Later this week, Counter Culture Coffee will present the results of its study “The Social Impact of Microlots” to an audience at the 2012 SCAA Expo. I am excited about the report because it directly addresses two issues that have been the source of much discussion on this blog in recent years: the potential for Direct Trade to sow the seeds of social disunity among smallholder farmers, and the relative lack of information about the social and economic returns to smallholder farmers on their investments in meeting quality standards for microlots.
Direct Trade and social cohesion
In late 2010, this post on Direct Trade generated an excellent discussion between Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture, whose annual Direct Trade Certified TransparencyReport has raised the bar for reporting among Direct Trade roasters, and Matt Earley of Just Coffee, whose motto is “Demand Transparent Trade.” In the exchange, Peter and Matt addresses the transparency issue, but the focus of the discussion migrates to deeper questions about Direct Trade’s impact on the social cohesion among members of smallholder cooperatives — a point that Peter and I began discussing here back in May 2010.
Specifically, the concern is that Direct Trade can drive a wedge between neighbors who are meeting high quality standards and earning financial rewards for quality and those who are not.
Direct Trade and the return to smallholders on investments in quality
The obsessive focus on quality that is so central to the Direct Trade model is the source of much celebration among coffee consumers, but there are still lingering questions about the social returns to smallholder farmers on investments in quality. It seems that even after a generation of investments at origin to improve coffee quality, we still don’t have precise data on the returns on those investments to smallholder livelihoods.
“The Social Impact of Microlots”
On both counts, Counter Culture’s report is cause for excitement. The survey asks farmers — both those who have produced microlots and those who have not — specifically how the microlot process has affected their relationships with their neighbors. And it examines the importance of financial incentives for microlots and begins to examine how those financial incentives are reinvested.
I am looking forward to the presentation.