Fairtrade certificates are a good first step towards fair trade – that’s how we see it.
But simply buying certified coffee from an importer here in Switzerland and trusting that the Fairtrade system will ensure that coffee farmers get enough money, we do not want that.
We want to know the people who grow our coffee – in person. And we want to make sure that as much money as possible stays with those who literally create value in the value chain.
The more direct the better
The more middlemen we avoid, the more money stays for the farmers. And when you think about it, the Fairtrade organisation is ultimately like a middleman. For many farmers, certification is simply too expensive. When we first imported the product, we decided to work with a Fairtrade cooperative – to be on the safe side. Since our second year, we are working with certified and non-certified cooperatives alike. Living and working conditions do not differ.
The organization in cooperatives helps the farmers threefold: Firstly, they can collectively shoulder larger investments such as those in a wet mill, which enables everyone to earn a higher income. Furthermore, the cooperative acts as a saving account. Coffee farmers in Ethiopia usually earn income only once a year – during the coffee harvest in November-December. The cooperative pays out a dividend once the all the coffee has been sold in July-August. This helps farmers to manage their business better and their family budget. Finally, the cooperative also provides a better negotiating position to the farmers : together they are stronger.
The price we pay for our coffee is not fixed in New York on the stock exchange, but in a personal conversation with the farmers on the ground. The extremely high quality of the coffee, which depends to a large extent on the work of the farmers, is decisive for the price. And no one knows this better than the farmers themselves, because just a few years ago they hardly sold their coffee on the local market: “Before, we sold our coffee for 1.5 to 2 birr. Now we get 10 to 15 “. That’s what Kedir Aba Megal told us. A tenfold increase in price – also because a further step in the value-added chain is now being taken by farmers: they wash and dry the coffee themselves. Around a quarter of our sales price remains in Ethiopia.
Transparency instead of anonymous trade
Of course, paying for a certificate is actually more convenient than getting a story like the one told directly by Kedir – because without hours of driving on dusty bumpy roads, that’s impossible. Nevertheless, we prefer to rely on our own eyes and ears rather than on anonymous labels. And we hope that coffee drinkers in Switzerland will follow us on this path: literally. This year, for the first time, we are taking five to ten enthusiastic people with us to the coffee farmers in Western Ethiopia. Do you want to come with us? Find out more here.