Fair Trade: What Price for Good Coffee?

Fair Trade practices were created to help small farmers. But they may have hit their limits

Eric Bauer / Archivolatino / Redux

Small farmers find growing coffee is hard labor for scant return, even with Fair Trade.

Ever since Jesuit monks brought coffee to Guatemala three centuries ago, raising the beans has been a losing business for small farmers. Conditions are miserable — try lugging 100 lb. of fertilizer up a mountain — and even though coffee is the world's second most valuable traded commodity, after oil, the money it brings in is measly. "It's not enough to live on," says Luis Antonio, who has grown coffee near Quetzaltenango, in Guatemala's western highlands, for three decades but gets deeper in debt each year. "What we earn isn't enough to buy food for our children."

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