Did you know that coffee is one of the most important crops to buy both organic and fair trade, for a variety of reasons? If yes, you are one of the growing number of Americans waking up to the environmental and social aspects of this issue: U.S. imports of organic, fair-trade coffee grew by an astounding 94 percent in 2006.


By the Numbers

$80BILLION: Annual worth of trade in coffee — the world's second most-traded commodity, after oil.

28 MILLION: Number of small farmers growing coffee in more than 50 countries.

1: The United States' rank among the world's coffee importers.

$26: Cost per pound to U.S. consumers for some specialty Ethiopian coffee beans — though farmers may net less than 80 cents for those same beans.

2: Coffee's rank among pesticide-laden crops, after cotton.

Trees filter direct sunlight, nourish the soil, and provide critical habitat for migratory songbirds. (Sun-tolerant coffee varieties boast higher yields but require more chemical fertilizers and pesticides.) Intermingled plants — from bananas and guavas to cinnamon and vanilla — also provide extra food and income to farmers.


Certified farmers adhere to biodiversity practices and do not use harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The latter is of particular concern with coffee, says Dean Cycon, author of Javatrekker (Chelsea Green, 2007). “Ten of the most toxic chemicals around — including malathion and DDT — are used often and indiscriminately on coffee, usually by farmers who can't read the warning labels [in English].”

Make a Difference

At home: Spring for organic, fair-trade beans. Costing an average of $11, each pound makes about 40 cups, which breaks down to less than 30 cents a cup.

When you buy at a café: Try to choose a shop that serves all fair-trade beans. If you visit one that carries only one kind of fair trade (or none), tell the manager you'd appreciate seeing more fair-trade choices.


Over the past decade, coffee prices plummeted to as low as 35 cents a pound, even though it costs farmers at least 60 cents to produce that coffee, according to Cycon. Certified fair-trade importers agree to pay a minimum price (now $1.26 per pound) and provide credit to small farmers. Many fair traders also fund projects benefiting local communities, from digging wells to reforestation.

SHARE YOUR JOE :: Tell us about your favorite fair-trade or organic coffee, where you find it, and why you love it. Send a note to deliciousliving@newhope.com.

Sources: Dean Cycon, founder, Dean's Beans Organic Coffee; Transfair USA; Oxfam International; Global Exchange.