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Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival

Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival

Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival

Fair trade is a fast-growing alternative market intended to bring better prices and greater social justice to small farmers around the world. But is it working? This vivid study of coffee farmers in Mexico offers the first thorough investigation of the social, economic, and environmental benefits of fair trade. Based on extensive research in Zapotec indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca, Brewing Justice follows the members of the cooperative Michiza, whose organic coffee is sold on the i

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  1. 15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Coffee for Justice, December 11, 2007
    By 
    E. N. Anderson (Riverside, CA USA) –
    (VINE VOICE)
      
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival (Paperback)

    This is a stunning book. Written by a sociologist, it combines the best of anthropology, sociology, and economics to produce a work that transcends all of them and makes major contributions to the literature on social justice and on development.
    The core of it is a detailed study of the fall of coffee prices and the consequent rise of fair trade coffee-buying in Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca was an ideal choice because it is an impoverished area that produces very good coffee, and because Mexico was particularly hard hit by the world meltdown in coffee prices in the 1990s. Oaxaca can now claim that much of its coffee is fair trade, organic, and shade grown, to say nothing of being a fine drink. Thus it can command a relatively good price that keeps the small producers there alive–barely. Jaffee not only describes the coffee economy; he shows, from a wonderful village study, how it relates to maize agriculture, labor out-migration, forest conservation, and other important aspects of life. The shade-grown coffee plantations of south Mexico are incredible wildlife paradises–a birdwatcher’s mad dream of heaven–and are absolutely critical not only for the survival of Mexican birds but of migrants from the rest of North America as well.
    Jaffee seems not to know just how bad Mexican coffee was in the old days of state control of the coffee economy. The state saw fit, in many cases, to push mass production of low-grade coffee, trying to compete with Brazil. This failed. The free market came and wrecked the economy, but it did what competition is supposed to do: it improved the coffee, and provided better markets for what was already good. It also had the sad effect of driving many producers of low-grade coffee out of the field and into dire poverty. This problem remains with us.
    Somewhat more important is Jaffee’s stress on the more general problems of the “free market” economy and “neoliberalism.” He blames this for the worldwide woes of commodity production. I do not read the evidence quite the same way. As he points out, the world coffee trade is really dominated by five huge multinational firms (like Nestle) and a few more smallish ones (like Starbucks). These firms are supported by various direct and indirect subsidies, and get various other special favors. An oligopoly, especially when maintained by government action to some extent, is not a free market! He also shows that the dominance of First World buyers over Third World producers of coffee and other commodities has been maintained by war, subversion, and other ugly procedures that are the absolute antithesis of the free market. The fact is–as most Third World countries and a few First World scholars (like Aihwa Ong) now realize–that the world under “neoliberalism” has, if anything, even more neocolonial governmental control and manipulation than before. First World interests have forced their idea of “free markets” on the poor nations, but have kept the subsidies for their home folks, to say nothing of such exercises in “free marketing” as the US invasion of Iraq, forthrightly called by Alan Greenspan a “war for oil.” I have no vested interest in free markets per se, but I don’t think they are the whole problem here.
    That said, Jaffee is certainly correct in saying that we need much more fair trade in coffee, and that it will take work–neither First World strongarming nor free marketing, but actual reform of trade. He gives a number of very valuable and practical recommendations, including protection of the term “fair trade” from misuse and cooptation.
    Readers, this is one place you can REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I have seen Mexico’s small-scale coffee production and studied it, and I think the situation is really night and day. INSIST on shade-grown, organic, fair trade coffee! Seek it out! Even if the label is somewhat weaseled, as Jaffee correctly shows it often is, your insistence sends a clear message. Recently there has been a major decline in “ordinary” coffee consumption but a spectacular rise in demand for fair trade and organic coffee. The firms cannot ignore that.
    More generally: Anyone interested in current problems of small-scale agriculture–whether coffee, potatoes, or cattle–should read this book.

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  2. 8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Great overview of fair trade coffee, July 20, 2007
    By 
    Andy Lehne (Brookings, SD) –

    This review is from: Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival (Paperback)

    Jaffee did a great job covering the important aspects of fair trade coffee. He thoroughly explained the history of the market and explained the coffee market during the ICA years as well. He also covers the drawbacks of fair trade. I would recomend this book to anyone interested in coffee as well as anyone interested in social justice.

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