One of the primary reasons that I undertake to live below the line is that day in and day out I am confronted by the issue of small-scale farmers trying to earn a living, feed their families, and not compromise their land and livelihood for future generations. While many of those in developing countries are likely subsistence farmers (meaning they grow to eat not to sell), there are 30 million that grow coffee and cacao for export. So what better commodity to hone in on than coffee (ok, maybe chocolate...)?
Apparently NPR's Morning Edition had the same idea last week. An interview with author Mark Pendergrast, of the new book Uncommon Ground, elucidated the ironic nature of coffee historically as both a convener of revolutionary ideas and the impetus for enslavement. Pendergrast also made the link between the social, economic, and environmental elements of commodity colonialism (is this a term?)..."In Brazil — where slavery was legal until 1888 — coffee plantations would use slash-and-burn agriculture, tearing down rain forests and planting coffee trees that depleted the nutrients in soil. Once the soil had been sapped, growers would move on to another place."
And this confluence of all three legs of the sustainability stool (social, economic, and environmental facets) was the topic of another segment on labels that indicate good behavior on the part of farmers and companies. Zooming in on Costa Rica, where one can find a wealth of coffee certifications, tradeoffs become evident. Cooperatarrazu was highlighted as operating as a collective, and striving towards meeting the standards of many of the certifications discussed. It was also one of the sites I visited last July!
Coffee may be nowhere close to falling within my food budget this week, but it is also not accessible to those who grow the coffee, either. And while it is unlikely that a farmer in rural Costa Rica will be sipping a latte anytime soon, there is headway being made in terms of making the production and sale of the beverage (or rather, the bean) more equitable and responsible. Keep on sipping your coffee, however, make sure to think carefully before pouring.
Also see: Step Aside, Gents. Witness the Rise of Women in Coffee
Photo credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)