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Fair Trade Coffee and Development

Jeffrey Walters


The processes of deregulation and liberalization associated with neoliberal globalization have left small-scale agricultural producers vulnerable to global price fluctuations. In an effort to combat the debilitating effects of market liberalization in coffee on small-scale producers, fair trade has come to the forefront. Fair trade seeks to mitigate the problems free trade has brought to Southern producers through the provision of minimum price guarantees and strengthening the bargaining power of producers in the global marketplace. Proponents of fair trade tout it as a viable development strategy, which can alleviate poverty and empower a significant number of people in the South. This sentiment is captured in the fair trade movement’s slogan, “Trade, not aid.” This presentation critically examines the dominant fair trade discourse through the case of fair trade coffee in Africa. Operating within global capitalist markets (rather than outside of them, as proponents suggest) fair trade is constricted by supply and demand factors, fails to consider gender adequately, and does not significantly empower producers. The global economic slowdown only exacerbates the internal tensions within fair trade, making it even less likely the trade will function as an effective poverty reduction tool.


fair trade, globalization, coffee

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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