As mentioned delectably elsewhere, a few weeks ago the Co-operative Party premiered a new film about global coffee production in a screening at Parliament. The movie, Black Gold, features Tadesse Meskela, the general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union in Ethopia. Tadesse himself was able to join us and the film makers for the screening in London, as well as a reception at Number 10 and a debate for members with Hilary Benn MP in Wakefield.
Tadesse’s Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union was established in June 1999. Nearly 102,950 farmers members have organized into 115 cooperatives. These 115 cooperatives are affiliated to the Union. By working together, farmers can get a better price, improve the quality of their product and reinvest profits and community dividends in a collective manner.
Coffee is an iconic commodity in the battle for trade justice. It was the crop that led to the formation of a fair trade mark and trading system. Coffee growers in Mexico and elsewhere burnt their crops in protest at the collapse in global coffee prices. Consumers, particularly in Holland, decided to do something in solidarity by paying a fairer price for their coffee, and fairtrade was born. But the problem remains. While we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields. Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. The film follows Tadesse round the world trying to get a fair price for his coffee while in Seattle and London, a cup of coffee is elevated to an art form and global business, and charged for accordingly.
As Tadesse puts it, “Our hope is one day the consumer will understand what they are drinking. It is not only on coffee, all products are getting a very low price – and the producers are highly affected.”
Each month of its ninetieth year, the Co-operative Party is focusing on a different policy theme where we can highlight co-operative solutions. February has been Ethical and Fair Trade, and Oromia is an excellent example of the way that co-ops make a real difference to people’s lives. A case study on Oromia is available for download.