Green coffee beans at origin

As with most legal agriculture occurring in the developing world, coffee has a long and sorry history of giving the farmers the short end of the stick when it comes to who gets paid and how much. Even when coffee prices go up, it is oftentimes a vast network of brokers, traders and shippers who profit even before the coffee reaches the roaster. The farmers, who have the least clout or leverage, are usually the ones who receive the least in a vast commodity network second only to oil in U.S. dollars traded annually.

The fair trade movement was started to try and right what has been perceived as an historic wrong. Various organizations were formed in recent years to collectivize farmers and pay them a guaranteed “fair price” for their coffee beans.  However, concerns have been raised that although the fair trade system provides farmers with a guaranteed floor price for their coffee, it does little to promote a rise in quality of the coffee or sustainable growing practices.

A new system has emerged known as direct trade or relationship coffee in which roasters work directly with farmers to help them meet higher standards for coffee quality in exchange for a premium price.