in reputable journals that have found farmers using the Fair Trade certification were actually worse off than farms selling on the free market, largely due to costs associated with obtaining and keeping the certification. Does this mean we shouldn’t care about how the coffee was purchased? What’s this direct trade thing we often hear roasters talk about?
Direct trade is a marketing term that the coffee industry uses to make people think that the coffee is purchased directly from a farmer. This is rarely the case for a number of reasons; the most obvious reason being that 90 per cent of farmers don’t produce a finished product. To buy coffee from a farmer you would need to also have a washing station ready to process coffee, a dry mill to mill and pack the coffee, and an exporter to certify and load the coffee.
Not to mention the logistics of transporting coffee between these locations and the workers required to physically perform the work. There are so many points of contact in the process between a coffee tree and packing a container. And every bag/shipment of coffee that goes out has to go through government checks and phytosanitary examinations, so we’re literally talking about hundreds of people involved to move coffee from a tree to a boat. This is just the growing region side off the equation, on our side we’re faced with freight forwarding to get containers off the boat and out of the port, border holds, quarantine inspections, unpacking (300 x 70kg bags) palletising and storage. The direct trade myth is doing a huge disservice to the many hands that work to get coffee from a farm to our shores, and it is a term that seeks to shine light on people’s supposed ethics and business savvy, but in reality it is a self serving term that has been overused and bastardised by the coffee industry.
Do you want the real answer?
Yeah let’s not beat around the bush.
No. There are probably [to my knowledge] three roasters in Australia who could claim they are anything close to direct trade, but even then the term is glossing over the fact that it’s not a realistic idea. (One of those roasters is Commonfolk with the Zukuka Bora project).
Wow and even with Zukuka Bora we had so much third party assistance to get the coffee to our roastery. First Crop played a huge role, as well as the dry mill in Uganda, the shipping company and the freight forwarder in Melbourne.
A great importer can actually be a producer’s greatest ally. From Commonfolk’s perspective, we really only ever try and enter a direct relationship with a farmer we know we can purchase large volumes from year after year. Otherwise it’s not worth it from the farmer’s point of view. So you’re essentially telling me that most roasters are making this whole direct trade thing up?
LOL that escalated quickly, but yes.
There is no way to truly know other than to go to a farm and see for yourself. And even then, farmers are just one person in the process; there are pickers, farm hands, drivers, cooks, labourers and many others involved in the production of coffee on a farm. There’s no guarantees the farmers are taking care of the other people involved in the value chain – regardless of what they’re being paid.