Drinking Coffee, Changing Lives:
Effective Solutions for a
Coffee Market in Crisis
Anginette Fullerton

Research Proposal
The world is a massive web of intertwining peoples, experiences, businesses, and lives. In the international economy, one commodity stands out from the rest: coffee. Everywhere, everyone seems to be involved in its buying and selling, importing and exporting, tasting and sharing. In fact, coffee stands solely behind water as the second most consumed commodity on earth (Wallace). Yet if the coffee bean is in such high demand, then why are coffee farmers some of the world’s poorest workers? Multi-national coffee companies and middlemen leave little profit for coffee farmers, but through small coffee shops and fair trade organizations, small growers can improve their profit.
In this paper, “Drinking Coffee, Changing Lives,” I will explain how intentional buying can benefit impoverished farmers. I will act as informer for my audience of consumers, revealing hidden truths about coffee growing, middlemen, and fair trade. Tremendous time and care is dedicated to one bag of beans. Which bag we choose can make the difference between a farmer’s harm and a farmer’s hope.

Drinking Coffee, Changing Lives: Effective Solutions for a Coffee Market in Crisis
I. The solution to every problem begins in education. Consumers must understand the issue before they can alleviate the coffee crisis. The issue begins at the coffee farms.

A. Farmers in various countries farm two unique types of coffee, arabica and robusta (“Botanical Aspects”).

1. Arabica plants are more delicate, requiring specific growing conditions (Wallace, “Spirit Mountain: Best Coffee in the Caribbean”), farming techniques, and protection to produce their smooth yet acidic tasting product (“Botanical Aspects”).
2. Robusta plants, on the other hand, are more resilient in harsh conditions (“Botanical Aspects”). Without extensive agricultural care, they produce a higher quantity of beans which are brewed into a hearty and bitter beverage (“Botanical Aspects”).
3. Coffee farmers do some of the hardest work in the coffee industry, they earn some of the lowest wages in the world and struggle to live sustainable (Bacon 501).

B. Aside from its physical challenges, the coffee business faces economic challenges. Consumers will always want coffee, but the farming conditions are constantly changing (Mehta and Chavas 285).
II. Consumers must also understand the aspect of middlemen, or intermediaries, in the coffee market.

A. Many farms lack the means to roast, package, and ship their crop. On the other hand, middlemen have the resources and connections to do so (Perez).

1. As intermediary workers are inserted into the coffee market, distance is placed between producer and buyer. This lack of relationship is the heart of the coffee crisis.
2. Multi-national coffee companies rely heavily on middlemen. The coffee crisis is promoted as consumers purchase from those chains (Wallace, “How Can”).
B. Through intentional spending, educated consumers can change the coffee crisis. Careful choices in spending help to improve the profit and the lives of coffee farmers.
III. Socially conscious organizations and individuals are taking steps to change the economics of coffee.

A. Fair Trade USA is a prevalent organization that purposes to “eliminate the middle man” and provide fair wages to the deserving producers. They “educate” and “compensate” the impoverished communities to encourage sustainable living (“What is Fair Trade?”) Using the very market that sent coffee prices plummeting, the fair trade movement is working to improve farmers’ profits (Jaffee, xiv).

1. In her book, Sarah Lyon shares her observations of a coffee-farming community in Guatemala. They joined with the Fair Trade organization and worked hard to meet agricultural standards. Their work paid off as consumers eagerly purchased their coffee and profits boomed (Lyon, abstract).
2. Wall Street Journal writer, Christopher Shea, reports of an experiment conducted in a local coffee shop. It revealed that customers were willing to spend several dollars more for a certain French Roast coffee simply because it had a “Fair Trade” sticker (Shea).


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