims of working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. It is based in New York City and has offices worldwide. The conservation NGO was founded in 1987 by Daniel Katz, who is still involved in the organization. Day-to-day management is the responsibility of President Tensie Whelan.

A woman picks coffee on the slopes of the Rainforest Alliance Certified cooperative Ciudad Barrios in El Salvador.

 Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Forestry

The Rainforest Alliance launched the world’s first sustainable forestry certification program in 1989 to encourage market-driven and environmentally and socially responsible management of forests, tree farms and forest resources. The organization’s SmartWood program helped found the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit organization that promotes responsible forest management globally, in 1993. SmartWood is accredited to certify forestry operations that meet the FSC’s environmental and social standards. Operations that earn certification can use a seal on wood products so consumers know that the wood they are buying comes from forestlands that are managed in a way that conserves biodiversity and ensures the rights of workers and local people. SmartWood has certified more than 108 million acres (43,800,000 hectares)[1] of forest worldwide, making it the largest FSC certifier of forestlands in the world. The Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program was ranked “top of the class” according to “Wood Products Legality Verification Systems: An Assessment,” an independent report compiled by Greenpeace, a global environmental organization.[2]

The Rainforest Alliance also works to connect certified communities and businesses to buyers of forest products. They work to build sustainable livelihoods by helping certified communities and businesses to market their products effectively and increase technical ability. By promoting green building and helping companies that purchase forest products to incorporate sustainability into their sourcing policies, they are also working to increase the demand for certified products.

The Rainforest Alliance’s forestry program also provides training and technical assistance to small forestry operations on how to reach certification and educates consumers and people in the forest products industry about conservation and certification.

And then….

Well a Disney ending would say that everyone lived happily ever after but I have a little more faith in your good old fashioned cynicism than to suspect you of believing such a thing 🙂 While both of these schemes have had a positive influence in the daily ins and out of the tropics, one would be naïve to assume all problems have disappeared. As with many industry regulations (the term ‘eco tourism comes to mind, watch that space…), accountability, and impartiality are far less common than desirable. The biggest concern here is the opportunity for corruption, and how such schemes are administered.

What can I do?

Here are a few simple pointers when capping your next chino…

  • use smaller cafes as opposed to chain outlets
  • Talk to your barista and ask them about Fair trade/Rainforest alliance, where their beans come from
  • If you like a strong coffee, have a smaller one with less milk (don’t panic, the caffeine intake will be about the same, just the low-fat version)
  • If you buy coffee beans at home, spend a minute or two reading about their origin
  • Befriend an Amazonian
  • Get involved with either Fair trade or Rainforest alliance whose websites have been added to your GTG homepage

On that note, your GTG don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind, however, hopefully the next time you indulge, do it sensibly and it will taste a whole lot better. Till next week.

Coffee cup

N.B One cup of coffee was consumed and 0 Amazonians befriended during the writing of this article.. The GTG would like to call on the already established friendships with Brazilians to avoid mass cries of hypocrisy…