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Can you imagine a day without your morning coffee?

If your answer is "No," you're not alone. Coffee is the world's second most valuable traded commodity, after petroleum. At more than 2.5 billion pounds per year, the U.S. consumes one-fifth of the world's coffee supply.

Do you know where your coffee comes from? Do you know whether the coffee you are drinking is grown in a manner that is sustainable for the environment and for those who grow it?

Why It's Important

In many parts of the world, coffee production is a vital income source. An estimated 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of the world's farmland are dedicated to coffee cultivation. Unfortunately, many of these workers are struggling to survive. Recent gluts of coffee on the market have sent prices plummeting, leaving millions of families that depend on coffee production facing poverty and even starvation.

While American consumers pay $3 and more for a cup of coffee, the profits have not been trickling down. The price paid to farmers has fallen by more than 70 percent over the past five years. A decade ago, coffee-producing countries got about a third of every dollar spent on coffee. Now, they see less than a dime. Farmers and their families are going hungry, children are leaving school, and many farmers have lost their land.

Until the 1970s, farmers used mostly sustainable agricultural techniques to grow coffee in the shade of native forests and other cash crops, without extensive use of chemicals and fertilizers. In recent decades, however, a desire to boost production caused many producers to abandon traditional shade growing techniques in favor of coffee grown in the sun under aggressive application of fertilizers and pesticides. In the process, vast stretches of native forests were cleared. Forty percent of coffee fields in Mexico, Colombia, Central America, and the Caribbean have been converted from shade-grown to sun coffee plantations. Latin America currently has the world's highest deforestation rate, part of which is blamed on this conversion to sun-grown coffee.

Another Way

There are alternatives to a pricing system that leaves farmers out in the cold, and to destructive production methods that damage the land. The Miraflor Farmers Cooperative is an example of another way of farming coffee. Farmers cooperatives empower themselves, banding together to grow organic, shade-grown coffee at fair trade prices. Shade-grown coffee is better for the soil and produces better tasting beans. Organic coffee frees workers from the dangers of chemicals. Fair-trade status guarantees it stable, fair prices so that farmers avoid the fluctuating world-market prices.

Learn More

For more information and to take action, visit Oxfam America.

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