Black Gold: Coffee and Fair Trade

Chefs Collaborative, a NonProfit Center tenant organization, along with TransFair USA and Third Sector New England, hosted a late October discussion and film screening with Tadesse Meskela, general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union (OCFCU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Chefs Collaborative, a NonProfit Center tenant organization, along with TransFair USA and Third Sector New England, hosted a late October discussion and film screening with Tadesse Meskela, general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union (OCFCU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

Meskela is also the star of the new  documentary, “Black Gold.” He was in the United States during November 2006 for a two-week tour with the film’s distributors and Oxfam America to introduce the film and discuss the struggle coffee farmers face in receiving a fair price for their product.

The Price of Ignorance

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, but according to Tadesse Meskela, the global coffee industry, worth $80 billion annually, leaves most of the growers living far below the subsistence level. “Unfair trade has coffee farmers receiving a very low price for the coffee," explains Meskela, who in the film is shown speaking with coffee farmers standing with their families outside of feeding centers.

Without fair trade, coffee farmers receive less than $.50 per kilo of coffee, which yields about 80 cups of coffee. Companies like Starbuck’s sell coffee for $3 a cup, or nearly 500 times the price that coffee farmers are paid for the beans that make that cup. Just as the Sundance Film Festival, which screened “Black Gold” in January 2006, declared, "The spoils of overpriced lattes and cappuccinos are sparsely shared with the farmers who make it all possible.”

The Benefits of Fair Trade

As general manager, Mr. Meskela represents 114 cooperatives and the livelihoods of over 74,000 coffee farmers. When you include the farmers’ families, that number climbs to a staggering half million people. OCFCU is helping small-scale coffee farmers take advantage of the Fair Trade coffee market, which helps farmers in Ethiopia and millions of others around the world receive a better price for their coffee.

Fair Trade coffee companies commit to provide credit and a higher price to registered coffee cooperative associations: at least $1.26 per pound ($1.41 for certified organic coffee). According to Oxfam America, Fair Trade cooperatives are committed to sharing revenues, to ensure the price premium really helps people and their communities.

Says Mr. Meskela, “Our hope is one day the consumer will understand what they are drinking. Consumers can bring a change if awareness is given to consumers. It is not only on coffee, all products are getting a very low price – and the producers are highly affected."

What Your Nonprofit Can Do

You have the power to support organizations like OCFCU and fair trade with the purchases you make for both your non-profit organization and for yourself. Commit to buy fair trade coffee, often fresher, better tasting and more economical than that not purchased through fair trade, from companies like Equal ExchangeGrounds for Change and Jim’s Organic Coffee. Follow the links below for more information on fair trade and its benefits to producers and consumers alike and for ideas to incorporate fair trade into your purchases:


Chefs Collaborative is a national network of more than 1,000 members of the food community who promote sustainable cuisine by celebrating the joys of local, seasonal and artisan cooking.

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