Fair trade week underway in Prague

This week marks fair trade week in the Czech Republic and the main focus is on coffee. Consumers can sample various brands and speak with coffee producers from Mexico and Tanzania. While the consumption of fair trade goods in the Czech Republic increased by 22 percent last year, such products are still relatively new to the country – they only became available in 2004 when the Czech Republic joined the European Union. John Kanjagaile, the export manager of a fair trade farmers’ union based in Tanzania, spoke about the situation of coffee farmers there and how the fair trade market differs from conventional trade.

With the conventional market, prices depend on the forces of demand and supply. When there is plenty of coffee, prices go up, then everybody starts producing a lot of coffee, and all of a sudden, prices come down. So most of the time, prices are down, but with fair trade, there is a minimum price to be paid. When it goes up, you can pay up.

“But when it comes down, you should pay at least the price which can recover the production costs. That’s very important. Then you have the social premium of ten cents per pound, which is part of making the two parts of the world, the north and the south, closer to each other. That’s the main difference.”

So what does the Kagera Cooperative Union (KCU) do for its farmer members?

“It keeps them together, it collects all the members’ coffee, it markets the members’ coffee, it’s owned by the members themselves. So it collects and sells to the market, and then it passes all the proceeds to the members. The members are the decision makers on everything that is done with their coffee.”

How has fair trade changed the situation in your country and which problems still remain?

“If it wasn’t for fair trade, in the globalized world, with free market, we would have been scattered already, we wouldn’t have been together at all. But with fair trade, we are able to earn enough income from the coffee, so we keep our members together. That’s one.

“Secondly, when we get the fair trade benefit of the minimum price, which is the cost of production and the social premium, then we can take care of the community development in different areas, we can build some schools, some health centers, because coffee is the main source of income in our area.

“The market is very small, we are selling only 25 to 27 percent of our production to the fair trade market, we believe if you can sell at least 60 percent to the fair trade market, then more income will come to our producers, so they can build better houses for themselves, dress better and take more children of theirs to schools, and that’s what we need. So we’re here to expand the market, so it can be a bit bigger.”

Talking about market expansion, how long have you been doing fair trade with the Czech Republic?

“I only came the day before yesterday. That’s when I got here. In the past, I sent some samples before 2004, and the coffee samples came back to Tanzania. So I was scared that I cannot even send a container here, because it would get lost or come back to Tanzania. But today I’m here, so that’s a very good example, so I think it will be possible to send the samples and to send containers of coffee to this country.”