The Food Trade Game: the nitty gritty of Fair Trade coffee

I had the pleasure of playing The Food Trade Game recently. In a very short time I gained a great understanding of the complex world of Fair Trade coffee and the global coffee trade.

What is the game?

The game is an experiential learning opportunity where each person embodies a different player in the coffee economy including both the conventional and fair trade systems interacting with one another. Here is a chart of all the actors and their relationships:

Why does the game exist?

Creator Randall Coleman created the game after working in urban agriculture in Colombia. He felt inspired to educate people about the food sovereignty-related challenges faced by Colombians.

What its like to play

Experiential learning is my jam! I was amazed at how much I learned about a complex issue in just over an hour. The game is well designed so that things are simplified enough so that you can jump in and figure it out relatively easily, yet it led to some great questions and discussion about greater complexities and power dynamics.

Some highlights

  • The competition between the conventional and free trade streams of the market were particularly interesting. I learned that there is much Fair Trade coffee that ends up unmarked in the conventional sector.
  • The financial barriers to becoming Fair Trade certified seemed substantial, relative to income.
  • The Fair Trade farmers had higher yield due to better farming practices and could make more money per season with sheer quantity.
  • Even small shifts in the global market price can change the landscape for producers.
  • The middle men, or Coyotes, hold a lot of power as they are the connection between the remote farmers and the market. Therefore producers are vulnerable to their influence.
  • The Fair Trade co-operative is vulnerable because they make such a small margin and work with debt and loses to keep functioning over time.

Fair Trade

The range of Fair Trade products has expanded far beyond coffee, there are even Fair Trade soccer balls! To Learn more, check out this short video by Fair Trade Canada:Look for the Fair Trade logo the next time you go shopping:

To find out more about the Food Trade Game:

Twitter: @Randecentralize

Blog by Miranda Cobb, Evaluation and Research Coordinator for the Our Food Project.

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from people to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre.

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