Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

The evening of Wednesday, 26th February found us at Designate@thegate showing a film for Fairtrade Fortnight. “Black Gold” is about the world coffee trade, and focuses on coffee farmers in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee.

Harvesting coffee for Oromia

Multinational companies dominate the coffee industry which is worth over $80 Billion annually, making it the most valuable commodity on the world market after oil. But while we pay top prices for our americanos and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers is so low that many have been forced to abandon growing coffee and instead grow crops for the drugs trade just to stave off starvation.

“Black Gold” asks us “to wake up and smell the coffee” and be aware of the unjust conditions under which one of the world’s favourite drinks is produced and then to decide to take action. The film provides a brilliant introduction to how necessary Fairtrade is, as it strives to give consumers a just and fair alternative.

Early in the film we meet Tadesse Meskela, a man on a mission to save his struggling coffee farmers from starvation. Tadasse  is the manager of  the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union, which at the time of filming is made up of 101 co-operatives representing 74,000 small coffee farmers in southern Ethiopia. As the farmers work hard to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans in the world, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price for the coffee. He works tirelessly to cut out the middlemen, the multinational companies and the commodity traders and speculators in New York and London who callously drive down the price the farmers get for their coffee.

The coffee farmers don’t want handouts – they simply want justice – a fair price for their coffee. Tadesse’s cause is supported by the Fairtrade movement, which is working to bring commodities such as tea, cocoa, sugar, bananas etc. as well as coffee, to an ever increasing number of consumers in the rich world.

Eventually “Black Gold” returns to Ethiopia, where a famine is taking hold. Some coffee farmers, facing starvation, have begun to replace coffee bushes with chat, a chewable narcotic plant which brings in a higher price than coffee.

There is a poignant moment in the film when some farmers are gathered around Tadesse, who asks them if they know how much a cup of coffee costs in the USA. The cost is so bizarre and unreal that rather than showing outrage they are astonished and lost for words. The disparity between what they get for their coffee beans and the cost of a cup of coffee just doesn’t make sense.

The film rather than simply being a rant against the corporate baddies, shows how Fairtrade initiatives are making a real difference to correct some of the injustices facing poor producers in the developing world, and how every person can make a difference by buying Fairtrade Marked products. So buy Fairtrade tea, coffee, sugar, bananas and chocolate, etc. and shun shops and cafes that don’t sell it or serve it. You can change the world for the better, one cup of coffee at a time!

Look out for the Fairtrade Mark