Visitor puts case for ethical coffee

Last updated 05:00 11/05/2012

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"Fairtrade producer, Fairtrade roaster, Fairtrade customer, we're all part of the Fairtrade family."

Papua New Guinea coffee marketer Michael Toliman beams over his flat white.

Coffee marketing isn't really his job; his day job is quality advising and sitting on the board of a coffee farming co-operative.

But as Toliman tours New Zealand with the Fairtrade organisation to drum up support for beans grown in Papua New Guinea, he is an ambassador for his countrymen, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

"This is the first time [marketing overseas]. It's a big, big step forward for us, and our co-operative members are anticipating my return to hear what the consumers and roasters have said."

The first coffee trees were planted in Papua New Guinea in 1951, however, it has not been very profitable for individual farmers tending the 5000 or so small plots of land in the half century since.

The farmers were forced to sell at low prices to local export companies and made little money, Toliman said.

"There was no opportunity for people to come together and sell together, to have negotiating power with local exporters."

Fairtrade has helped the farmers organise themselves to work together, giving them bargaining power and greatly improving their prospects.

They were certified by the Christian World Services and Oxfam-backed charity last year and are now eagerly looking for customers.

Co-operatives are on the rise in Papua New Guinea, with five certified by Fairtrade and seven more poised to be inducted.

The little bit extra that Kiwis paid for Fairtrade coffee made a massive difference to the country of origin, Toliman said.

Toliman's Neknasi Coffee Co-op has 425 members, producing about 120 tonnes a year. The co-op sold its first container to New Zealand this year – on top of the farmers' earnings for selling the 2.5 tonnes, their town got $8000 from the Fairtrade premium to build community projects.

The first cheque will be used to build a water system, he said. The next two years will pay for a medical clinic and elementary schools.

About $45 million of Fair Trade products are sold in New Zealand each year and coffee makes up more than half.


Fairtrade coffee is not just the domain of small, boutique cafes.

BP's Wild Bean roadside cafe chain is the largest single seller of the certified coffee in New Zealand, with a fifth of the nationwide trade.

The chain has sold only Fairtrade coffee since 2008 and was proud of its support of the concept, BP retail general manager Frank van Hattum said.

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"We've been on the ground and we've seen the difference Fairtrade makes. And every time a New Zealand consumer chooses a Fairtrade product, they're choosing to support a fair deal for producers and their communities."

It bought its beans through food giant Cerebos Greggs, but visited the source farms to see how the region was developing and to ensure the programme was not corrupted, he said.

The coffee comes from Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil, and cocoa for its hot chocolates comes from Ghana.

BP's Fairtrade premiums have allowed a coffee and sugar co-operative in Costa Rica to buy 195,000 more plants and 60 houses for those who needed them.

Addington Coffee Co-op contributed to Fairtrade premiums, and went one further, coffee manager Matt Ballantine said.

The thriving Christchurch coffee house divvies up its profits, giving the money back to its suppliers and the local primary school.

The company had "an upside down business model" that puzzled many people, but the 12 owners were happy to see the money go to those who needed it most, he said. The company bought its coffee through Trade Aid.


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