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The Fairtrade specialty coffee conversation

From the February 2018 issue.

Fairtrade International works to set the record straight: Fairtrade and high quality are not mutually exclusive.

While Fairtrade International has been working hard during the past several years on various projects focused on boosting the perceived quality of Fairtrade coffee, the last year in particular has been a busy one both at the farm level and out in the marketplace. The global organisation has ramped up efforts as part of a quality initiative focused on continuously improving the quality of Fairtrade coffee and improving buyers and consumers’ awareness of its coffee quality.

Fairtrade has made great strides for growers since it launched in 1988, but because most of the nonprofit’s efforts have been focused on enabling farmers in developing countries to secure a fair deal for their produce, Fairtrade coffee’s quality was rarely part of the conversation.

According to Fairtrade, these early efforts primarily went into opening markets and increasing the volumes of coffee traded under Fairtrade terms at the expense of also promoting its quality. As such, Fairtrade coffees have been haunted for years by an unwarranted reputation for low quality.

“There hasn’t been an absolute link between Fairtrade and low quality,” explains Fairtrade International Global Coffee Manager René Capote. “It’s more that quality was never part of the Fairtrade conversation.”

He acknowledges that part of the issue is that the specialty coffee market surfaced after Fairtrade’s standards and certification were implemented. So while specialty coffee and Fairtrade coffee are complementary movements, they happened independent of each other.

As such, an important component of the greater quality initiative is spurring and facilitating that conversation at every stage, from growers to buyers to consumers.

The other contributor to the low-quality reputation has to do with the Fairtrade minimum price. There’s a misconception that the price is prohibitive for higher-quality coffees.

Rather, “the minimum price aims to provide a

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