What is organic Coffee?
Organic beans have been produced without the use of pesticides or herbicides. This of course is both beneficial to the farmer and the consumer. This title organic can also mean other actions that lead to sustainability, such as recycling, composting, soil health, and protection of the environment. These actions are both cost effective and socially responsible. To get the organic certificate the grower or processor must meet the standards defined by the USDA.
To receive the certificate a third party The Organic Crop Improvement Association charges $350.00. This seem relatively inexpensive, unless you are a small farmer who makes about $1,000.00 a year.
This farmer may follow the required procedures but will not be certified organic which will lower the price he receives for his coffee.
What is Fair Trade Coffee?
Coffee importers provide a credit to the farmer against future sales. The importers and roasters enter into a direct and long term deal. This brings greater commercial stability to an extremely unstable market.
Fair Trade help farmers in developing countries achieve economic success.
So Which is Better?
It is easy to see the importance of Organic farming. There are no pesticide or herbicides to pollute the soil or water. And since most Organic coffee is shade grown (I will discuss this in my next post) the forest is not cleared and the soil eroded.
Fair trade works in the opposite direction. It insures that people are paid and treated fairly. The coffee farmers are paid a Fair Trade premium so they have enough to invest in their community. One of the requirement of the fair trade certification is that a premium is paid for Organic coffee. Currently it is 15 cents more a pound than regular fair trade prices.
Many fair trade farmers have switched to organic methods and are now restoring the rain forest in order to receive this premium. This explains why more that 80% of coffee certified as fair trade is also certified as Organic.
Why ask which is better?
There is plenty of coffee out there labeled organic but not fair trade. The environment is being destroyed by some farmers our of what they see as economic necessity. Organic is great but it is not sustainable. If the farmers are can make a wage that supports their family and can encourage them to have a positive effect on the environment it is a win for everyone.
Both are very important, but “Fair Trade” is the long term and sustainable answer.
So when you buy coffee make sure the organic certificate is next to the fair trade certificate.