Fairtrade: More than a label

Fairtrade is helping Papua New Guinea farmers improve the quality of their coffee through training and sharing expertise.
Fairtrade Papua New Guinea

To Will Valverde, Fairtrade is not just about certification. It is a comprehensive system that helps coffee-producing communities build their knowledge, skills, and production capacity.

“The consumer will buy a product because they want to help the farmers. But at the same time, they want to have a good quality product they can buy all the time,” Will says.

“As part of our commitment to the industry, we are working closely with producer organisations to ensure that they can bring the best quality green beans possible to their buyer.”

In his role as a Producer Support and Relations Officer for Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, Will works with coffee growing cooperatives in Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands.

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“We’ve been working with producer organisations to implement best practices in farming and processing,” he says. “We’re supporting to help them improve their consistency.”

Will says that when PNG became independent from Australia in 1975, most of the country’s coffee plantations were divided among smallholders. These farmers, who may have had some experience picking coffee, were self-taught in terms of coffee processing.

“Coffee was like their ATM. When they needed money, they would just sell the coffee. Quality wasn’t part of their mindset,” Will says. “We’ve been trying to help them to see coffee as a good way to improve the living conditions of their families and their community by treating coffee like their profession.”

Fairtrade assists these farmers by providing them the equipment and resources needed to enhance the quality of the products and operations, as well as the training to use them.

“Our training courses are really practical. We go into the [farms] and select the best cherries, showing the farmers how to detect unwanted or unripe beans,” Will says.

During the training process, the farmers and Fairtrade then process the coffee beans together using the cooperative’s preferred method.

“We continue to the drying beds, showing the farmers how best to dry the coffee and explaining the importance of achieving consistency,” Will says.

Fairtrade’s training programs have included introductory Q Grading classes so farmers can taste good coffee as well as identify it. The Coffee Quality Institute’s Q Grader assessment trains and certifies coffee professionals on correct methods of coffee cupping and tasting, helping farmers better anticipate the needs and preferences of roasters.

“In our recent PNG training, a Q Grader came and shared his experience with the cooperatives, using the same Specialty Coffee Association tools and equipment as anyone else,” Will says.

Farmers were also given the opportunity to roast coffee and learn about different profiles. 

“We are in the process of implementing a roasting laboratory at each of the producer organisations, so they can improve their own quality. They’ll be able to identify primary defects, separate those loads, and make sure the coffee they are selling to an exporter is in optimal condition,” Will says. 

“The course last year was an introductory one that we hope to continue and complement with processing training in April or May 2019.”

Will says coffee roasters can contribute to the growing quality of coffee from countries such as PNG by sharing with consumers the hard work farmers have put into producing their coffee.

“Coffee roasters are definitely an agent of change. Farmers are doing their best to produce high-quality coffee, and the roaster has the ability to tell this story, and bring the consumer into the picture of the producer,” Will says.

“The Fairtrade certification also brings validation to the roaster that the coffee they are selling has been produced in a fair way, and the farmers are the heart of that transaction.”

With the support of the Australian and New Zealand governments, Fairtrade operates programs that enable farmers in PNG and throughout the region to improve their quality of life.

“We will continue to work with these groups in four key areas,” Will says. “Quality, in terms of improvement and productivity, crosscutting issues such as the environment and gender, business development and the administrative aspects of the industry, and establishing an investment fund where producer organisations, traders, roasters can add value to a particular project and make it bigger.

“PNG remains an attractive origin to the Australian market, and quality is an area where we are really making a significant positive impact.” 

For more information, visit www.fairtrade.com.au

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