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Re: The Dark Story of Poverty in Your Coffee...

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By ivangrowth
February 6, 2006

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The author entitles his article, " The dark story of poverty in your coffee cup..." He could have as well entitled it, "The dark story of poverty in your T-shirt," or "The dark story of poverty in that canned pineapple in your pantry..." I think he has framed the whole situation incorrectly.

Coffee is not the enemy in this story (nor is the coffee drinker, as he implicitly suggests). Poverty is the enemy. Throughout his article, the implication is that if the coffee grower only got a bit more for his product, things would be better. I don't buy it. Fair Trade Coffee has helped alleviate some of the injustice that spills out in any market system create but Fair Trade Coffee doesn't begin to touch the magnitude of the poverty of Latin America.

I would suggest that the grinding poverty, at the root, is caused by:

1. Inaccessibility to land
2. Lack of property rights (intellectual as well as physical)
3. Inaccessibility to capital
4. Lack of redress through any meaningful court system
5. Graft/Corruption
6. Lack of investment in human resources - education, health care

After 9 trips to Latin America, I have concluded that the best we can do is insist that our foreign aid be directed at any of the six items listed above. Now, I drink Fair Trade Coffee, but I don't delude myself into thinking that 'will set them free.'

What has worked? I have been with groups ( that have farmed land cooperatively and once they demonstrated successful farming techniques and active participation in the project (usually about 5 years), the property is deeded over to them.

They certainly didn't grow coffee on those small plots. They grew the basics that they needed to feed their families; rice, corn, beans, and fresh vegetables. Health improved measurably. The next project? Drill a well that would provide potable water (about 50% of the kids in that Guatemalan village had worms).

Micro-credit is catching on in Latin America. (Asia is ahead of them). I have seen the fruits of accessibility to tiny amounts of capital (for us North Americans) and lives literally changed. Here is one agency that I am familiar with and support on the north coast of Honduras.

What sets Adelante (and others like them) apart is that they believe that only they can create their own future. While there are tons of well meaning agencies, grant someone access to capital that has ambition and they will take it from there.

That is on the individual level. On a national level, critical mass is needed (therein lies the rub) to make the change. Many similarities on the continent of Africa where the president of South Africa (Mbeki) said, "...the renaissance (of Africa) will only succeed if its aims and objective are defined by the Africans themselves, if its programs are designed by ourselves and if we take responsibility for the success or failure of our policies."

Interesting article that makes for a ton of guilt, and, no change.

Ivan, who swills without guilt

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