The explosion in coffee consumption in the past two decades has generally not benefited farmers of coffee beans in poorer nations along the equator, it has mostly just helped corporations, including those marketing "fair trade" as some sort of ethical improvement..
The analysis of trade and globalization found that the shift to "technified" coffee production in the 1970s and 1980s created harsher economic and ecological consequences for heavy coffee-producing nations, such as Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, Brazil, Vietnam and Ethiopia. Technified coffee production changed the process to increase yield to satisfy demand, which means coffee is now like large wheat or soybean farms in the United States.
The imagery of coffee plants growing in smaller shaded areas picked by hand is just that. For smaller farmers who are trying to compete, they have to exclusively grow coffee. But major drops in commodities prices of coffee beans to around $0.50 per pound in 2001 nearly wiped out economies of those nations due to reliance on profitable coffee markets in the West. And coffee prices are booming now, but a bust could certainly happen again.
Alexander Myers, a University of Kansas doctoral candidate in sociology, presented his findings, "Trading in Crisis: Coffee, Ecological Rift, and Ecologically Unequal Exchange," at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. He also claims that modern coffee is more taxing 'eocologically' but those countries have plenty of water - the myth of 'virtual water' has been debunked by science.
The Fair Trade movement has helped to offset the economic changes but they still have to buy in large quantity, which means small farmers are stuck competing with larger co-ops. Science, as always, will be the great equalizer for poor farmers, though Western consumers most likely to embrace Fair Trade are least likely to accept agricultural science.
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