Fair Trade cooperative brews up support for its coffee

At the Maramba Fair Trade coffee cooperative in Rwanda, Africa, the 1,708 members have great pride in their product.

Since 1999, they have attained the reputation of producing the best-tasting coffee in the world, and because they are “Fair Trade,” their ability to sell directly to coffee distributors has given them an advantage that can be seen within the country.

Fair Trade is an organized social movement designed to promote equitable standards of labor, environmental sustainability and social justice and create in a market in which poor farmers in developing countries can sell their agricultural products or artisan handicrafts directly to distributors and earn living wages.

As most developing countries are agrarian societies, growing crops such as coffee, tea and cacao can be profitable under the fair trade standard.

John Connelly, senior international studies major, witnessed firsthand the Maramba Fair Trade coffee cooperative last summer during a one-month trip to Rwanda with the non-profit organization Global Youth Connect.

The aim of the trip was to observe and understand human rights delegations.

“When we drove into the village, I saw a visible difference in the economic level of these people versus other areas of Rwanda – the children appeared much cleaner, all were wearing shoes, and their clothes were vibrant.”

“They were singing and dancing and their English was much better than any of the children I spoke with in other regions of the country,” Connelly said.

The living wages that these farmers are earning is put back into the community, raising the standard of living by providing money for social institutions such as schools and medical clinics.

This wealth generated within the cooperative also provided another form of stability within Rwanda – peace.

Rwanda’s other reputation of being the symbol for U.N. peacekeeping failure during its 1994 genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.

“I saw the success from fair trade and economic development permeating into all facets of Rwandan life, most importantly, reconciling the differences between the Hutu and Tutsi,” Connelly said. “I feel that economic development is pivotal in ultimately creating peace in Africa.”

Fair trade, as a form of consumer-based activism within the free trade market, gives consumers the option to choose socially responsible products.

More independent coffee houses are carrying Fair Trade certified products as a result of the growing demand from consumers.

Chris Marino, owner of the independent coffee house Cool Beans International Coffees and Teas in Oradell, N.J., stated his reason why he carries and brews Fair Trade Nicaraguan coffee.

“I’ve been to Nicaragua, and I’ve seen what the conditions are like there. Carrying Fair Trade Coffee is a great way to do something to change it,” Marino said.

Since he began selling Fair Trade Nicaraguan coffee in late 2003, Marino noted that the demand for it continues to increase.

This demand within the community of Oradell has inspired him to order more Fair Trade products.

Marino is now a distributor of three different varieties of Fair Trade certified coffee and eight varieties of Fair Trade certified teas.

Coffee from the Fair Trade Maramba cooperative is sold to major distributors such as Starbucks, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Global Exchange.

By purchasing Fair Trade Certified coffee, you are using your power as a consumer to promote social justice and directly affect communities like Maramba.