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August 7, 2006 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Black Gold

From the glamour of an international barista festival to the poverty of Ethiopian coffee plantations, coffee, the second most globally traded commodity, connects many different worlds. In 2002, after seeing the desperation in Ethiopia, the birthplac of coffee, English journalist Nick Francis was inspired to make a movie to show the connections between these different worlds.

Black Gold, one of the most highly anticipated documentaries in the Wellington Film Festival, was first screened on Friday the 21st of July. This movie follows the story of coffee from the poor growers to the decadent drinkers. On Friday afternoon, Nick came to Victoria to discuss the reality of our favourite stimulant (aside from P). Speaking with a group of students, faculty and members of the public, the conversation drifted through the economics and politics of the international coffee trade and the growing Fair Trade movement.

Nick admitted early on that the problem is very complex; the movie’s purpose was to speak through that complexity and make the problem and the solution accessible. Terms like international trade regimes, economic exploitation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund surpass the majority of average Joes that just want to enjoy their morning coffee. According to Nick, “people don’t care about Africa, but they do care about coffee.” Black Gold helps viewers connect their coffee drinking with the real world. With filmmaking as his tool, Nick challenges “the pathological indifference that pervades the developed world.”

Up until the eighties, coffee-growing provided a stable income for countries where it is traditionally cultivated. When deregulation was in economic fashion, all this changed, and developing countries that didn’t traditionally grow coffee were encouraged to grow it as a cash crop, flooding the market with cheap coffee that tastes like ass. Now all these growers are dependent on, and vulnerable to, the New York coffee prices that fluctuate daily. Fair Trade is a way to confront this inequity by keeping prices set at a fair price, providing a social premium to help with community development projects. Most Fair Trade coffee is also cultivated using organic methods to keep the industry environmentally sustainable.

Nick acknowledged that Fair Trade is really just a starting point, but a very important starting point. Black Gold was made not to promote the Fair Trade movement, but to look at the bigger picture. With corporations like Nestlé and Starbucks being accredited with Fair Trade labels on some products there is some confusion about what the movement is really fighting for. Trying to ride the publicity wave generated by Black Gold, Starbucks executives arranged to meet with Nick, proudly telling him that 3.7% of their coffee was fair trade, implicitly admitting that 96.3% is unfair. Fools. Like they care about “Carlos” or “Undugu” who they picture on their brochures to help them sell more overpriced double decaf venti frappacinos.

So, how are coffee farmers being exploited? In Black Gold, Ethiopian coffee farmers are speechless when they find out what a cup of coffee costs in the United States (up to 50 times what they receive). The price differential is divvied up between various middle(wo)men and corporations. Fair Trade eliminates all these and pays the farmer directly, through a cooperative system. Fair Trade is also about producers being in control of their own livelihoods. In his many encounters with coffee corporation executives, Nick is familiar with the argument that corporations can’t go Fair Trade because it narrows their profit margin and reduces dividends for their shareholders. However, Nick recalls an instance where the Fair Trade social premium bought a Ghanaian farmer a share in a transnational corporation, sent her to a shareholders meeting and made the corporation face the reality of the coffee industry. Checkmate.

So, you ask, what can students at Victoria do? Well, you can:

* Ask for Fair Trade next time you’re at a University café.

* Buy stuff from Trade Aid (which stocks everything from Fair Trade coffee to Fair Trade rainsticks)

* Think twice before you buy fair trade coffee from big corporations

* Check out the Black Gold website especially the forum and the “Take Action” section.

* Sign Just Action’s petition to bring Fair Trade to campus next time we come pester you in the quad or the library

* Email Just Action at vic.just.action@ to find out more about Fair Trade, community, environmental sustainability and chocolate…or if you just need a friend to talk to…

* Come to Just Action meetings (Wednesday 5-6) to discuss what we are doing at Victoria

* Think about the story behind everything that you consume

* Start/join the revolution…


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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