Noble goals and challenging terrain: organic and fair trade coffee movements in the global marketplace

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Abstract

Social relations associated with conventional agricultural exports find their origins in long term associations based on business, family, and class alliances. Working outside these boundaries presents a host of challenges, especially where small producers with little economic or political power are concerned. Yet, in many developing countries, alternative trade organizations (ATOs) based on philosophies of social justice and/or environmental well-being are carving out spaces alongside traditional agricultural export sectors by establishing new channels of trade and marketing. Coffee provides a case in point, with the fair trade and certified organic movements making inroads into the market place. In their own ways, these movements represent a type of economic and social restructuring from below, drawing upon and developing linkages beyond the traditional boundaries of how coffee is produced and traded. An examination of the philosophies of the fair trade and organic coffee movements reveal that the philosophical underpinnings of both certified organic and fair-trade coffee run counter to the historical concerns of coffee production and trade. Associations of small producers involved in these coffees face stiff challenges – both internal and external to their groups. More work, especially in situ fieldwork aimed at uncovering the challenges, benefits, tensions, and successes, is needed to understand better the ways these networks operate in the dynamic agro-food complex.