It’s amazing what a few little coffee beans can make a college student do.

From scrounging desperately through couch cushions in search of just one more nickel, to subjecting important internal organs to the effects of a diet consisting of late-night injections of caffeine – most of us will do whatever it takes to get the coffee we need when a midterm or late-night college task calls upon us. Some of the most pathetic moments of my life have occurred in the earliest morning hours and involve a French-English dictionary, a laptop computer, many nervous twitches and a massive loss of hair – which inevitably followed the ounces after ounces of coffee I pumped into my rebelliously sleepy body. There’s something magical about those black beans. Sometimes it seems ridiculous to conceive of the power and control coffee exerts over the lives of college students – that is, until one realizes the power and control it already exerts over the lives of over 25 million coffee farmers worldwide.

For us college students, purchasing and consuming coffee is not an experience of oppression or exploitation. True, coffee seems to penetrate and take control, often making us stand in long lines and perpetually arrive late for our morning classes. Yet this price pales in comparison to the impoverished conditions 25 million coffee farmers are forced to endure worldwide because of the hierarchical structure of power and exploitation in current coffee production. And considering that we are the consumers of the fruits of these exploitations, our daily decision to sacrifice 10 minutes of class in line for coffee is not only negatively impacting our GPA; but rather, our decision to purchase this coffee is serving to further entrench families around the world in the most horrifically despicable and shamefully impoverished conditions.

Coffee farmers are trapped in the middle of the crisis in the world’s coffee market today. Within the last five years, the price of coffee has plummeted by 70 percent, as the production of coffee has increased and the level of consumption plateaued (www.oxfamamerica.org). According to the World Bank, 600,000 coffee farmers are currently unemployed in Central America. Reuters reports that in Nicaragua at least a dozen have died as a result of the crisis, and at least 1,600 children are extremely malnourished. Despite the devastating effects felt worldwide, however, the huge multinational coffee companies (such as Procter & Gamble or Folgers) have managed to avoid such disasters and have been enjoying a ridiculous amount of prosperity. We still pay them $4 for a cup of coffee for which the farmer will see nothing more than a few pennies. These coffee companies have established an extremely profitable situation by which we enjoy delicious coffee, the companies enjoy delicious profits and the coffee farmers are left with no resources with which to educate, care for or feed their children.

Outraged? I am too. It seems with the current economic crisis of coffee production the last thing the International Monetary Fund or World Bank would ever do would be to stipulate that another country begin coffee production and add to the overabundance of coffee. Yet this is precisely what they have done. Because of these two players, Vietnam recently entered into the coffee market, making the crisis an absolute disaster. This comes as no surprise, however, given the fact that as production increases, the world price will plummet further, creating more profits for multinational coffee companies – while you and I will continue to pay the same price for the same cup of coffee. We (the consumers) lose nothing and gain nothing. Yet Procter & Gamble and Folgers gain a whole hell of a lot, and the 25 million farmers lose practically everything.

That’s why we must act now. As college students and consumers, we have power in the decisions we make – and the power lies in what coffee we purchase. We have the choice to purchase Fair Trade Coffee – coffee for which the farmers are paid $1.26 a pound – enough money to allow them to feed and send their children to school. In response to this worldwide crisis, many humanitarian-aid organizations have sprung up, one of the largest being TransFair USA (www.transfairusa.org). Today TransFair USA works with local communities of farmers, creating co-ops in which farmers democratically manage their own production of their coffee, and are thus able to bypass selling their coffee for dirt-cheap prices to middlemen.

A little over a year ago, a group of concerned Georgetown students (now known as Fair Trade Hoyas) began a campaign to make Georgetown’s campus 100 percent Fair Trade Certified. As it stands today, we can now drink and/or purchase Fair Trade Coffee in Vittles, Uncommon Grounds, Starbucks and the Buzz (in the Medical Center), Center Grille and New South. The campaign is not over, however. Fair Trade Coffee is not yet served in Darnall, and has yet to be sold at MUG. As members and practicing consumers in the Georgetown University community, the power is in our hands.

The next time you find yourself shoving coffee grinds into your coffee maker at the horrendously early hours of morning – make sure it’s Fair Trade Certified Coffee. Our choice to purchase and consume Fair Trade Certified Coffee not only works to put an end to a devastating cycle of poverty, but it gives us the power to value human life above the excessive and greedy profits of a huge multinational coffee company. The choice is ours.

Are there drops of poverty in your coffee? From Vittles and Uncommon Grounds to your local coffee shop back at home, join Fair Trade Hoyas in demanding Fair Trade Coffee.

Mary Nagle is a sophomore in the College. She is a member of Fair Trade Hoyas.

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