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Tadesse Meskela, a coffee farmer from Ethiopia, discusses the crisis facing coffee farmers around the world and the economic benefits of the Fair Trade system Monday, April 14 at 7 p.m. in Riverview Lounge of the Lawrence University Memorial Union.

Raised in an impoverished coffee-growing region of Ethiopia, Meskela experienced first-hand the low prices many coffee farmers received for their harvest because they were often forced to sell their beans to middlemen. In 1994, Meskela began organizing different Ethiopian coffee cooperatives in an effort to collectively improve their earnings.

By 1999, he had formed the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union. Two years later, Meskela helped one-third of the union’s members become part of the international Fair Trade system, a global partnership that seeks equity in international trade. Fair Trade coffee guarantees farmers a minimum price of $1.26 per pound, which provides them with a living wage for their harvests.

In 2000, 165 million pounds of Fair Trade certified coffee were produced by more than 500,000 farmers in 22 countries, but only 30 million pounds were sold at Fair Trade prices. In recent years, prices paid to coffee farmers have dropped in half, falling to less than 50 cents per pound. Coffee is the world’s second most valuable traded commodity, trailing only petroleum. Eight out of 10 Americans drink coffee daily.

In February of this year, Lawrence became one of the first colleges in the Midwest to begin offering “triple-certified” coffee at the coffeehouse in the Memorial Union. Triple-certified indicates that the coffee has Fair Trade certification, it is certified organic and the beans are shade grown.

Meskela’s appearance is sponsored by Global Exchange, an international human rights group.