Oberlin Alumni Magazine Spring 2001 vol.96 no.4
Feature Stories
Planet Earth
High Atop Wilder
[cover story] Creating a Scene
You've Got Mail: Now What?
Experience, Exposure & Enlightenment
Body Art
Message from the Board of Trustees
Around Tappan Square
Oberlin Partnership sharpens Economic Development
Composing a Career
President Dye's Sabbatical
Closing Institutional Devides
In Brief
Alumni Notes: Profile
Alumni Notes: Losses
The Last Word
Staff Box
One More Thing
Fair Trade Ensures a Better Cup of Joe

The next time you sip a frothy cappuccino at Starbucks, know that you have made life more tolerable for a peasant farmer in Central America. Starbucks probably charged you anextra dime for the drink, because the company now pays its independent coffee suppliers lots more per pound than they earned before Fair Trade existed.

19148 Pg 46B
Seth evaluates a reforestation plan in India  
This nonprofit arm of TransFair USA sees to it that the 550,000-member coffee growers in 21 countries are paid a minimum of $1.26 per pound. That's a far cry from the 20 cents the impoverished farmers earned before Seth Petchers '95 and his group intervened. And if the coffee is organically grown, the farmer can charge 15 cents more. That why, of the 1.5 million pounds sold annually in the United States, most of coffee beans are kept pesticide free and grow under a shaded forest canopy.

Seth returned to the States in 1999 after a year in India and found that TransFair USA "resonated with the ideals that I was first exposed to at Oberlin." Like many of his classmates, he often felt that globalization is a "steamroller that moves ahead, regardless of the social and environmental consequences."

At its core, Fair Trade is a business-based approach to the alleviation of Third World poverty. By guaranteeing peasant farmers a fair wage, the agency helps increase family income, raises health standards and educational opportunities, and empowers those who have traditionally been at the mercy of volatile markets. For the first time, many farmers can buy mules or donkeys to help carry their 100-pound packs of coffee beans down the mountain trails to the harvest sorting bins--an unimaginable luxury just two years ago.

19148 Pg 46A
Santiago Rivera, a Nicaraguan farmer, Picks his coffee
46 TransFair LogoWhen Seth became the organization's certification manager, he designed a monitoring system guaranteeing that any coffee carrying the Fair Trade Certified label meets the criteria the group has specified. TransFair, the parent company, helps the growers establish large cooperatives to sell beans directly to huge coffee companiesin hopes of shutting out the middlemen--known as "coyotes" in Nicaragua.

Expanding its reach, TransFair has initiated certified tea and soon will arrange for certified chocolate, honey, and orange juice. Consumers who see the logo on any of these products can be assured that they are helping to bring a Third World farming family into the 21st century.

Seth, imbued with Oberlin's concept that just one person can make a difference, headed for San Francisco after graduation, along with his band, Package from Sally's, and the classmate who would become his wife, Joanna Silver. He served 2,000 meals a day to the homeless and others at the St. Anthony Foundation in the Tenderloin neighborhood, then set out for India. About his current work, Seth says, "While my contribution is just a small part of a growing movement, it's certainly exciting to be part of a new phenomenon of consumer insistence on products that benefit all parties involved in their production."
--by Mavis Clark

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