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Of Promises and Poverty: Inside the Coffee Industry in East Africa

Improving the lives of farmers and the environment is the main focus of many coffee certification systems such as UTZ certified, Fair Trade, RainForest Alliance amongst others. Many companies regularly acknowledge their corporate roles of being responsible for their actions on the planet. One popular among these that claim to be responsible to farmers and the environment is Starbucks. Starbucks asserts it pays premium prices for premium beans to farmers; built schools and clinics, protected the rain forest and improved water quality in several parts of the globe where it operates.

It is a common sight to behold in many Starbuck outlets, portraits of coffee from Africa yet it fails to unveil the dark side of the farmers- Poverty! A recent feat by Starbucks is its venture into the East African market of Ethiopia which boasts of the finest coffee in the world- the Arabica, the cradle of wild coffee which also gives Starbucks its pricing image. Ironically, since its operation in 2004 in Ethiopia, there is still poverty visible in the lifestyle of the peasant coffee farmer, his family and children. Although the farmers do most of the planting and harvesting of the coffee, there is no enjoyment of the fruits of their labour. The question one may ask is: Are these companies actually paying the premium prices to these farmers to enable them cater for their families and still invest in their crops? Are they actually being responsible socially and environmentally? Since its operation in Ethiopia in 2004, Starbucks stayed committed to only building footbridges that can serve communities and the coffee plantations. There are other better ways that Starbucks can do to help the peasant farmer whose only source of income is dependence on coffee. Potable water, electricity, good roads, hospitals and schools do not exist in many of the coffee producing communities in East Africa (Ethiopia). In Ethiopia alone, it is reported that Starbucks purchases scaled up by 400 percent between year 2000 and 2006. Are these benefits to the company also a reflection to the peasant farmer? One might say there is a trickling effect of the benefits in sight to the farmer in the near future. How long should farmers wait to reap where they sow?

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2 comments on “Of Promises and Poverty: Inside the Coffee Industry in East Africa

  1. We absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be exactly what I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers to write content for you personally? I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write concerning here. Again, awesome website!

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