Posted on 05/06/2010 at 03:36:51 PM by Student BloggerBy: Emily C.
As a dietetic intern, my day doesn't start without a cup of coffee. Recently, much attention has been focused on eating local and sustainable foods, but what about products that can't be grown in the US?
Many of us drink coffee regularly, but do we stop to think where it comes from and who grows it?
I explored this question further with a friend who is starting a coffee-driven microfinance organization in Honduras, a country known for its coffee bean production.
Unión MicroFinanza is a non-profit organization that works to provide microfinance to the people of La Unión, Honduras in the most innovative and effective ways possible.
Microfinance provides impoverished people with loans that can be used to purchase seeds or fertilizer for crops, tools for a trade, or anything else which will raise income.
The main crop grown in La Unión is coffee, but farmers receive very small wages because they have no transportation and little bargaining power. By eliminating many middlemen, Unión MicroFinanza is able to buy coffee from farmers at fair prices, sell it to consumers at low prices, and use the proceeds to fund loans in La Unión.
The weather conditions and altitude in La Unión are ideal for coffee growing. Actually, one of the best things about the coffee is that the quality is better than that of a Starbucks grade coffee or something similar that you would find in a supermarket.
Fair trade is by far the most common buzzword used with coffee these days. Fair Trade coffee must meet specifications for working conditions and prices paid to farmers, as well as other regulations. Essentially, the goal of Fair Trade is to be sure that producers and harvesters of coffee are treated fairly.
Unión MicroFinanza's coffee is not actually Fair Trade Certified, a classification more relevant to coffee plantations which employ tens to hundreds of employees and can afford the up-front cost. Because their coffee is grown entirely on small, family owned plots of land, the certification process is currently prohibitively expensive.
However, Unión MicroFinanza does buy coffee through a local cooperative which brings together small family farms and buys above the Fair Trade regulated price.
Currently, their coffee is not organic because there is no local demand to justify the added costs of organic fertilizers. This is something which they hope to address in the future, if they can create a large enough demand.
Unión MicroFinanza has many goals, but they all come back to improving the lives of the people of La Unión. They will be working not just with coffee farmers but with many different types of men and women.
They aim to:
- provide microfinance: will enable the people of La Unión to increase their income and standard of living.
- create or expand markets for the sales of products: the coffee is a perfect example of what they hope to do—a farmer can use a loan to buy fertilizer, which can increase output by as much as 100%, and then sell the coffee in the United States at an elevated price.
By helping increase supply from farmers and entrepreneurs, as well as creating new demand for their products, Unión MicroFinanza aims to create a cycle of empowerment, as opposed to the cycle of poverty which plagues people in developing countries around the world.
If you're interested in supporting Unión MicroFinanza by purchasing coffee, you can do so here.
So, when you reach for your morning dose of caffeine tomorrow, I encourage you to think about where the coffee comes from…and if fair wages were given to those who worked so hard to get it into your coffee cup.