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I grew up in Guatemala, a coffee-growing country, but I learned to drink coffee while writing my dissertation in Germany, far away from home. This is the paradox of living in the coffeelands sometimes. Quality coffee is enjoyed far away from its origins.

But this also means that coffee has long been a part of my life. How could it not be? When the coffee trade sneezes, Guatemala gets pneumonia. From the shade of coffee plants, I've watched as many things have changed in the industry and its history: distribution of land, labor conditions, fluctuations in the economy, etc.

A Heifer project participant poses with her coffee plants in western Guatemala.

Coffee is the second largest market in the world, after oil, so it is a big deal globally, as well. Demand for coffee is so great that its price is getting higher every year. Unfortunately, the amount of money that makes its way to coffee producers is declining every year.

The prices that reach coffee producers are so low that it allows them to survive, and that's about it. Inputs for growing coffee are expensive, and small-holder coffee farmers aren't getting a price representative of these inputs or the labor, value of the land, etc.

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking at Specialty Coffee Association of America's annual event, and after the presentation, a man asked if we should stop drinking coffee because coffee farming families are going hungry. I immediately grabbed the microphone and said, "NO... but demand the right kind of coffee."

So what is the right kind of coffee?

Fair Trade is certainly part of the answer. The main idea with Fair Trade is, of course, ensuring that coffee farmers can earn a living wage. But it's more than that. Fair Trade coffee is brought to your cup through a process that is socially just and ecologically sound. And through Fair Trade, farmers are empowered through strong, democratic organizations.

Fair Trade really is a great thing, but it's not enough. Long-term, sustainable development is necessary to achieve food security, and that's the part of the equation Heifer is trying to improve. Through our projects in the Americas, we are diversifying the production of coffee farmers so that they are not only earning income from coffee but also earning income from other sources and growing their own food.

Coffee is a path to community development, when the right process is followed and the right system is in place.  When it is cultivated organically, it improves soil fertility, increases biodiversity, promotes reforestation, creates a healthy environment for workers and produces a cup of coffee well worth drinking. When it is processed in an ecologically sound way, water streams are protected. And when coffee producers are brought together in an organized way, it empowers them and helps their work become economically viable. When you add food security to the mix, that's the whole package. In coffeelands around the world, this is the perfect equation to ending hunger and poverty.

Happy World Fair Trade Day!

Español

Hablemos sobre… Café: Beber (el tipo correcto de) Café

Crecí en Guatemala, un país cultivador de café, pero aprendí a beber café mientras escribía mi disertación en Alemania, lejos de casa. Esto es a veces la paradoja de vivir en las tierras del café. La calidad del café se disfruta lejos de sus orígenes. Pero esto también significa que el café ha formado parte de mi vida mucho tiempo. ¿Cómo no podría serlo? Cuando el comercio del café estornuda, a Guatemala le da neumonía. Desde la sombra de las plantas de café, he visto como muchas cosas han cambiado en la industria y su historia: la distribución de la tierra, las condiciones laborales, fluctuaciones en la economía, etc.

El café representa el segundo mercado más grande en el mundo, después del petróleo, por lo que también es importante a nivel global. La demanda de café es tan grande que su precio se está incrementando cada año. Desafortunadamente, el monto de dinero que llega a los productores de café está disminuyendo cada año.

Los precios que llegan a los productores de café son tan bajos que les permiten sobrevivir, y solo eso. Los insumos para cultivar café son caros y los pequeños agrícolas de café no reciben un precio de acuerdo a estos insumos o su trabajo, valor de la tierra, etc. El mes pasado, tuve el placer de hablar en el evento anual de la Asociación de Cafés Especiales de América, y después de la presentación, un hombre preguntó si deberíamos parar de beber café porque las familias agricultoras de café están pasando hambre. Inmediatamente agarré el micrófono y dije, “NO… pero exija el tipo correcto de café.”

Entonces, ¿cuál es el tipo correcto de café?

El Comercio Justo es definitivamente parte de la respuesta. La idea principal del Comercio Junto es por supuesto, asegurar que los agricultores de café se ganen un sueldo base. Pero es más que eso. El café de Comercio Justo llega hasta su taza a través de un proceso que es socialmente justo y ecológicamente sensato. Y a través del Comercio Justo, se empodera a los agricultores mediante organizaciones fuertes y democráticas.

El Comercio Justo es realmente una buena cosa, pero no es suficiente. Es necesario el desarrollo sostenible a largo plazo para lograr seguridad alimentaria, y esa es la parte de la ecuación que Heifer está tratando mejorar. A través de nuestros proyectos en las Américas, estamos diversificando la producción de los agricultores de café, para que no sólo estén ganando un ingreso del café sino logrando ingresos de otros recursos y cultivando sus propios alimentos.

El café es el camino hacia el desarrollo comunitario, cuando el proceso correcto se sigue y el sistema correcto está en su lugar. Cuando se cultiva orgánicamente, mejora la fertilidad de la tierra, aumenta la biodiversidad, promueve la reforestación, crea un ambiente sano para los trabajadores y produce una taza de café que merece la pena beberse. Cuando se procesa de manera ecológica, los arroyos de agua se protegen. Y cuando los productores de café se reúnen de manera organizada, les empodera y les ayuda a que su trabajo se convierta económicamente viable. Cuando añades seguridad alimentaria a la mezcla, ese es el paquete completo. En las tierras del café alrededor del mundo esta es la ecuación perfecta para erradicar el hambre y la pobreza.

¡Feliz Día del Comercio Justo!

Author

Oscar Castaneda

Oscar Castañeda is the Vice President of Heifer International's Americas Area Program and has been at Heifer since 2004. He was born and raised in the highlands of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. He is passionate about organic, local and Fair Trade food and how those processes connect people. Oscar loves running and spending time with his wife and son.

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