Outside the Leftbank Project center

Stumptown coffee roasters hosted international coffee producers and exporters in a panel discussion at the Leftbank Project last Thursday evening. Free and open to the public, coffee enthusiasts and proponents for fair labor practices gathered to sip Salvadoran and Costa Rican blends and join the panelists in discussing hot issues in the global coffee production sphere.

Moderated by Stumptown Coffee Buyer, Aleco Chigounis, the panel welcomed the following guests:

From Colombia: Alejandro Cadena, Co-Managing Director of VIrmaz Colombia Ltd., Giovanny Liscano, coffee farmer from Pedregal de Inza, and Walter Penna, coffee farmer from Pedregal de Inza and member of the ASORCAFE producer’s association.

From Costa Rica: Juan Ramon Alvarado, coffee farmer and export company owner from the Heredia province, and Francisco Mena, Trade and Purchasing Manager at Exclusive Coffees S.A. in San Jose.

From Kenya: Ngatia Kanyoge, coffee farmer from outside of Karatina, Nyeri and Assistant General Manager of the Gaturiri Factory, and Kamau Kuria, managing director of the 2nd Window project for CMS in Karatina.

Unfortunately, Aida Batlle, organic coffee farmer from the Santa Ana region of El Salvador, could not attend.

A central issue was about the benefits of breaking away from traditional trade molds within each country. As an example, in 2006, Kenya passed a new amendment called the 2nd Window (after 14 years of prior debate). Kuria explained that unlike the Nairobi Auction wherein coffee is sampled and bid on by overseas buyers, the 2nd Window fosters a direct relationship between coffee producer and overseas buyer. Still, only 9.4 percent of Kenyan coffee producers have adopted this form of trade.

The Direct Trade works to eliminate the illusive areas in the coffee production process, making it easier to trace coffee from the cup back to the individual farmer.

Chigounis, of Stumptown Coffee, maintains this direct relationship by traveling overseas to ensure the wage of each farmer is equivalent to the market price of the coffee.

It’s a simple concept on the surface: gourmet coffee (like Stumptown) costs more, so the farmer will be paid more.

Yet, as Francisco Mena of Costa Rica explains, the majority of coffee farmers subsist using the basic farming elements and know very little about coffee production and costs.

As for Colombia, the third-largest coffee producing country in the world, the majority of coffee is produced poorly, mixed with other coffees, and sold overseas at very low prices. Translation: the farmers are paid little or nothing.

What can we do? Consume. Seek out gourmet coffee roasters that offer Direct Trade coffee, and help raise wages of coffee farmers overseas.

Purchasing gourmet coffee not only affects the production quality of the coffee overseas; according to Mena, it “changes the quality of life” for the farmers.