Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee wrote a long e-mail lucidly explaining the shortcomings of Fair Trade and Intelli’s strong commitment to farmer relationships, posted at green LA girl. It’s excellent and insightful.
First, he defines sustainable coffee as being profitable to the farmer, enough to enable him to invest, not just subsist; and not damaging to the ecosystem, so the land is preserved for generations. He goes on to describe
- the many factors that go into the cost of producing quality coffee, and how the Fair Trade model does not have a mechanism for rewarding quality or taking into account the cost of living and other differentials that occur among farmers of different areas,
- how much of the FT minimum price actually gets to the farmer, and how the FT minimum also often ends up being the maximum,
- why Intelligentsia would rather spend ten cents a bag in the producing company, rather than spending it to put a FT sticker on their coffee bags,
- the depth of Intelli’s relationships with their coffee producers, which dramatically highlights the importance of purchasing coffee from roasters with these types of relationships,
- and how the FT model is beneficial to and works best with commercial and entry-level specialty coffee.
Many thanks to Geoff for writing and to Siel for posting this. It really helps consumers (and me!) to understand sustainability issues and make, um, intelligent decisions about the best coffees to drink to support farmers and the environment. Go give it a read.