With an introduction by Oxfam America's Shayna Harris, coffee program organizer.
Speaker: Ashenafi Argaw
SHAYNA HARRIS: It is a pleasure to be sharing with you the thoughts and wisdom of a fair trade friend who can not be with us tonight. Ashenafi Argaw and I met just a few months ago in the Oromia Coffee Farmers Union office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was in Ethiopia with my colleagues visiting Oxfam's regional office and the partner organizations with whom we work. Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, the organization that Ashenafi works with, is one of Oxfam's partners. Oxfam funds Sidama on various projects that the union identifies as important for its communities, ranging from coffee quality and processing, to clean water projects, to capacity building at the cooperative and union level.
Because Ashenafi can't be here himself, I want to give you a better sense of who he is. Ashenafi is an incredibly dynamic individual. Though our meeting was brief, I was immediately drawn to his spirit. He is a young, energetic, and incredibly committed individual.
Ashenafi graduated from Addis Ababa University and worked for one year with the government's Urban Development Office. After a year learning about how the Ethiopia government works, Ashenafi joined Furra College, determined to make a difference in the lives of Ethiopia's population by working on development issues. He completed a thesis on pricing and the coffee commodity, and through his studies became deeply convinced that generations of Ethiopia's farmers deserve more equity and dignity while pursuing their incredible work.
With what Ashenafi calls a "pressing conviction" he joined Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union and has been serving in different capacities. Currently, he is leading the export division.
With passion and commitment, Ashenafi is working to give a voice to Ethiopia's farmers, who have been silenced for too long.
ASHENAFI ARGAW: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to share a message with you from Ethiopia's poor and unheard farmers.
The word "crisis" can not sufficiently describe what has happened in Africa. The human tragedy there is so serious, it sometimes defies description. According to the World Bank, the majority of African countries (about 36) have a per capita annual income less than $675. On a yearly basis, Ethiopians typically earn $110 each.
In the face of this bleak poverty, political crisis, and instability, I am happy to see that there are people who are willing and committed to help. Your presence here proves that you want to empower the downtrodden.
The marriage between fair trade and farmers has helped lessen the poverty for my people. Fair trade has saved the lives of poor farmers. And participating in fair trade requires that both buyers and growers are disciplined, honest, and fair.
One of the "Seven Sins" as Gandhi puts it was: "Commerce without morality." In this way, a fair price is a moral price. It should, however, be clear that paying this price is only part of the overall package that will transform humanity.
I believe we are all in the same boat. The circumstances might vary. But in the end, what touches one part of humanity sooner or later affects the rest.
It has been many decades since farmers started to grow coffee in our area. Coffee was originally discovered in Ethiopia in a place called Kaffe. Soon coffee was growing throughout East, West, and South, becoming a necessary source of income for many Ethiopian farmers. Coffee makes up more than 50 percent of Ethiopia's total exports, generating vital income for its population of 73 million, more than half of whom live on less than a dollar a day. But then the price slump began in 1998, and the crisis affected the country in general and the coffee producers in particular.
Sidama Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union was designed to find an alternative ways to get coffee farmers a market for their crops and a fair price that would allow them to maintain their farms and provide basic necessities for their families. Searching for new alternatives in the coffee market, the union empowered cooperatives by creating more direct relationships between the producer and the trader.
Fair trade guarantees a minimum of $1.26 per pound (a living wage) and access to credit at fair prices. These fair payments are invested in food, shelter, healthcare, education, environmental stewardship, and economic independence. Fair trade promotes socially and environmentally sustainable techniques and long-term relationships between producers, traders, and consumer.
But coffee isn't just about farmers. Coffee starts at the hands of producer and ends at the hands of consumer. As a representative of producers, I am close to the crop, where the story starts and as consumer you are close to the cup where the story ends. You get your coffee from supermarkets and I get my coffee from the farm. But the path from crop to cup, and from farm to supermarket is long, and there are many actors involved. Most of these actors are acting unfairly and affecting the lives of many poor and silenced farmers. Today, I kindly request you advocate for fair trade by preaching fair trade, and consuming fair trade.
Although I was unable to make it to your conference, I hope the message I have shared with you whets your activist appetite. I know we face a long winding path and it is mostly uphill. The tasks before us are among the hardest to perform. But I strongly believe that fairness, truth, and justice will shine through and help us win our battle. What it takes is a full commitment from us to the poor, downtrodden, and unheard farmers. Only then can we espouse the noblest ideals of humanity.
Thank you and God bless you!
SHAYNA HARRIS: Ashenafi represents the true spirit of a committed individual who is working on behalf of his country to bring true social and economic transformation to the lives of the over 80,000 farmers Sidama supports.
He is living proof that we all play an important role in the work for a more just world, regardless of where we were born, our social position, and the resources afforded to us. Like most of us here, Ashenafi was not born in a coffee growing community.
However he is an inspiration to us all, as he has found a way to use his education and privilege to form strong partnerships with the millions of coffee farmers of Ethiopia, and help bring their story to you.
To learn more about the Sidama coffee grower's cooperative you can visit Oxfam's website, at www.oxfamamerica.org. Ashenafi reminds us that we all play a role in transforming our world, in promoting a vision and enabling the notion that together, we can end poverty.