Delicious Coffee, Doused Hopes

The goal to “halve global poverty by 2015,” along with a slew of equally zealous objectives encapsulated in the UN’s Millenium Development Goals seem more forlorn now than ever before.

Mounting global unrest, becoming ever more conspicuous as different interest groups rally in the streets to protest international institutions like the WTO, have caused policymakers to bring the issue of poverty reduction to the fore.

It is glaringly obvious that the rules of global governance are skewed heavily in favor of developed countries. Global civil unrest continues to grow, and yet the winds of change have yet to show even the slightest breeze.

What keeps the winds of change at bay?

Perhaps Jeffrey Sachs, professor at Columbia University and the man behind the MDG’s, has an answer. In his book “The End of Poverty” Professor Sachs eloquently depicts the unfathomable ills globalization has caused to many living in the “Third World.” In particular, Sachs shows how the juggernaut character of corporate globalization has eroded both the economic independence and cultural spheres of many living in less developed regions.

Coffee, a drink that rose to prominence thanks to Islamic traders, is now one particular commodity that underscores exactly how faintly reminiscent of colonialism modern-day policies are.

As Ryuichiro Usui, a former professor at The University of Tokyo notes in his essay “Coffee and Globalization,”

“coffee, a world commodity which ranks number two in world trade after oil, demonstrates quite well what globalization is about [...] suppose 500 grams of coffee sold at a German supermarket costs four euros [...] of the four euros, only about 0.8 goes to the producer of the coffee. In contrast, 1.0 euros will go to the German government. It’s strange that the country that produces the coffee gets less than the country that consumes it, but that’s how the world market works.”

It is strange indeed, but provides a good case in point. Zimbabwe, other African countries, and many Latin American countries voice their grievances against modern global governance because all of these countries have the ability to be independent if they were only given the ability to export their goods to the global market on fairer terms.

Professor Usui cleverly Christens today’s globalizations as “grotesqualization,” and by this he means that “the global and the local are collapsed together in such a way that colonialism and postcolonialism, the premodern and the postmodern, have been blended horribly together.”

There is, however, one country that has managed to rise above modern-day globalization’s influence: Bangladesh. A country that has shown strong economic growth, Bangladesh is also a country that’s on a firm course to be able to actually realize the goal of halving poverty by 2015.

Here’s the real catch: it’s economic growth and domestic system of wealth distribution didn’t arise from the paternalistic guidance of developed countries.

Rather, the goal was attained by allowing local villagers to bring their commodities to the market and be able to sell their commodities under fair terms. In particular, banks that issued microcredit loans to the poor, like Grameen bank, empowered these individuals with the ability to become entrepreneurs.

Muhammad Yunus, an economist who studied at Vanderbilt University and who is also the founder of Grameen bank, has shown the world that it doesn’t take an MBA to be a successful entrepreneur.

With better trading practices and fairer trading terms, more countries can enjoy newly created wealth and enjoy better standards of living. Now is not the time to increase the amount of money we dole out through the form of ODA’s, now is the time to revamp a system that is heavily beneficial to some, and largely detrimental to many.


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