Benefits of Organic Fair Trade Coffee
What is organic fair trade coffee?
The last time you were in the coffee aisle or coffee shop having a look at the coffee brands available to pick one from, you probably just picked a coffee package you thought looked charming or one that you have tried or were told that it tastes good and that’s it. Many people don’t take the time to examine the labels on the coffee packages in stores. It seems to most people that the only things that matter are the pleasant smells, the refreshing feeling they get when they take their first sip of coffee in the morning, and the nice slightly bitter taste that lingers and makes them even more addicted to coffee.
However, if you just quickly take a look at the labels on various coffee packaging bags, perhaps you will start thinking about it differently, possibly having a considerable influence on your next purchase decision, or even changing your preferences! It is not only what is ‘inside’ the packaging that you should judge by, but also ‘how’ it was made and ‘what standards’ the product complies with that must be considered before choosing a brand for your morning routine. You can tell a lot about a coffee brand’s quality by seeing what independent certification labels it has.
What do organic fair trade coffee labels mean?
Let’s first revise the process of growing coffee to better understand what can there be on a coffee package. Coffee is basically a seed. When you first decide to grow coffee trees, you plant unprocessed coffee seeds in soil. And sure, the bigger the amount you aim to harvest, the larger the planting area should be. Coffee requires a good amount of water, so the soil should preferably remain moist while the roots are growing. During the flowering season when coffee cherries are ripe they are collected either manually or using machines, and the larger the amount of coffee cherries to be picked, the bigger the number of workers it requires to accomplish this job, whether to strip coffee cherries off the branches by hand or to run the picking machines. Workers then process these cherries to separate coffee beans from coffee cherries and dry them. These beans are further processed and milled in machines to remove the parchment layer, then workers start grading and sorting them according to their weight and size. Finally, coffee beans (now called green coffee) are loaded into trucks, ships, or shipping planes and exported to other countries. In the receiving countries, companies then roast the beans, grind them and then put the coffee in branded packaging to sell it.
Since coffee all over the world is produced in similar ways and uses similar techniques, then what can those labels on it refer to? What important considerations and standards can there be that deserve to have their own label on coffee packaging? By taking a look back at the production stages, we can say that even if the coffee production process does not change much from one producer to another, the effects this process has on both the environment and farmworkers, and the treatment of the workers carrying out each of those production stages may largely change among producers. These are the things that we normally tend to overlook because they do not seem to be of crucial importance to us; what matters to many people is simple the taste, right? While two different coffee brands could give you the delicious taste you enjoy, one of them could be making sure it does not harm the environment and pays its workers fairly, and the other could be contributing to the pollution of the environment by using harmful fertilizers and pesticides, negatively affecting the health of the workers, and not even paying workers their fair wages. These are also things that must be considered when we are making up our minds on what brand of coffee to pick among the dozens of brands available on store shelves.
The coffee brands that adhere to the environmental and ethical standards qualify for the “Organic” and “Fair Trade” labelling allow people to support brands that take on these responsibilities, to vote for their work and help them grow their business by substituting conventional, non-labelled coffee with another, environmentally and socially responsible one.
What Differentiates “Organic Coffee” from Conventional Coffee?
We have been hearing the word “Organic” associated with many types of products for years now. As long as it is not always possible to see how organic products are produced, then one might assume that these are merely some false claims made for marketing purposes only, while the truth is entirely different! Many standards have to be strictly followed during production in order for a product to be granted the organic certification. In the US, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) observes the production process and makes sure a set of standards are respected before certifying a product as organic, and a brand cannot label their products as organic with being certified at first.  Several factors play a role in deciding whether a product (and in this case, coffee) is eligible for the organic label or not:
Synthetic Pesticides vs. Organic Pesticides
Synthetic pesticides have a disastrous impact on both the environment and human health. Spraying these toxic chemicals on crops can negatively affect the soil (especially if they are way too overused). When synthetic pesticides are applied on crops, there is a chance that some roots of the plants take up an amount of these pesticides in soil and pass it to the fruits.  They can also affect the quality of the soil by damaging the microorganisms living in it, and thus creating a mess in the ecological system.  Spraying synthetic pesticides on crops does not only affect the soil, but the water as well. These chemicals may reach the groundwater and contaminate it, or find a way to a nearby body of water or sea and greatly damage the marine life. The undesired effects of synthetic pesticides extend to include human’s health as well. When you consume things that had been sprayed with pesticides, you could be exposing yourself to different disorders and diseases such as cancer, ADHD, and Alzheimer.  The reason is that even if fruits are cleaned and washed well, some pesticides can still break the fruit’s skin barrier meaning that they can be ingested when eaten. There are also other more immediate health effects that can harm farmers and farmworkers when directly exposed to these toxic chemicals. These effects include having skin problems such as burns, itches, blisters, and rashes, in addition to some throat and nose problems, which could be severe in people with asthma. 
For organic products, it is not that pesticides are never used; but synthetic pesticides are substituted by natural options and heavily regulated. These non-toxic pesticides are made from naturally occurring substances or mixtures containing organic components. Natural are much less harmful for the surrounding soil and water, and do not put a human health in danger. By using them, pollution can be greatly reduced and food can be less contaminated with pesticides, making them a more sustainable alternative to synthetic ones.
When it comes to organic coffee, the coffee beans you get after having used organic pesticides are cleaner, healthier for you, higher in quality, and often have a more distinct and smoother taste. Organic coffee is produced in a way that promotes the responsible farming towards the environment and may help to support a healthier life for coffee consumers. This is only one advantage that favors organic coffee over conventional coffee, but there is more!
Chemical Fertilizers vs. Organic Fertilizers
Same with pesticides, chemical fertilizers have a set of detrimental effects on the environment. These fertilizers are mainly produced from non-renewable sources. It is true that they support the plant, but they do nothing to uphold and improve the soil. When they are repeatedly applied, some toxic elements could accumulate in the soil, and eventually find their way to the fruits or vegetables. Moreover, non-organic fertilizers include contaminants such as nitrates and phosphates that can be carried by rain and sewage to water bodies. These compounds are known to be harmful to marine organisms as they increase the algae growth in water and consequently decrease the oxygen levels in lakes and ponds.  This results in forming a toxic environment leading to the death of fish and other marine creatures. Chemical fertilizers also have an impact on the climate. Since nitrogen is a critical nutrient for the growth of plants, it is one of the components of fertilizers which are widely used today. Unfortunately, the usage of nitrogen (especially when it is applied excessively) leads to some microbial reactions that result in the emission of one of the greenhouse gases called “Nitrous Oxide.”  This is why synthetic fertilizers are known for their contribution to climate change. It is not only the environment that is negatively affected by the application of such fertilizers, but the human’s health as well. Exposure to these fertilizers can cause skin irritation and problems eye, and inhalation of some of the toxic chemicals released from synthetic fertilizers can cause irritation of the lungs, throat, and nose.  They also increase the chances of developing cancer in people exposed to them,  which means that farmers’ health would be put at a great risk and compromised only to save little money by preferring these toxic chemicals over organic fertilizers.
Instead of applying fertilizers made from chemical compounds, you can use environmentally-friendly fertilizers that are made from 100% natural components. They include plant-derived nutrients, animal-derived materials such as animal waste, manure, bones, and powdered minerals.  These natural materials are collected and minimally processed in a factory to give the structure of a fertilizer that boosts the crops. By using high-quality organic fertilizers, you strengthen the soil and help the plants nourish healthily, while also assisting the soil. Chemical fertilizers do enhance the plants’ productivity and may act faster, but they do not supply the soil with a proper amount nutrients and do not last too long, so they need to be re-applied more often to keep the good results. Organic fertilizers, on the other hand, allow the soil to hold water for a longer time, improve the texture of the soil, and make it more fertile for plants. This all adds to the freshness of the taste of coffee in the end through the soil health.
And since organic coffee grows in soil fed with organic fertilizers, coffee beans are fresher and higher in healthy antioxidants. The organic fertilizers applied on coffee usually contain cattle manure and coffee pulps,  which are ideal natural sources that protect the soil from erosion. Growing coffee without chemical fertilizers results in having coffee beans that are richer in nutrients and tastier than conventional inorganic coffee beans.
Sun-Grown Coffee vs. Shade-Grown Coffee
Pesticides and fertilizers are not the only factors that play a role in deciding which coffee is better than which. You might not have heard of this before, but exposure to sunlight is also an important, yet often overlooked factor. Why does it matter whether coffee has grown in shade or not? Coffee grows faster in full sunlight, that’s why producers tend to grow it this way. It is estimated that coffee grown in the sun gives almost three times more coffee than the one grown in the shade.  But this bigger production is accompanied by an adverse effect on the plant itself and also on the environment. Yes, you do produce more coffee beans in a shorter time and increase your profits when you grow it this way, but you would also be affecting its natural taste and health benefits. Not only this, but to get wider areas to increase the coffee production, large areas of rainforest are destroyed, making this production a pathway to deforestation and a persistent threat to the environment.
On the other hand, organic coffee is almost always grown in shade. How does it make a difference? First of all, growing it in shade makes it grow slowly, which adds to its natural flavor and enriches its original taste. You will notice this improvement in taste when you take your first sip of organic coffee! Furthermore, this type of coffee is not only more flavorful but also healthier for you. How so? Coffee exposed to sunlight all the time requires more fertilizers. And knowing that it is the non-natural ones that are often applied nowadays, this is clearly an unnecessary health-damaging way of growing coffee. While it is not the same thing for coffee grown under a canopy of trees, which requires only little or sometimes no fertilizers at all.  This is yet another point in favor of organic coffee, confirming the fact that organic coffee will always be a healthier and a more environmentally sustainable choice than conventional coffee. The “Organic” label on coffee is more than just an ink printed on the packaging; it is a valuable label that must push you to favor this type of coffee with conviction.
What Makes “Fair Trade Coffee” a Wiser Choice Than Regular Coffee?
We do not often get to see the coffee farms or meet the farmers producing our coffee. Our experience with coffee starts with our desire to drink coffee and ends with us buying some and making a cup. That’s it. We simply decide that we need to get ourselves another bag of coffee, so we go to the market and pick one of the available brands whose bag attracts us the most or whose taste we got used to. In fact, there is a whole set of factors that we should be seriously considering when we choose which coffee brand to bring home. Things like farmers’ lives, workers’ wages, working conditions, child labor, sustainability and attitudes towards the environment, are all important factors that can for sure have an influence on our coffee purchasing decision if we only get to see the how each coffee company is producing its coffee. Luckily, such factors can be easily traced; all you have to do is check whether there is a “Fair Trade” label on the bag or not! Coffee brands do not easily get a fair trade label. There is a set of standards that they have to meet in order to be rewarded this trust-increasing label:
1. Farmers’ Wages
In many farms around the world, farmers do not get paid the minimum wage even though their job is not an easy one. There is a general tendency in many places in the world to lower farmers’ wages so that the middlemen or the producing companies make much more profits. Farming is not seen as a big deal, and farmers are often classified as low-status people so they do not get paid well. This is for sure not ethically acceptable. Workers deserve to live a decent life and not worry about whether they will be able to comfortably pay their bills next month or not. By purchasing regular coffee, you are only contributing to the nourishment of such irresponsible companies. But if you choose to pick a fair trade certified coffee, you will be supporting the producers who make sure their workers are being paid at least the minimum wage every month with even a possible plan to raise their wages over time!
2. Working Conditions
Farmers usually work in hard and unsafe working conditions. As long as the producers are insisting on using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, then farmers’ health is constantly put at a great risk. Since they work on crops, they are always exposed to the dangerous chemicals that are applied on those crops which may cause them to have serious diseases. According to the International Labor Organization, at least 170 thousand agricultural workers are losing their lives every year due to the unsafe working conditions!  That is not the only thing farmers have to go through. Instead of having more farmers to work on crops, some producers may let their farmers work for too long hours without thinking about how this could drain them physically. However, if you see the “Fair Trade” label on a coffee bag, it means that those farmworkers producing this coffee do not experience such bad working conditions. They work in a safe environment away from any dangerous substances that can affect their health in any way. It only means that such a company cares about its workers and not simply consider them as profit-generating machines.
3. Child Labor
Children are always seen as a cheap labor force. Instead of providing them with the proper education they deserve and helping them build a bright future, in some areas in the world, they are forced to become farmworkers and are barely given little money that is hardly enough to support their families. The number of children involved in child labor is estimated to be around 108 million children, and more than 70% of them are in the agriculture sector only!  Instead of letting them go to school, children are being exploited and given hard jobs that endanger their health. Nevertheless, by changing just one purchasing habit, you can play a role in preventing such an unacceptable act. The fair trade certification on products means that children were not exploited that way, so when you substitute your regular coffee with a fair trade certified one, you will be supporting those brands who take this child labor issue seriously and are trying to fix the root causes of this problem that has become widely spread in many communities.
4. Environmental Protection
Gaining the fair trade label requires the producers to take environmentally-responsible actions that contribute to the sustainability of our planet’s recourses. In 2018, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions accounted for 9.9% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  What if the whole agricultural sector started acting more responsibly? Would not the percentage be much lowered? Also, how about the excessive use of water and the impetuous use of chemicals? In order to sell fair trade products, farmers must be enhancing the soil instead of ruining it with chemicals, secure an economic use of water to preserve it, apply methods to control common pests, avoid the use of hazardous substances, manage waste, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why when you pick a fair trade product, you would be making a wiser choice and showing your care towards the planet!
5. Product Price
It may seem more encouraging to a large portion of people to buy a little cheaper, conventional product, than buy a bit more expensive one only because it has one extra label on it. Why bother thinking about community issues when we can actually get ourselves a better deal? However, you might change your mind if you start looking for the reasons why a fair trade certified product is usually (and not always) a little higher in price, or to be more precise, why the conventional one is given such a too low price! In order for a product to be labelled as a fair trade product, they make sure the price it is sold at will be enough to cover the production expenses, the fair worker wages, and the sufficient expenses required for a sustainable production. In addition to all that, part of this price is also devoted to the sustainable development (e.g. providing better trading conditions).  So even if you find yourself paying just a little more than you used to, this price is the fair one that we should actually be paying to provide farmworkers with a good life and preserve the planet at the same time.
Why Should You Substitute Your Regular Coffee with Organic Fair Trade Coffee Right Now?
There are always dozens of coffee choices available to you wherever you go, but not all of them are produced with care and for a good cause. Organic fair trade coffee brands are a much wiser alternative to regular coffee for several reasons. When you choose to drink organic fair trade coffee over a conventional one, you will be supporting those coffee producers who actually care about farmworkers and their families, help protect the environment, and provide us with coffee that is healthier and of a more charming taste. So next time you make yourself a cup of this type of coffee, you will not only be enjoying the refreshing taste, but you will also be caring for your health and encouraging the conservation of the environment!
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