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The Stirring Reality of Coffee Coffee is the most popular beverage consumed in developed countries but grown almost exclusively in the Global South.
The former which is considered better quality comes mostly from Latin America, Ethiopia, and Kenya; the latter from Brazil, Vietnam, and Uganda. When the price of coffee rises, the incentive for struggling families to withdraw their children from school and send them to work increases; at the same time, a fall in coffee prices increases poverty in regions that depend on the crop, which can also prevent children from attending school.
Since higher levels of education are tied to higher income over the long term, and children from poor families are those most likely to be sent to work rather than school, child labor maintains a cycle of poverty over generations, which is why it is important for the children to go to school and for the farmers to be paid a living wage so that the amount of money they make is not based on the price of a commodity.
Landed elite in coffee-producing regions own large plantations where a permanent workforce is employed. It is not unusual for families who are part of the permanent labor force on a plantation to work and live there for generations, sometimes being pushed into debt by the cost of renting land or interest on loans for emergency healthcare.
Kopi luwak, for example, is a type of Indonesian coffee produced by feeding coffee beans to the Asian palm civet, a small mammal found in the jungles of Asia.
It is the most expensive coffee in the world, selling for hundreds of dollars per pound. The signs include constant spinning, pacing and bobbing their heads. A similar process is used in the nascent practice of feeding coffee beans to elephants.
Shade-grown coffee cultivation is beneficial for the environment in many ways, preventing soil erosion and providing a haven for species native to the often ecologically fragile and extremely biodiverse regions where coffee is grown.
The product is often considered to be of higher quality, but many coffee-roasting companies have devised ways to hide the bitterness of cheaper beans, increasing demand for inexpensive coffee. In contrast, shade-grown coffee plantations can remain productive for more than three decades.
Many workers complain of difficulty breathing, skin rashes, and birth defects. Though the waste makes excellent compost, it is more often unloaded in waterways, where it has a negative effect on water quality. Dry processing is preferable from an environmental perspective as the coffee cherries are simply sorted and left to dry in the sun, while wet processing, on the other hand, involves high water use and generates wastewater.
There are a number of certifications applied to coffee that purport to ensure that the beans were produced ethically. Organic-certified coffee must be made from beans grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
Organic agriculture also forbids the use of genetically modified organisms, and farmers use organic fertilizers and safer alternatives to fungicides and agricultural chemicals.
While the environmental benefits of producing organic coffee are many, the economic advantages are few, and for farmers living in poverty, the immediate struggle to sustain a family will naturally tend to overwhelm concerns about water quality or exposure to chemicals.
While certified-organic coffee is sold at a premium, the lower yields mean that farmers do not always profit in a meaningful way from obtaining the certification. Unfortunately, its standards are so low as to make the certification almost meaningless.
Unlike a Fair Trade certification, the Rainforest Alliance does not guarantee a fixed price to growers, leaving them vulnerable to the rise and fall of coffee prices on the stock exchange. For this reason, a Fair Trade label does not guarantee that the farmers who produced the coffee have a reasonable standard of living or better working conditions than they otherwise would.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the premium charged for Fair Trade coffee does not go to coffee farmers in its entirety; rather, much of it is expended on marketing, administration, processing facilities, and labor at other levels of production.
Individuals can also make impactful decisions by purchasing products, such as coffee, from ethical sources, but Westerners really should begin to view coffee as a luxury, and people should consume less as part of reducing their environmental impact.
All of the coffees recommended are shade grown except for Coop Coffee, which sources coffee grown from varying degrees of shade to more direct sunlight.Coffee is the most popular beverage consumed in developed countries but grown almost exclusively in the Global South.  There are two main varieties of coffee.
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