There are huge issues in the coffee industry that have been recognised now for many years.
Around 125 million people worldwide depend on coffee for their livelihoods. It is one of the most valuable and widely traded tropical agricultural products and is mainly produced by smallholder farmers. Many of them however are unable to earn a reliable living from the coffee they produce.
The coffee supply chain is complex as beans pass through the hands of growers, traders, processors, exporters, roasters and retailers before finally reaching the consumer.
Fairtrade was started in response to the dire struggles of Mexican coffee farmers following the collapse of world coffee prices in the late 1980s. With Fairtrade, certified coffee producer organisations are guaranteed to receive at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their coffee, which aims to cover their costs of production and act as a safety net when market prices fall below a sustainable level. Through their producer organisations, farmers also receive the additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in business or community improvements.
There's no denying the positive effects of Fairtrade on the coffee industry.
However, at Hundred House we feel that things have moved positively beyond Fairtrade to an ethos in speciality coffee of 'trading fairly' across the board – though sadly this still does not apply in other sectors of the coffee industry.
The coffee market is a really good example of how Fairtrade is an important first step. However we ourselves, and some other specialist coffee producers, believe we can do even better than Fairtrade. Whilst Fairtrade coffee assures minimum price points are met in terms of what the farmer receives, within speciality coffee and the way that we trade as a roaster, we buy above and beyond Fairtrade standards and the farmers do a lot better. We believe that if the farmer is doing well, then we are doing our jobs as a speciality roaster.
We buy from farmers who are dedicated to ethical processes, are driven by supporting the ecosystem they work from and looking after their teams in equal measure. If we start with the first two points – ethical processes and supporting the local ecosystem and environment – with this we mean using minimal pesticides and respecting the local flora and fauna, encouraging balanced farming and often shade grown using the canopy of the rainforest. We also partner with farmers who look after their people. If you think that coffee can only be picked by hand, as cherries ripen at different speeds, then you start to understand why this is so important. Ensuring farmers are paid fairly for the coffee has an important knock on effect in terms of housing, education and quality of life for the migrant workers who are picking the cherries.
Being in Shropshire and surrounded by farming country, we are constantly reminded of how farmers have to balance use of land, respect for the environment and local community and survive within a highly industrialised culture. Trading fairly means a commitment to dialogues that contribute to a healthier and more productive synthesis of communities across the globe, reflecting the rural ecosystem that we live in, the heart of local produce and food in the UK. By maintaining a commitment to provenance, sustainability, freshness and fair relationships with the growers, we ensure that the farmers get paid a good price for a good product and that the relationships are long term, not just seasonal and allows them to build their farms as small businesses and more often than not, to thrive.
Anabelle de Gersigny
Hundred House coffee