Catholic Relief Services has launched a national campaign to raise awareness of unfair coffee-trade practices and promote the consumption of fair-trade coffee bought at living-wage prices by directly marketing it to the 65 million Catholics in the United States.
CRS Coffee Project, which aims at supporting struggling coffee farmers around the world, was launched Nov. 25. The CRS project also plans to help farmers diversify their crops and begin growing high-quality coffee.
The campaign also gives U.S. Catholics the opportunity to live out their faith, which calls them to learn about the injustices that exist in the world, actively work for justice and support the poor. One way U.S. Catholics can do this, says CRS, is to purchase fair-trade coffee.
“Starting your day with a cup of fair trade coffee is a simple way to have a direct, substantial impact on the lives of small-scale coffee farmers," said Joan Neal, CRS deputy executive director for U.S. Operations.
In recent years, overproduction of low-grade coffee caused a plummet in prices on the world market. Coffee fell from a high of $1.40 per pound in 1999 to a low of just 45 cents in 2001. Many farmers have reported receiving as little as 15 to 20 cents per pound of coffee.
The crisis – the worst in 30 years – has had devastating results. Entire crops were left to rot on coffee bushes in Kenya and Guatemala; 30,000 farm jobs were slashed just before El Salvador's harvest season; farms held for generations in Nicaragua were abandoned or sold and families moved to urban shantytowns in search of work.
Nicaragua, for example, historically produced 200 million pounds of coffee annually. But over the past two years the levels of production dove to an estimated 70 million pounds this year.
Fairly traded coffee helps offset some of the devastation by paying a guaranteed minimum price for coffee purchased directly from the farmers – $1.26 per pound of conventionally grown coffee and $1.41 per pound for organic.
The fair-trade coffee marketed by CRS will be sold primarily through parishes that participate in the program. The coffee will be supplied through the Interfaith Coffee Program of Equal Exchange Inc., a Massachusetts-based fair-trade company.
Companies like Equal Exchange purchase directly from farmers, cutting out several layers of middlemen who would otherwise take a cut. As a result, Equal Exchange paid more than $1.5 million to small-scale farmers in above-market premiums last year. That's income farmers would never have received otherwise.
More than 7,000 places of worship across all denominations have participated in Equal Exchange's Interfaith Coffee Program. Last year, those communities purchased more than 118 tons of fair-traded coffee.
A percentage of every package of fair-trade coffee sold will go back to the farmers through the CRS Small Farmer Fund, a resource that supports agriculture and long-term development.
For more information on the project, e-mail: [email protected].