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Bipartisan Briefing Addresses US Role in International Coffee Crisis

By Oxfam

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Washington, D.C.—US Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL) will host a briefing on the international coffee crisis Thursday. The briefing will be held in Room 1537 of the Longworth House Office Building and begins at 2:00 PM.

The featured panel of experts will discuss the current state of the coffee crisis and what the private, nonprofit and public sectors are doing to help create stability and security for coffee farmers throughout the world. Participants include:

  • René Ausecha Chaux, COSURCA (Empresa Cooperativa del Sur del Cauca), a Colombian fair trade coffee cooperative, manager;
  • Liam Brody, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, director of sustainable coffee;
  • William Foote, EcoLogic Finance, founding president; and
  • Seth Petchers, Oxfam America, coffee program manager.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world and over 25 million people depend on it for their livelihood. After hitting a 30-year low in 2001, the price of coffee has begun to recover. But the extra cents in no way signal an end to the coffee crisis. Despite higher prices, small-scale farmers still cannot earn a decent income.

"Though prices have recovered somewhat recently, the effects of the coffee crisis are still reverberating among the many millions of vulnerable people dependent on coffee for their livelihoods," stated Congressman Farr. "Back when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia, local coffee farmers were able to support their families with a stable income. Now that we have rejoined the International Coffee Organization, I hope the United States will be able to take an active role in returning that kind of stability and security to coffee farmers throughout the world."

As a result of the crisis, many coffee farmers have lost their farms or have been forced to migrate to cities or other countries. In Colombia, farmers who once could make a good living harvesting coffee often have turned to growing coca, the base ingredient for cocaine.

"Coffee can provide the taste of freedom for millions of families by providing an alternative to illicit crops such as coca and poppies, especially here in the Western Hemisphere," said Congressman Weller. "The United States has taken the right action by rejoining the International Coffee Organization and now we must continue to work together to ensure the benefits of higher coffee prices are realized at all levels of production."

"By helping our farmers access international markets, COSURCA has been able to help alleviate the tension and conflict faced by many of the small-scale farmers in our region," said René Ausecha Chaux, manager of COSURCA, a Colombian fair trade coffee cooperative. "So many farmers have had to choose between growing illegal crops like coca or facing poverty for themselves and their families. With the right resources at their disposal, coffee cultivation offers them a viable, safe option."

Lack of resources, marketing expertise, technical knowledge, and access to capital make it extremely difficult for small-scale coffee farmers to compete in the global market and earn a sustainable livelihood. "A chronic lack of access to capital has stunted the growth and limited profitability of businesses rooted in communities such as small-scale family coffee farms," said William Foote, founding president of EcoLogic Finance, a financial services nonprofit that provides affordable credit to community-based businesses in Latin America and Africa. "A cost-effective, replicable approach to giving these businesses a chance to break their cycle of indebtedness, while broadening the benefits of direct commerce between North and South, is something the US government and private sector can work on with us."

The coffee crisis continues to create considerable economic and social instability in coffee-producing countries throughout Central America, Africa, Asia and South America and, in turn, affect US national security interests, like the war on drugs. "Green Mountain is committed to supporting the small-scale family coffee farmers that supply us with the highest quality coffee beans," said Liam Brody, director of sustainable coffee for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. "A sustainable supply chain depends on the ability for farmers to earn a decent living and invest in their crop."

The briefing coincides with the United States sending its first delegation to a meeting of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) since 1993. "Coffee plays a crucial role in the economic health of communities in poor countries all over the world," said Seth Petchers, coffee program manager with Oxfam America. "The US is in position to develop a meaningful and comprehensive strategy to address the coffee crisis with support from Congress and the renewed commitment by the US to the ICO."

Read Oxfam's latest report on the coffee crisis.

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