Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Catholics called to build a better world, one cup of coffee at a time

February 2nd, 2007
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

BALTIMORE, Md. (Catholic Online) – Catholics can build a better, more just world one cup of coffee at a time through helping ensure farmers earn a fair price for the labor, according to the U.S. Catholic Church’s official international relief and development agency.

In announcing a new partnership with the Spokane, Wash.,-based Nectar of Life Coffee Co. on Jan. 24, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) urged Catholics to serve “Fair Trade” coffee in their homes, offices, schools and parishes.

The CRS Fair Trade Fund supports the agency’s work on behalf of disadvantaged farmers and artisans around the world.

The Fair Trade effort attempts to work to provide more than the just one or few pennies from each cup of coffee sold in the United States that would otherwise be earned by farmers that labor all year to plant, harvest and process coffee beans for market.

Fair Trade coffee guarantees disadvantaged coffee farmers a significantly higher, fair price for their product.

As one among other partners of CRS, Nectar of Life, a 100-percent Fair Trade company, contributes a percentage of all sales it makes through the program to the trade fund, as well as $1 from the sale of each bag of its "Nectar Ice" coffee – a roast specially formulated for brewing iced coffee.

“Catholics in eastern Washington have participated actively in the CRS Fair Trade Program for years,” said Michael Sheridan, Senior Advisor for Economic Justice at Catholic Relief Services. “Now, with Nectar of Life’s addition to our network of partners, they can continue to support Fair Trade while also being a socially responsible company in their community.”

Nectar of Life sells exclusively organic coffee that is Fair Trade certified by TransFair USA, an independent, third party certification agency which guarantees that the family farmers who grow coffee are paid a fair price. Fair Trade farmers who grow their crops with sustainable organic farming practices are paid a premium above the Fair Trade minimum.

According to TransFair USA, U.S. coffee consumers drink 108 million cups of coffee each day, and spent about $22 billion last year on coffee.

U.S. retail sales of Fair Trade certified coffee grew from less than $50 million in 2000, to almost $500 million in 2005, a ten-fold increase in a five-year period. Fair Trade certified coffee is also the fastest growing segment of the U.S. specialty coffee market, with Fair Trade certified green coffee imports growing at an average of nearly 75 percent a year since 1999.

Catholic Relief Services, based here, works overseas to provide assistance to struggling low-income coffee farmers. Here in the United States, CRS supports those small-scale farmers by promoting Fair Trade as world coffee prices reach historic lows. Without Fair Trade, farmers “get so little of the profits,” said Jeffery Griffith, communications officer of Catholic Relief Services, noting that it would amount to about “one cent out of every $1.50 cup of coffee.”

The Fair Trade effort is an attempt “to lift the standard of living” and contribute to “economic justice,” Griffin told Catholic Online in a Feb. 1 interview.

“People want to feel good about the coffee they are buying,” he said, noting that Fair Trade allows the U.S. coffee consumer to “have a direct relationship” with the “our neighbor,” farmers in Latin America.

The U.S. consumers can order Fair Trade coffee and other products, including chocolate and handicrafts, online, Griffith said, as well as “more and more in your grocery store.”

In 2006, CRS helped to generate more than $1 million in Fair Trade sales through its Fair Trade Program (www.crsfairtrade.org).

Griffith said that consumers should look for seals on coffee packaging that indicates organizations that Fair Trade companies. He warned that some companies that indicate their products contain Fair Trade coffee use only a small percentage from those farmers.

He pointed to two major seals that appear on packaging that is truly Fair Trade products:

- Fair Trade Federation, an association of Fair Trade wholesalers, retailers and producers whose members are committed to uphold Fair Trade principles. The seal indicates membership in the federation.

- TransFair USA, an independent third-party certifier of Fair Trade products, and governs the use of the Fair Trade certified seal in the United States. Its seal next to the name of a coffee roaster means that the roaster carries coffees certified by TransFair USA.

CRS Fair Trade Fund

To date, the CRS Fair Trade Fund has awarded more than $200,000 in grants, including many to coffee cooperatives overseas, including in:

- Nicaragua, where CRS constructed coffee tasting or “cupping” laboratories vital to quality control.

- Guatemala, where CRS invests in infrastructure to help indigenous women roast and package coffee more efficiently.

- Bolivia, where CRS funded a national Fair Trade coffee quality competition.

- Mexico, where CRS invests in infrastructure to strengthen coffee supply chain and to support expansion of innovative farmer-owned coffee company.

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