Starts tomorrow I beleive. And there\’s a report out from the bosses at the ASI to celebrate.
Fairtrade\’s supporters blame the plight of coffee farmers on world prices and ruthless multinationals. But supporters ignore the real causes of poverty among growers. Farmers I interviewed in Kenya told me that the problems they faced were caused by their own government\’s interference. They have to use milling companies granted regional monopolies, which fleece them. They want to boost productivity by using fertiliser but cannot afford the prices demanded by the fertiliser monopoly. Imported tools would transform their output but are subject to punitive tariffs.
Brazil, conversely, pursued free-market reform and the farmers have mechanised. That has enabled five people and a machine to enjoy the same output as 500 unaided farmers.
Yet the Fairtrade Foundation, the lobby group behind the scheme in Britain, seems oblivious and admits it has no programmes to encourage the use of technology. Even worse, it is giving counterproductive advice to farmers, encouraging them to mix crops in the same field, thereby cutting productivity and making mechanisation more difficult.
Despite Fairtrade\’s moral halo, there are other, more ethical forms of coffee available. Most Fairtrade coffee is roasted and packaged in Europe, principally in Belgium and Germany. That is unnecessary and retards development. Farmers working for Costa Rica\’s Café Britt have climbed the economic ladder not just by growing beans but by doing the processing, roasting and packaging and branding themselves.
But Café Britt is not welcome on the Fairtrade scheme. Most Café Britt farmers are self-employed small business people who own the land they farm. That is unacceptable to the ideologues at FLO International, Fairtrade\’s international certifiers, who will accredit farmers only if they give up their small-business status and join together into a co-operative.
There is evidence that Fairtrade is damaging quality, too. Its farmers typically sell in both Fairtrade and open markets. Because the price in the open market is solely determined by quality, they sell their better beans in that market and then dump their poorer beans into the Fairtrade market, where they are guaranteed a good price. That\’s worth considering next time you pop out for an espresso.
(That\’s another boss, Alex Singleton of the GI, writing there).
I\’ve actually heard (rumour, not fact) that Fairtrade actively militates against mechanisation, insisting that only peasant farmers can benefit: a great way of perpetuating poverty down the generations.