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Cameron’s is a Fair Trade Certified facility, yet we don’t broadly use Fair Trade Certified coffees. We’re often asked why. Let’s start by saying, we do support the strategic intent of the two Fair Trade organizations, Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA. Their common goal is to ensure fair prices are paid to growers in developing countries.

Over the past twenty-plus years, we have learned a lot about our farmers and the supply chain we share. Our focus is to work for direct farmer relationships to pay them fairly and quickly. Paying quickly is a detail that is not often highlighted, but it’s critical for small farming operations to stay afloat. Some large coffee roasters have extended payment terms up to 300 days that essentially remove the ability of a small farmer to operate.

Cameron’s has found that helping the small farmer with better farming practices has the most benefit to the people, planet and product within global coffee. Higher quality and yields allow for greater income and wage stability, and fuel the improvement of basics like clean water, local medical access and better living conditions (including education for children and gender equality for women). Better farming practices also improve land and water use, which benefits the environment.

Looking at the numbers, there are 1.5 million large/corporate farmers that supply an estimated 63% of the world’s coffee. The other 37% is supplied by small to medium-sized farms. These smaller farmers realize only 40 to 80% of the price of coffee they sell to their local coffee milling stations (think of these as collection points). Various parties take their cut prior to the farmer being paid. This is information from Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung research, a foundation that supports small farmers throughout the coffee growing regions with their Coffee Kids program.

Thinking back to Fair Trade, the farmer must pay to be certified. They pay on 100% of coffee produced, but they receive only 40% to 80% of their price in return. This is an inherent problem. Our priority is to help small farmers in a way that the small farmer does not pay anything. They get help via funding and education to help improve living conditions, coffee quality and yields to become more self-sufficient producers of coffee.

Accordingly, we are not against Fair Trade, it’s that we are for direct influence with small farmers, where we get coffee without the farmer having to pay for any certification. Cameron’s proudly partners with Coffee Kids to help farmers in countries where we source. We are currently working with Saimon in Colombia to improve his ability to become self-sufficient and to influence more farmers in his village. We are also watching closely the great efforts of Enveritas, an emerging certification agency that uses objective satellite technology to study coffee-growing regions with on-the-ground interviews with farmers. Importantly, the farmer does not pay a fee.

In the end, sometimes you need to buy a small coffee farmer a goat and chicken for milk and eggs, to increase the nutrition in their diet, then move to training on farming practices. These are small but needed steps to move small farmers from survival to self-sufficient.