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In the news: between August 18 - 31, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the media between August 18 - 31, 2015

'Sustainable' coffee? Why your morning cup may not be as Earth-friendly as you think. - Washington Post

Rising global demand for coffee hasn’t translated into better economic and environmental conditions for many of the world’s major coffee-growing regions, according to a new paper that questions the fair-practices claims made by some coffee retailers.

While coffee chains tout ecological gains and farmer-friendly policies, the outlook has generally not improved in the past two decades in poorer coffee-growing regions along the equator, University of Kansas researcher Alexander Myers found.

Soaring appetite for coffee beans has pushed more small farmers into “technified” farming practices and exclusive reliance on a single crop — coffee — for their livelihood, Myers said in his paper, presented at last week’s annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. The more intensive methods use up far more water and other resources while making small growers vulnerable to disruptive swings in the market, Myers said.

“It has opened these small producers to a global commodities market that can be very difficult to navigate,” Myers, a doctoral candidate who studies trade and globalization, said in an interview. “It’s feast or famine.”

Traditionally, coffee beans are grown under shade canopies, often created by fruit trees that provide an alternative source of income for farmers while also offering important habitat for migrating birds. In switching to “technified” farming, growers are pressured to rely exclusively on coffee while switching to different kinds of coffee beans that require much more water to grow properly, Myers said.

Myers acknowledged that some retailers have tried to make a difference by buying coffee beans from suppliers that are certified to promote “fair-trade” and environmentally-friendly policies. But in many instances, those beans account for up only a portion of the coffee purchased.

“The companies have put themselves out there as having made a change,” he said. “The extent to which those changes are seen on the ground — that’s a different story.”

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