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Nice article Cari...quite succinct. There are a few things I feel are worth adding to give more insight into what it is that Direct Trade means in context. For starters, Direct Trade is not a program or certification scheme in the sense that some of the other labels mentioned here are. The reason is simple--there is not currently any consistent industry-wide standard for what Direct Trade signifies and no list of requirements that are followed uniformly by companies using the term. Today there are dozens or more roasting and importing companies around the world applying the phrase to their purchasing practices, but the unfortunate truth is that for every legitimate application one can find several examples where the term is being misused. And among those really doing it right there can still be substantive differences in approach, based largely on the individual value systems of the owners and staff (the issues that they care most about) and the resources at their disposal. The reality is that Direct Trade, as it was originally conceived, is both difficult and costly to operate and requires a degree of commitment that takes years to really achieve. To understand what Direct Trade is (or what it is meant to be) it is probably best to look at its origin.
The term Direct Trade was conceived back in 2003 in an effort to represent a specific approach to working with coffee farmers and a specific philosophy that informed and guided our efforts to create an effective and sustainable model for coffee sourcing and coffee quality development. At the heart of it lies a fairly simple principle: roaster and farmer collaborating in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way to create great tasting coffees that are fully traceable, highly differentiated, and definitively sustainable as measured by current social, economic, and environmental indicators.
Several concepts follow directly from this mandate, and build upon themselves in a logical way. To be truly collaborative there must exist a significant, substantive relationship and feeling of partnership, which can only be achieved when there is real trust and understanding between both parties. To achieve such trust and understanding requires patience and is only possible if people actually spend significant time together...a relationship is not built in a day, and cannot be very meaningful without regular personal contact. This is where the travel necessity kicks in--it is not possible to operate DT as we know it without extensive and regular travel to spend time at the farms every single year. It also follows that there must be transparency in the chain of custody for each coffee; without absolute transparency it is difficult or perhaps impossible to really attain the kind of trust and sense of partnership that transforms a simple buyer/seller dynamic into something more powerful and reliable. (continued in next post...)
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